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Marijuana and ADHD: Benefits and Risks

Marijuana and ADHD might seem like a bad pairing, given that marijuana is often thought of as a substance that causes forgetfulness and lack of focus. However, just like stimulant medications, marijuana works differently on the brains of those who don’t have attention deficit disorder. Among all of the medical uses for marijuana, there is a growing chorus of voices calling for it to be approved as a treatment for ADHD. Are marijuana and ADHD truly compatible – and if so, why?

Is marijuana good for ADHD? As of this writing, there’s no evidence that using marijuana can help with ADHD symptoms. In fact, studies show it can worsen executive function and working memory. These are areas where individuals with ADHD struggle. Neither medical marijuana, nor street marijuana, which is usually stronger and may contain other chemicals, should be used to treat ADHD. It’s also important to know that marijuana may counter the benefits of ADHD medication. And individuals using marijuana are less likely to keep up with their medication.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana—also called weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, and a vast number of other slang terms—is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of Cannabis sativa. Some people smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes called joints; in pipes, water pipes (sometimes called bongs), or in blunts (marijuana rolled in cigar wraps) Marijuana can also be used to brew tea and, particularly when it is sold or consumed for medicinal purposes, is frequently mixed into foods (edibles) such as brownies, cookies, or candies.

Marijuana has two primary cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid, and it has adverse effects on the user’s cognition. This being the case, if a person with ADHD introduced significant amounts of THC into their body, the most likely impact would be deterioration of the condition.

What is Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil?

What is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, and can it help with ADHD? Cannabis is the plant that marijuana comes from. One product from the same plant is cannabidiol (CBD) oil. It doesn’t have THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that makes you feel “high.” Using CBD oil is different than smoking marijuana.

There’s no evidence that CBD oil can help with ADHD. Ongoing research is testing whether CBD may help to improve some other disorders. However, right now there isn’t enough evidence to show that it’s safe or effective. It is important to be clear that CBD oil is not the same as hashish oil. The latter has very high THC content. It is usually heated and smoked in a process called “dabbing.” Hashish oil is extremely addictive and harmful to health.

Does Marijuana Have Any Benefits for ADHD?

Online forums are filled with comments from individuals saying they use marijuana to treat symptoms of ADHD. Individuals who identify as having ADHD say they have few or no additional issues with marijuana use. But they aren’t presenting the research on adolescent use of marijuana. There are concerns for the developing brain’s learning and memory. The limited research on what patients say cannabis does for ADHD symptoms indicates that it is most helpful for hyperactivity and impulsivity. It may be less helpful for inattentiveness.

It’s important to remember that these forums and comments aren’t clinically significant. They’re also not evidence-based research. That means they shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Talk with your doctor first. The lack of a potential paradoxical benefit from the stimulating effects of THC makes CBD theoretically less attractive. There are no large-scale clinical trials looking at CBD for ADHD. It is not considered an evidence-based treatment for ADHD at this time.

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Statistics


36.6%

Marijuana edible use grew by 36.6% among occasional users.

Source: NIH

47%

According to national statistics, 47% of marijuana users between the ages of 18 and 34 and 30% of adults have eaten edible marijuana.

Source: NIH

26%

In the previous month, 26% of marijuana users consumed edibles, and 44% vaped.

Source: NIH


Cannabis/Marijuana Drug Facts

Marijuana

Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant parts that have been dried include the leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds referred to as marijuana. The plant contains the psychoactive substance THC as well as other related substances.


Common Street Names:

  • Astro Turf
  • Blunt
  • Boom
  • Dope
  • Grass
  • Herb
  • Home Grown
  • Mary Jane
  • Pot
  • Smoke
  • Weed

Short-Term Effects:

  • Shifted senses (like seeing brighter colors)
  • Changed perception of time
  • Variations in mood
  • Decreased ability to move
  • Thinking and problem-solving challenges
  • A weakened memory
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis

Long-Term Effects:

  • Brain development issues
  • Breathing issues and coughing if you use marijuana frequently
  • If a pregnant woman consumes marijuana, her unborn child may experience developmental issues both during and after pregnancy.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It is usually categorized as a children’s mental illness, but it also affects teenagers. In some instances, ADHD persists into the patient’s adulthood. The reason why it is referred to as a children’s ailment is that, under normal circumstances, symptoms are noticed when a child who has it joins school. About 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have this condition. It is usually more prevalent in males than in females.

