As the school year gets underway, many children, teens, and college students will struggle with sitting in class and paying attention. Others will look for a way, at whatever possible cost, to pull “all-nighters” and remain alert for heavy class loads. Some of these students may just be bored or overloaded with work, of course, but many of them are struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that usually becomes apparent around age 7 and often lasts into adulthood. While most families and college students reach for a pharmaceutical solution, those concerned with effects of giving these drugs to children and young adults have started seeking alternatives. One of these, perhaps surprisingly, is medical cannabis. How might cannabis help ADHD? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
The Current Situation
ADHD is on the rise—a recent CDC study says 11 percent of school-aged children have received a diagnosis. Whether the increase is due to more children having ADHD or better diagnostic criteria is uncertain, but one thing is for sure: more and more kids are taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 43 percent of children treat ADHD with medication alone, and another 31 percent combine medication and behavioral therapy. That’s around 4.7 million children on these pharmaceuticals.
ADHD is usually treated with central-nervous-system stimulants (or, less commonly, nonstimulants that affect norepinephrine and/or dopamine levels) and behavioral therapy. ADHD drugs can be very effective, but they often come with undesirable side effects including stunted growth, loss of appetite, sleep problems, headaches, stomachaches, tics, and emotional extremes. And some doctors believe these meds aren’t really helping in the long run.
“Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems,” writes L. Alan Sroufe, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, in an op-ed for the New York Times. “To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve.”
COULD CANNABIS HELP ADHD?
While most people react to stimulants by becoming more energetic, ADHD brains have the opposite reaction—stimulants calm them down. Most ADHD drugs work by freeing up dopamine in the brain, which helps regulate behavior and focus attention. But there’s a safer substance that also increases dopamine levels: cannabis.
David Bearman, MD, a leading medical cannabis physician, explains, “Cannabis appears to treat ADD and ADHD by increasing the availability of dopamine. This then has the same effect but is a different mechanism of action than stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Dexedrine (1) amphetamine which act by binding to the
dopamine and interfering with the metabolic breakdown of dopamine. Cannabis (THC) is an anandamide agonist that is it stimulates the anandamide (CB1) receptor sites.” Dr. Bearman hypothesizes that the anandamide—sometimes called the “bliss chemical”—slows down the rate of neurotransmission, and that stimulating anandamide receptors also stimulates Renshaw cells, which turn off some cells that provide sensory input. The overall effect would be to increase the ability to regulate behavior and reduce the overstimulation that causes ADHD brains to become distracted.
Getting the medical establishment to consider cannabis as an alternative treatment is an uphill battle. Studies consistently show that those with ADHD have higher rates of substance abuse, especially alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Most doctors simply assume that the higher rates of marijuana use are signs of addictive behavior, not of self-treatment.
“The preponderance of studies show marijuana use is overwhelmingly prevalent with ADHD sufferers, either as a self-medication or for recreation,” explains Dr. Bearman. “While some apply preconceptions that marijuana exacerbates ADHD almost all California cannabinologists believe cannabis and cannabinoids have substantially improved the lives of ADHD sufferers, and with less negative side effects than common stimulant drug ADHD treatments.”
Dr. Bearman has reported tremendous success treating his ADHD patients with medicinal cannabis. “Almost universally ADHD patients who therapeutically used cannabis reported it helped them pay attention in lecture, focus their attention instead of thinking of several ideas almost at the same time, helped them to stay on task and do their homework.”
So far, no scientific research has been performed to determine whether and how cannabis can help ADHD. As with so many ailments that could be potentially helped with medical cannabis, it hasn’t received the serious consideration it deserves because the legal landscape makes studying cannabis so difficult.
HOW DO I TRY MEDICAL CANNABIS FOR ADHD?
If you have ADHD, or if you have a child with ADHD, you may want to explore cannabis as an alternative treatment to stimulants. ADHD is generally not a condition that’s specifically listed for treatment with medical cannabis, so if you live in a state with strict limitations, you won’t be able to get a recommendation. Find out your state’s laws here.
Your best bet if you need to travel to try it is to head to the Golden State. California’s medical marijuana law currently allows treatment of any illness “for which marijuana provides relief,” and you do not need to be a California resident to get access to medical cannabis.
Navigating the system, finding a doctor who has proper knowledge and experience, and locating the right medicine can be daunting—it was that exact plight that inspired us to found United Patients Group. If you are seeking more information and guidance on how to try this treatment, we are here for you. Set up a consultation, and we’ll guide you to the medical professionals and cannabinoid medicine producers who can help.
