5 Practical Ways for Patients With ADHD to Use Cannabis

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Mental Health

Cannabis and ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is recognized as a clinical mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used in the United States to diagnose patients. For some people, ADHD can be one of the most debilitating mental disorders, but for some who learn to self-manage, ADHD can also be a superpower. Treating ADHD can be difficult because there are varying degrees of impairment. There is insufficient evidence from clinical trials to indicate that medical cannabis can help modify ADHD behaviors.

But medical marijuana, combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and support, may help make ADHD symptoms easier to manage. For some patients, however, it could make ADHD worse. There is also a higher risk of patients with certain mental disorders to develop cannabis dependence.

Increasingly, ADHD patients want to know if medical marijuana use can help treat ADHD symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at the condition and the challenges that adult ADHD patients face. And explore why ADHD is not commonly listed as a qualifying health condition for medical cannabis.

When Was ADHD Recognized as a Mental Health Condition?

According to WebMD, many people had not heard of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder until the 1980s when prescription medications were available to treat the condition for children. However, the first person to document ADHD was a Scottish physician named Sir Alexander Crichton. He reported the symptoms as extreme distractibility and problems with focus and concentration back in 1798.

By 1902, a physician named Sir George Frederic Still was making the rounds and providing a series of lectures about mental health conditions. Specifically, he talked about children who had problems with attention and self-control while also struggling with impulsivity. Dr. Still was also the first to mention that ADHD was more likely to be diagnosed in young men than women.

German doctors Franz Kramer and Hans Pollnow coined a condition called “hyperkinetic disease.” The symptoms were described as children who “couldn’t stay still” and indicated that the adolescents he studied also struggled with social connections. At the time, it was believed that patients would outgrow the condition with time.

ADHD Mental Health

America Learns More About ADHD From European Researchers

It was Dr. Charles Bradley (medical director of Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island) who realized that a specific stimulant medication called Benzedrine had a positive effect on some children with ADHD. He also noted that it improved concentration and academic performance.

Because Benzedrine was a stimulant medication applied to typically overstimulated patients, it took some time for researchers to buy into Dr. Bradley’s theories about ADHD. Early comments worried that applying a stimulant medication to overstimulated patients would be like putting gas on a fire.

But today, we know that many people with ADHD respond differently to stimulants, both prescription drugs and common stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. If you have a cup of coffee before bed, you may be awake all night. But someone with ADHD, however, could fall asleep quickly.

By 1954, in the United States, physicians were prescribing methylphenidate (stimulant) for children with ADHD. The other name for this drug is Ritalin, and it was originally developed to help patients with chronic fatigue and depression, but they found it worked very well for children (and adults) suffering from ADHD.

Two Variations in the American Psychiatric Association DSM

The American Psychiatric Association did not include ADHD in the DSM until 1968. By 1980, the DSM had been updated to create two variations of the mental health condition: ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

How Many Americans Are Diagnosed With ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a rare condition. Problems with focus, concentration, and distractibility do not necessarily point to ADHD. According to the World Health Organization, about 5% of children worldwide have been diagnosed. For adults, the diagnosis averages just under 3%.

In the United States, approximately 9.5% of children aged 4-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. The average age that the condition is diagnosed is between age 12 and 17. About 4.5% of adults living in the United States have ADHD.

Noise Sensitivity ADHD

What Does It Feel Like to Have ADHD?

Unless you know and understand ADHD, it can be easy to make negative assumptions about someone who has the condition. People with ADHD can find it difficult to focus and prioritize, and they often struggle to control impulses, which can make them seem impatient or even rude.

People who have ADHD may miss deadlines or struggle with being on time for meetings or social activities. Chronically late? That can happen not as a result of disrespecting punctuality; the average ADHD brain isn’t about being slow or lazy. Whereas many people can focus on the tasks at hand in the present or during the day, someone with ADHD is multitasking at a level that is incomprehensible.

Some people with ADHD are considered neurodivergent and highly productive. When they are passionate about something, they can display laser focus on learning new tasks or completing a project. In fact, they can become hyperfocused on the activity, working far harder and longer than other employees, for example, on a work project. When they engage, they are “all in,” and that can make ADHD a superpower in some types of jobs or careers.

The hyperfocus and high energy are not consistent, however, for people living with ADHD. If it is a task they really don’t want to do, then they can be PhD-level procrastinators. Literally doing everything, BUT that one thing they really don’t want to work on.