People with ADHD also tend to make rash, impulsive decisions without thinking them through first. None of this is because they are unable to comprehend facts or are trying to flaunt rules; the brains of people with ADHD simply function differently than those of everyone else.

At best, this can make it frustrating to complete tasks such as schoolwork or (for adults) work-related projects. At worst, it can lead to problems with relationships, holding down a job, and achieving one’s potential in life. A diagnosis of ADHD can help people understand why seemingly simple tasks become insurmountable obstacles that they must struggle to overcome.

Read this article and learn about the relationship between marijuana and ADHD.
A small number of psychiatrists in the US prescribe cannabis medication for ADHD, despite there being no evidence from randomised controlled studies.
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Traditional Treatments for ADHD

ADHD was first identified in 1902 by pediatrician Sir George Still (who described the disorder as “an abnormal defect of moral control in children”). In the century since, there has been a constant search for a remedy that works consistently. Therapy and medication have emerged as the go-to strategies for parents for children with ADHD, as well as people who struggle with the disorder as adults.

Therapy

For many individuals suffering from ADHD, therapy can be a wonderful treatment. Behavioral therapy can help the person learn how to change certain behaviors, increase their self-control, and boost self-esteem. Meanwhile, family therapy can help loved ones learn how to assist the individual in making these changes.

Medications

Prescription drugs are often paired with therapy in order to address ADHD on the level of brain chemistry. Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin may provide relief for ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness, excessive movement, inability to focus and disorganization.

The side effects of these medications can be frustrating, however. The patient often notices a huge decrease in appetite, stomach pains, headaches, problems sleeping, as well as feeling anxious. This may result in individuals struggling with ADHD deciding to simply put up with the symptoms of ADHD rather than deal with the way prescription drugs make them feel. It’s this situation that sparks many individuals to look into medical marijuana for ADHD in order to provide a balance between the condition and an effective treatment.

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Possible Risks of Marijuana Use for People with ADHD

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) published a position statement in 2019 against medical cannabis as medication. Since cannabis is not FDA approved, its use, the APA said, is still unregulated and unbacked by science “for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder.” A 2019 report for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) presents a concern that cannabis use may pose a particular risk of dependence for folks with ADHD. They say, especially in young ones:

  • Long-term (unlike short-term) use of cannabis has been shown to suppress the dopamine system, which is already lacking with ADHD.
  • Self-medicating might involve trying to get a dopamine rush that is harder and harder to obtain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that teen cannabis users are 4–7 times more likely to develop a dependency than adults.

Dependence in adolescents involves cannabis withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Memory issues

Given the evidence of folks with ADHD who start using cannabis at a younger age, the likelihood of their developing a dependency is higher than for those without.

Read this article and learn about the relationship between marijuana and ADHD.
Are marijuana and ADHD truly compatible – and if so, why? Adults with ADHD describe self-medicating with cannabis, Learn the benefits and risks.

Using Marijuana and ADHD Medications 

There’s limited research on how cannabis interacts with ADHD medications, such as Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine). A small 2015 study of adults without ADHD found that when Adderall and marijuana were taken together, they produced unique effects (neither positive nor negative) compared with either medication taken alone.

If you’re on ADHD medications, it’s important that you be upfront and honest with your healthcare provider about your cannabis use. Cannabis use is becoming mainstream and is legal in some places. Your healthcare provider can help you understand the benefits and risks of using cannabis with ADHD medications. 

Effects of Marijuana vs. ADHD Medications

Side effects of Cannabis

  • dry mouth
  • dizziness, light-headedness
  • problem-solving interference
  • decreases appetite
  • digestive changes: relaxes digestive tract, possible diarrhea
  • possible drowsiness
  • mood changes: irritability and agitation
  • possible increased anxiety
  • increased heart rate

Side effects of ADHD Medications

  • tics
  • decreased growth in kids
  • appetite suppression (amphetamines)
  • appetite suppression (amphetamines)
  • sleep interference (amphetamines)
  • hormone fluctuations (antidepressants)
  • increased anxiety, jitteriness
  • increased heart rate

Does Marijuana Help ADHD Symptoms?

To understand the relationship of marijuana and ADHD symptoms, it’s important to understand the two components of cannabis, which are:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): THC is a psychoactive component that gives the “high” associated with cannabis. It acts on the areas of the brain that control focus, coordination, and reaction time.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): CBD is a nonpsychoactive component in cannabis and hemp (a type of cannabis plant that contains 0.3% or less THC). It acts on differentareas of the brain and can counteract the effects of THC. CBD has been shown to help regulate brain activity.