And, as always, we love hearing stories of patient experiences. Have you or someone you know tried cannabis for ADHD? Was it helpful? What advice would you give to someone who’s considering it? Please share your story in the comments below.
Information: ADD / ADHD and Medical Marijuana Treatments
ADHD and Medical Cannabis?
Is it hard for your child to sit still? Does your child act without thinking first? Does your child start but not finish things? If so, your child may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Nearly everyone shows some of these behaviors at times, but ADHD lasts more than 6 months and causes problems in school, at home and in social situations. Learn about the interaction between ADD/ADHD and medical cannabis, and how the use of medical cannabis can positively counteract many of the symptoms of ADHD as well as counteract the negative side effects of common medications used to treat ADD/ADHD.
ADHD is more common in boys than girls. It affects 3-5 percent of all American children.
The main symptoms of ADHD are:
No one knows exactly what causes ADHD. It sometimes runs in families, so genetics may be a factor. There may also be environmental factors.
A complete evaluation by a trained professional is the only way to know for sure if your child has ADHD. Treatment may include medicine to control symptoms, therapy, or both. Structure at home and at school is important.
ADD ADHD Marijuana Treatment Case Report
Cannabis improves symptoms of ADHD
Peter Strohbeck-Kuehner, Gisela Skopp, Rainer Mattern
Institute of Legal- and Traffic Medicine, Heidelberg University Medical Centre, Voss Str. 2, D-69115 Heidelberg, Germany
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by attention deficits and an altered
activation level. The purpose of this case investigation was to highlight that people with
ADHD can benefit in some cases from the consumption of THC. A 28-year old male, who showed
improper behaviour and appeared to be very maladjusted and inattentive while sober, appeared to
be completely inconspicuous while having a very high blood plasma level of delta-9-
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Performance tests, which were conducted with the test batteries
ART2020 and TAP provided sufficient and partly over-averaged results in driving related performance.
Thus, it has to be considered, that in the case of ADHD, THC can have atypical effects
and can even lead to an enhanced driving related performance.
Keywords: ADHD, cannabis, performance, driving
This article can be downloaded, printed and distributed freely for any non-commercial purposes, provided the original work is properly
cited (see copyright info below). Available online at www.cannabis-med.org
Author’s address: Peter Strohbeck-Kuehner, [email protected]
Assessing the performance or impairment of cannabis
users is generally problematic as there is no stringent
proof of a linear dose-effect relationship between the
concentration of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
in blood and THC-induced impairment. The cause of
the absence of such a relationship has not been identified.
In this context it is rarely considered that the missing
correlation may be due in part to a conceivable
positive effect of cannabis on the behaviour and performance
of individuals. Recently, Adriani et al.  gave evidence that cannabinoid agonists reduce hyperactivity
in a spontaneously hypertensive rat strain,
which is regarded as a validated animal model for attention
deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
There was also a significantly better treatment retention
of cocaine dependent patients with comorbid ADHD
among moderate users of cannabis compared to abstainers
or heavy users .
ADHD was long considered a disorder limited to children
and adolescents. It has now been proven that
ADHD symptoms may persist into adulthood [3,4].
Individuals suffering from ADHD characteristically
have an increased drive to move around and are unable
to calm down. They are lacking in directed planning of
their actions and the ability to assess the impact of their
decisions. Their ability to organize day-to-day activities
is reduced, they usually have a poor short-term
memory, are forgetful and tend to work in a chaotic
and inefficient way. Emotionally, they are prone to
impulsive outburst, excessiveness and instability [5,6].
This present case study describes a male, 28 years of
age, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), and whose response to THC
suggests that such a positive effect may exist. Considering
that the subject applied for the reinstallation of
his driving licence gives particular significance to psycho-physical
performance deficits caused by ADHD.
Numerous studies have shown that various performance
functions, such as divided attention, selective
attention, long-term attention and vigilance are impaired
The subject had a record of several violations of the
German drug control law. He also had a record of numerous
violations of traffic laws, including speeding,
running of a red traffic light and driving under the
influence of cannabis during which a high THC concentration
in blood had been detected.
Seven years ago, the subject had been diagnosed with
ADHD (ICD 10 F90.0) for the first time, and that diagnosis
had been assessed repeatedly and independently
since by several psychiatric units. There was some
2 Cannabinoids Vol 3, No 1 March 2, 2008
evidence from his carrier that typical symptoms were
already present in childhood, they were, however, not
properly recorded. Comorbidities such as addiction,
including cannabis, or personality disorders were absent.