Signs That Someone You Know May Have ADHD

If you do not personally know someone with ADHD, it is easy to misconstrue behaviors and come to inaccurate conclusions about them. Social signals can be different for people who have ADHD, and they are often misinterpreted as rude, impatient, or aggressive because of the level of frustration they often feel being overwhelmed by thoughts and motivations.

Some of the signs of ADHD you may notice at home, socializing, or at work include:

High Work Drive and Performance Orientation

They aren’t competing with other coworkers; they are competing with themselves. People with ADHD have “something to prove” and may try to excel at certain things that can make them look aggressively competitive.

They aren’t usually trying to be better than the next guy; they enjoy challenging themselves to see what they are capable of independently, which can drive a wedge when they have to work with others. Do you have a massive LEGO Star Wars replica to finish? Call your friend with ADHD and provide snacks.

Noise and Sound Sensitivity

An open office floorplan is as close to a nightmare as many people with ADHD can imagine. The condition can make people hypervigilant about the sensory feedback in their environment. They may struggle to separate themselves from sounds from the next cubicle, smells from the lunch room, or even someone who chews very loudly or slurps their coffee.

Most types of sensory data can be easily ignored by some people. But individuals with ADHD literally see and hear everything. Like vibrations on a spider web alert the spider, someone with ADHD can’t tune out sensory distractions. And it makes it difficult to focus, leaving them often feeling frustrated and angry.

ADHD Fatigue

Fatigue and Exhaustion

What goes up must come down. That is the same with the veritable hyperdrive that people with ADHD have in terms of energy flow. They can go for long periods of time completely focused on a project, without eating and possibly with little sleep until it is completed. Often, there is an energy crash to contend with, rebounding from expending so much energy to stay focused and productive.

People who take ADHD medication can also be susceptible to periods of fatigue. Most ADHD patients find that medications level their energy or help stabilize it to normal. However, stimulants have the opposite effect on people with ADHD; they can feel tired, sleepy, and irritable because they don’t want to feel subdued by ADHD medications.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that adults with ADHD have a higher than average risk of substance use disorder (SUD) at 15.2%, compared to adults without ADHD (average 5.6% increased risk). As many as 44% of Americans under thirty who have ADHD symptoms self-medicate with alcohol. People living with ADHD are between 5-10 times more likely to have an addiction to alcohol than other Americans.

Forgetfulness Is a Problem (Inattention Versus Overattention)

Think of ADHD forgetfulness not as a judgment that something was not important to the individual, so they simply neglected to remember it. It is far more complex than that. Imagine the average human brain as a busy two-lane highway, with thoughts and priorities traveling at an average speed.

Now, imagine the average person with ADHD with a multilevel, twelve-lane interstate with supplemental toll roads branching off. That description would make someone with ADHD feel understood because the loudness of competing creative thoughts, combined with task orientation, is deafening. For many with ADHD, that is what it feels like twenty-four hours per day.

The person with ADHD didn’t mean to forget the anniversary, meeting, or the things you asked them to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. Those tasks were reordered and got lost in the shuffle. It is not unusual for someone with ADHD to set an excessive number of reminders on their phone to run their day more efficiently. And try not to forget the things you want them to remember.

And when they realize they have forgotten something important, it can cause extreme anxiety. They may present as irritable because they forgot, but they are more angry at themselves that they “dropped the ball” because they hold themselves to a high standard.

Antisocial Behaviors

When someone has ADHD, they can vary between high energy and fatigue, as well as infectious optimism and the need to self-isolate because they are overwhelmed. Because some people with ADHD have problems controlling compulsions, they may go out a lot and overspend money, being lost in the moment of fun and social stimulation.

On the other end of that spectrum, people with ADHD can feel “burned out” by social engagement. Or they may be concerned about the risks of compulsive spending, consumption of alcohol, or bad decisions when feeling a wave of manic energy. Rent is due next week? They may choose to isolate to reduce their risks.

Many people with ADHD are extroverted and socialize easily with others. But they can also disappear and withdraw for periods of time, with no contact and no explanation. Young adults with ADHD are also less likely to talk to a healthcare provider about symptoms of anxiety, depression, or social withdrawal.

Forgetfulness ADHD

Common Symptoms Experienced by People With ADHD

Now that we’ve discussed what ADHD can look like in the real world, let’s take a look at the formal symptoms that people with the mental health condition can experience.

While symptoms may seem to vary, often individuals with ADHD go through phases or waves of behavior and energy levels that are predictable, according to qualitative analysis in clinical trials.

