Risks vs. Benefits: Evaluating Medical Cannabis for ADHD Patients

by | Jan 15, 2024 | Mental Health

ADHD Cannabis Massachusetts

In January 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 9.4% of children aged 2-17 years were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. Approximately 4.5% of American adults aged 18-44 had also been diagnosed with the condition.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was only added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, but physicians have studied it since the early 1900s. Unlike other health conditions, ADHD is not often included on the list of qualifying health conditions for medical cannabis.

The global medical community is divided on the use of medical cannabis by patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some studies suggest cannabis may help people who experience ADHD symptoms, while randomized controlled trials have stated that cannabis offers no benefits at all and may pose risks.

Let’s dive into what we know about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that many patients seeking treatment manage. We will also discuss the potential benefits and risks associated with using doctor-supervised cannabis for patients diagnosed with ADHD.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

The mental health condition was first written about in the early 1900s by a British pediatrician named Sir George Still, who published many lectures describing children who had problems with impulsive behavior and hyperactivity.

During the 1970s, the research formalized into a new name for the condition, Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood, and it began to gain worldwide attention. It was not until 1980, however, that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) would add a condition called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

.By 1987, ADHD replaced ADD in the DSM-III-R, adding the condition of hyperactivity to the diagnosis. Then, in 2013, the DSM-5 emphasized that ADHD was a neurodevelopment disorder that had symptoms that could persist beyond childhood.

Attention Dynamic Harmony Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodivergent condition characterized by unique processing that varies between curiosity and focus. People who have ADHD can have bouts of hyperactivity, spontaneous movements, and bursts of creative thought processing.

ADHD Hyperfocus Attention Cannabis

Are People With ADHD Considered Neurodivergent?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder, and people living with ADHD are considered neurodivergent. This is a term that describes variations in the neurological structure outside of normal ranges of functioning.

The categorization of ADHD as neurodivergence, compared to a behavioral and neurological disorder, is a kinder way to view the mental health condition as a different ‘wiring’ or method of brain functioning that is unique.

Other neurodivergent conditions include dyslexia and Autism. However, ADHD is not a spectrum disorder, even though the two diagnoses share similar symptoms. People with ADHD have neurodivergent traits, which can cause challenges, but also opportunities and unique skill sets, compared to the neurotypical population.

Common Symptoms Associated With ADHD

There are many misconceptions about ADHD symptoms, implying that patients who have the condition may have associated disabilities. Research suggests that there are two broad categories for the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Inattention Symptoms

The first group of symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are in this category. These symptoms are prevalent among people with ADHD. However, the cause of the associated inattention symptoms and behaviors is not always understood by colleagues, family, or friends.

Difficulty Sustaining Attention

One of the mistakes people make when it comes to understanding ADHD symptoms is that people living with the mental health condition can appear inattentive. They may struggle to maintain eye contact or remain engaged in a conversation, which can lead people to assume that they are disinterested in what is going on or being said.

In actuality, people with ADHD can be hyperattentive. The problem is that it can be impossible to pay attention to everything at the same time. Still, patients with ADHD are constantly surveilling their environment, including sounds, smells, movement, and conversations. That behavior can make it difficult to pay close attention to one thing when you are monitoring everything around you.

Problems with Short-Term Memory and Mindfulness

When you have ADHD, you can experience a struggle when it comes to regulating attention. That comes from wanting to observe and engage with everything in your periphery. The working short-term memory in the human brain that is responsible for holding knowledge can be impaired for people with ADHD, which is why they may appear to be forgetful.

Research suggests that some people with ADHD may also have executive function deficits, which creates an impairment with regard to self-regulation, impulse control, and planning. They may also lose track of time for the same reason; often, people with ADHD symptoms find it difficult to be punctual, for example.

ADHD Hyper Activity

Challenges With Personal Organization

Someone with ADHD may live in a disorganized home, which can look messy or cluttered to other people. However, some people with ADHD symptoms are also exceptionally neat and organized. It depends on the individual.

For some people, the daily activities of cleaning, putting things away, and self-organizing can be overwhelming. People with ADHD may avoid activities that they are disinterested in; let’s be honest, there is nothing fun about loading the dishwasher or dusting.

Not every patient who has ADHD experiences problems with self-organization, however. Some are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to staying neat and organized, and they may experience anxiety if their personal space (at home or work) is cluttered or disorganized.

Procrastination and Avoidance

What is interesting is that some people with ADHD may practice task evasion but force themselves to take on a different task. For example, if a student has an assignment due the next day, they may spend hours cleaning their apartment rather than completing the school work even though the alternative took far more effort.

Individuals with ADHD may hyperfocus on lower-priority obligations or tasks while evading high-priority tasks that may feel overwhelming and disinteresting. The impaired executive functioning experienced by some people living with ADHD symptoms can create challenges with personal organization. The same is true with activities of self-care and hygiene. When there are many different priorities, someone with ADHD may

Frequent Focus Shifts

Distractability is a common symptom demonstrated by people with ADHD. However, the cause of challenges to focusing on a particular activity, conversation, thought, or conversation may be misunderstood.