He had been treated over a period of about 12
months through a combination of methylphenidate
(Ritalin®, 20-30 milligram/day) and behaviour therapy.
Being not sufficiently efficacious, the medication
was stopped. A subsequent certificate by a specialist
for general medicine suggests that ADHD symptoms
were much improved under cannabis and that dronabinol
(THC) had been prescribed, even though ADHD is
not indicated for this drug.
Prior to the first contact the subject had been advised
not to consume any medicinal or recreational drug.
During that first visit he showed grossly conspicuous
behaviour. His attitude was pushy, demanding and
lacking distance. He expressed impatience, for example
by drumming his fingers on the table. He also constantly
shifted position, folded arms behind his head or
leaned over the table in front of him. He was not open
to discussing the potential impairment of driving skills
caused by cannabis consumption. As the conversation
continued and he was informed of the preconditions for
a positive assessment of his suitability to operate a
vehicle, his behaviour became even more conspicuous
and aggressive. Finally, he got up, grabbed the table,
leaned forward and shouted that he needed a driving
license and that he needed cannabis. Overall he showed
behaviour typical of persons who suffer from ADHD.
During this visit, an appropriate performance of the
tests was impossible.
He was then offered to undergo, at a later time, a test of
the impact of dronabinol on performance. During this
appointment he appeared fundamentally changed and
was not disturbed at all. He stated that he had stopped
smoking cannabis, was taking dronabinol on a regular
basis and that he had consumed it just two hours ago.
He appeared calm, but not sedated, organized and restrained.
Unlike during the first meeting he was able to
accept and discuss arguments. When trying to make
clear that THC was indispensable for his quality of life
he became more engaged but without losing restraint.
Rather, he was understanding of the position of the
expert and indicated that the path to get back his driver
license may be long but that he was willing to undertake
it. His behaviour, motor function, mood and consciousness
did not give any indications of a prior use of
a psychoactive substance.
The tests of performance functions that are relevant to
driving skills involved the four subtests of ART2020, a
computer-controlled test system, which is commonly
used to assess driving performance. These subtests
evaluate complex reactions (RST3), sustained attention
(Q1), directed attention (LL3) and visual surveying and
perception (TT15). In addition the functions of “vigilance”
and “divided attention” were tested with the
attention test module (TAP).
The results of these tests (see Fig. 1) showed that the
subject met, in all of the functions tested by ART2020,
not only minimum criteria but that he achieved average
or, in some areas, even above-average results. In the
very demanding tests for “vigilance” and “divided
attention” categories he also showed average performance.
ADHD or acute effects of THC by themselves
would usually impair performance particularly in these
A blood sample was taken after completion of the tests.
It showed a very high concentration of THC (71 ng/mL
serum), of the psychoactive metabolite 11-hydroxy0
RST3 Q1 LL5 TT15 Vigil. Div. Att.
Figure 1: Subjects actual performance and minimum criteria.
Cannabinoids Vol 3, No 1 March 2, 2008 3
THC (30 ng/mL serum) and of the main nonpsychoactive
(251 ng/mL serum). Such levels indicate recent as well
as frequent consumption of THC-containing matters,
and the analyte pattern also suggests smoking. Detection
of cannabinol in hair (5.3 ng/mg) along with THC
(3 ng/mg) gives evidence that the medication could not
have been the only source of the THC.
Only much later did the subject, who had been arrested
for a drug offence a few days after the second visit,
report that he had not consumed pharmaceutical dronabinol
products but instead smoked cannabis just before
the tests, since it was much less costly.
The present case report suggests that individuals suffering
from ADHD, a dysfunction with a symptomatic
change in activity levels, may – in some cases – benefit
from cannabis treatment in that it appears to regulate
activation to a level which may be considered optimum
for performance. There was evidence, that the consumption
of cannabis had a positive impact on performance,
behaviour and mental state of the subject.
The present observation corroborates previous data of
Müller-Vahl et al.  suggesting that in patients suffering
from Tourette syndrome, treatment with THC
causes no cognitive defects. Gilles de la Tourette syndrome
is a neurobehavioral disorder associated with
motor and vocal tics as well as behavioural and cognitive
problems. The authors also hypothesized that the
effects of cannabinoids in patients may be different
from those in healthy users suggesting an involvement
of the central cannabinoid receptor systems in the pathology
of the disorder. The same conclusion may be
drawn from previous studies [1, 2] and the present case
report, although more information on these atypical
effects should be provided and the underlying mechanisms
are still to be elucidated.
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