The clinical symptoms of ADHD are divided into three categories:

1. Symptoms of Inattention

  • Difficulty keeping focused and attentive to a singular task or objective.
  • Rushing and careless mistakes.
  • Problems organizing tasks.
  • Aversion to tasks that require lengthy sustained mental efforts.
  • Losing items and forgetfulness.
  • Sensitive to environmental stimuli and sensory (sight, smell, taste, and sound).

2. Hyperactivity Symptoms

  • Tics include fidgeting with hands and feet.
  • Aversion to remain seated for long periods of time.
  • She struggles with remaining quiet and may talk excessively.
  • May interrupt conversations frequently to interject ideas.
  • Can grow impatient waiting.

3. Struggles With Impulsivity

  • Can have problems waiting their turn in any activity or conversation.
  • Conversational interruptions are common.
  • Impulsive decision-making without thinking, first of all, possible consequences of an action.

People who have ADHD may also struggle with personal relationships. Suppose you have adult ADHD, and you do not share your diagnosis. In that case, it can be hard to get the understanding and support you need to have a happy and successful relationship because so many attributes and symptoms can be misconstrued negatively if someone doesn’t understand why certain behaviors occur.

School-aged children with ADHD can face learning difficulties and clinically significant impairment from ADHD. The risks of adolescent substance use disorders increase when a child has undiagnosed or untreated ADHD symptoms.


Cannabis for ADHD Symptom Management?

The decision to use medical cannabis for ADHD symptoms is a difficult one. Some people have lifetime cannabis use experience and engage in marijuana use to help subdue feelings of mania and anxiety. Using cannabis as a recreational drug is much different than having a medical card for doctor-supervised cannabis use.

There are five ways adults with ADHD can use doctor-supervised medical cannabis to help with symptoms:

1. Explosive Creativity

For some patients, the use of cannabis strains that are highly stimulating (Sativa dominant) may help balance mood and energy levels. Some ADHD patients who are highly creative seek out strains that can boost their compulsion to create. Or think divergently and create new things, whether that is mastering a new meatball recipe, painting something spectacular, or organizing your closet.

2. Get a Handle on Insomnia

One of the most common reasons Americans use medical cannabis components, like tinctures, edibles, vape, or smokable flower, is to help with insomnia. Most people know what it is like trying to fall asleep when your mind is full of thoughts or concerns. Certain types of cannabis may help turn your busy brain into a blank board, allowing you to get a solid night of sleep.

3. Reduce Anxiety During Social System Overload

Symptoms of anxiety are awful. Certain strains of cannabis produce the same anxiety symptoms, so you have to be careful about the type of medical cannabis you choose. The last thing you want is a strain that will turn up the volume when you are already amped up with upsetting thoughts.

Remember that stimulating cannabis strains can have a calming effect on people with ADHD symptoms. When consumed responsibly, Sativa cannabis may help calm social anxiety while allowing you to remain focused, alert, and conversational.

4. Could Cannabis Help With ADHD Focus and Concentration Issues?

Struggling with inattentive symptoms can impact the things you get done every day, your career, and other areas of your life. The effects of cannabis can enhance focus and concentration if you choose the right strain. Remember to use it safely and in moderation, or you may be hyper-fixated on your cat for the duration of the evening. Too much focus can also be a bad thing.

5. May Experience Fewer Side-Effects Compared to Anxiety Drugs

From articles to online forum discussions, one thing that most patients with ADHD have in common is a dislike of the side effects associated with prescription medications. Drugs like Concerta, Adderall, Focalin, Dexedrine, ProCentra, Vyvanse, Evakeo, and more, are prescribed for ADHD symptoms.

Common side effects include insomnia, loss of appetite, and involuntary weight loss. Some people taking ADHD medications also experience irritability, headaches, stomach upset, and increased hypertension (high blood pressure).

Some people have shared that certain types of ADHD medication can make them feel cognitively and emotionally “numb” or uncomfortably sedated. This can impact everything from academic and work performance to social engagement.

Talk to MedWell Health and Wellness About ADHD and Cannabis

If you have a qualifying health condition and you have also been diagnosed with ADHD, cannabis may be an option for you. It is important to speak with a medical cannabis healthcare provider. A review of your symptoms, health history, and symptom management goals can help you decide if doctor-supervised cannabis is a safe choice for you.

At MedWell Health and Wellness, patients who do not qualify for a medical card receive a 100% money-back guarantee. Your fee will be refunded in five business days if our physician is unable to certify you for a medical cannabis card.






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