Some brain imaging studies have shown different areas of activity in brain regions for people with ADHD compared to others who do not have the condition. The main area of interactivity is the prefrontal cortex, which is directly responsible for executive functions, including attention.

Even when someone who has ADHD tries hard, they may show signs of inconsistent attention. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause people to become hyperfocused and engrossed in an activity or visual and auditory stimuli.

That is because many people with ADHD have interest-based attention. If a task is interesting or stimulating to them, they can hyperfocus on that specific activity. However, if it is mundane and doesn’t stimulate their interest, they may struggle to maintain focus on the activity.

Cannabis for ADHD Massachusetts

Hyperactive and Impulsivity Symptoms

Individuals who have ADHD may present with excessive fidgeting and constant movement behaviors. This can include tapping feet, hands and a general inability to stay still. That is indicative of hyperbrain activity, including processing thoughts, memories, and the stimuli they are experiencing in the present moment.

Some people with ADHD may show signs of impulsive behaviors. That means making fast decisions without taking much time to consider outcomes or consequences. Sometimes, this can also result in problems with substance use disorder, engaging in risky activities, and struggles with spending and money management.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who talks relentlessly, and you have to struggle to get a word in edgewise? Individuals who have ADHD can experience difficulty waiting their turn to speak in conversations and can interrupt frequently.

That can lead to problems socializing and meeting new people, as the behavior is considered rude and inconsiderate when someone with ADHD actually enjoys speaking and sharing ideas. The more they enjoy your company, trust, and know you, the more likely they are to get excited and interject conversationally. Staying quiet can be difficult for someone who has ADHD.

Stimulants Can Cause Drowsiness for Some People With ADHD: Is Cannabis a Safety Risk?

Some people with ADHD can have unexpected results when consuming anything that qualifies as a stimulant, whether that is caffeine or a stimulant medication like Adderall. You may see a friend or family member who has ADHD drinking soda late at night and then having no problems falling asleep.

The prescription drug Adderall is sometimes prescribed for people with ADHD symptoms, but it can actually cause a calming effect. In clinical trials, for example, approximately 2% to 4% of patients experienced fatigue and drowsiness.

How can that be? Someone who doesn’t have ADHD will react to stimulant medication, caffeine, and sugar by becoming more alert and energetic. Some people cannot drink coffee in the evening, for example, because the caffeine will make it hard to sleep. Individuals who have ADHD, however, may find that coffee, tea, cocoa, and other caffeinated beverages like soda can calm them down.

Cannabis can be both a stimulant and a sedative or depressant. It depends on the cannabis strain that is used, terpenes, cannabis tolerance levels, and other factors. Cannabis is also contraindicated, or conflicts, with many ADHD medications. In certain situations, cannabis heavily contributes to becoming impaired and may cause adverse effects with combined with antidepressant medications or drugs prescribed for anxiety disorders.

ADHD Focus Problems Cannabis

Clinical Research About Cannabis and ADHD Symptoms

In 2023, a new study was published called “Exploring the Link Between Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Cannabis Use Disorders: A Review.” The study stated that:

“Daily cannabis use is more frequent among people with ADHD who have the combined subtype than those with the predominantly inattentive subtype. The relationship between these two was found to be significant, with individuals with the mixed subtype being 10% more likely to develop daily cannabis use than those with the predominantly inattentive subtype. Furthermore, individuals using cannabis as self-medication were more likely to have ADHD, specifically its combined subtype, supporting the self-medication hypothesis.”

There are concerns expressed by the medical community that some people with ADHD may be more prone to cannabis use disorder compared to non-neurodivergent patients seeking treatment. The study also discussed that cannabis may help some patients with specific symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia.

Another study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, titled: “Cannabis use in Attention – Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A scoping review,” indicated that there was no clinical research available that links improvement in symptom control for people with ADHD who use cannabis.

Other clinical research supports cannabis as a viable aid to reduce the severity of some symptoms associated with ADHD. Some studies have suggested that using cannabis regularly with high cannabidiol (CBD) ratios (or taking a CBD supplement with cannabis) may result in less reliance on traditional ADHD prescription medications.

Until there are more clinical studies that measure the benefits of cannabis for patients with ADHD, the medical community will continue to be divided on how effective medical marijuana use can be for patients. However, many patients with ADHD who review cannabis strains online have shared their belief that it can help with symptoms and reduce anxiety levels.

Can ADHD Qualify You For Medical Cannabis in Massachusetts?

If you have found that your current ADHD symptom dimensions are causing hardship for you, talk to one of our friendly cannabis healthcare providers at MedWell Health and Wellness Centers. Schedule an appointment and find out if doctor-supervised medical cannabis may help you reach your symptom management goals.

Adults with ADHD symptoms may qualify for a medical cannabis card based on associated symptoms, such as moderate to severe anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression. Remember that ADHD symptoms are not imagined; it is a clinical mental health condition, and the effects of cannabis may help or, in some cases, make those symptoms worse.

Talk to a cannabis healthcare provider to help you make an informed choice about medical marijuana use before you try it. Make sure to disclose any prescription medications you are currently taking. Many physicians support using medical cannabis instead of ADHD medications but advise that there can be adverse effects if the substances are taken together.


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