When you smoke or consume cannabis, you take in both THC and CBD. That calming factor is the key to using CBD for ADHD, and it has sparked a discussion about its use as an alternative to pharmaceutical ADHD medications. Some adults with the disorder report that vaping CBD delivers a sense of calm and focus that helps them get things accomplished.

For many years, people with ADHD were faced with a daunting choice: struggle with their disorder or deal with the often-unpleasant side effects of stimulant medications. Medical marijuana for ADHD is offering a world of alternatives in terms of effects, strains, and consumption methods. Using CBD for ADHD may provide even more options without the high associated with whole-plant marijuana. However, it being argued that most research on medical marijuana and ADHD treatment is short-sighted (done with small or unrepresentative population samples) and many professional studies have inconclusive, or mixed, results.

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ADHD Medical Marijuana, Is it Helpful?

With the increasing legalization of cannabis-based products and prescription “medical marijuana,” attention is turning towards their potential uses for ADHD, often based on anecdotal accounts. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any cannabis-derived products for the treatment of ADHD. The FDA has approved one cannabis-derived product and three cannabis-related products that require prescriptions from a licensed healthcare provider. These products target seizure activity from specific conditions and anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS.

Can you get a medical marijuana for ADHD? General misinformation on marijuana use for ADHD abounds. The questions related to the safety and effectiveness of cannabis-based products deserve good research. There have been media accounts of studies showing positive results, though closer inspection usually reveals that these are from preliminary studies presented as papers at conferences. Such papers have not undergone rigorous peer review for journal publication.

Regarding tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in medical or recreational marijuana use, there is no evidence that THC provides any benefits related to adult ADHD and its use is not recommended for ADHD at any age. Along with CBD, THC is the most common cannabinoid in use. THC is the chemical associated with the “high” commonly associated with marijuana. Apart from the absence of evidence for the therapeutic use of THC, there are many known adverse effects of recreational THC use on brain development that are more pronounced for teens with ADHD that should discourage its use, not to mention the risk for substance use disorders.

When Does Marijuana Use Become a Co-Occurring Disorder?

For individuals who live with ADHD, it can be tempting to use drugs like cannabis to soothe uncomfortable symptoms and feel calm and composed, but marijuana is a habit-forming drug. The more frequently a person uses marijuana, the more their brain grows used to and dependent on the substance to function normally. When a person feels like they can’t get through the day without marijuana, or they use the drug compulsively despite the consequences, they are likely developing a marijuana addiction. If someone has ADHD and develops a marijuana addiction, these conditions are called co-occurring disorders. These conditions exacerbate each other’s harmful effects, and professional, dual-diagnosis treatment may be necessary for someone to heal from these co-occurring disorders.

The risks here are very real. Individuals with ADHD are 2.5 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. That may be with alcohol, marijuana, or another drug. If kids start using marijuana at a young age, it’s even more likely. If you know or suspect your child is using marijuana, it’s important to intervene. Ultimately, marijuana affects individuals in different ways, but limited data exists on how the drug interacts with ADHD. The fact is the relationship between ADHD and marijuana use is probably just too varied and personalized to find clearly definable groups who use and who don’t use. Until more research occurs, the question, “Does marijuana help with ADHD?” does not have a simple answer.

Read this article and learn about the relationship between marijuana and ADHD.
One of the main reasons why some people believe marijuana and ADHD could have a beneficial relationship is that marijuana triggers a release of dopamine in the brain.

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Drugs like marijuana can alter the dopamine reward system, so being able to stop using marijuana if the habit is problematic is just one part of the recovery process. You must also reprogram deeply entrenched thought patterns to form new positive behaviors.

Some challenges may arise when you attempt to break behaviors, including losing friends, needing to fill your time, and experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Stopping cannabis use has also been known to cause withdrawal, making it difficult to quit completely.

The first step in treatment is detoxification. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can offer the necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorders and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis programs in New Jersey treat both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

If you or someone you know is addicted to marijuana and or struggling with mental health conditions, it is important to recognize the danger of use. From ingesting toxins to injury, dabbing can be extremely harmful. If you need help with a marijuana addiction, seek help from trained professionals. Contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up rehab center in New Jersey can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Read this article and learn about the relationship between marijuana and ADHD.
Professional treatment can help a person heal from marijuana addiction and ADHD. Dual-diagnosis treatment, commonly offered at rehab centers like We Level Up NJ

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