Can Marijuana Calm Symptoms of ADHD?

Studies show that having ADHD makes you more likely to use marijuana — and now scientists think they know why.
Oct 22, 2015

The latest study, published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, suggests that some adults may be using marijuana to help manage hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

While the study was the first to show this in humans, Mallory Loflin, a Ph.D student from the University at Albany’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, says research in animals also lends support to the findings.

It’s really the first study out there to say, look, we have evidence from the rodent [models] and it’s now being supported by what we actually see among marijuana users.

Although it’s common for ADHD sufferers to report using marijuana to relieve their symptoms, scientists have been skeptical up until now.

We’ve seen the anecdotal evidence that people were using cannabis to self-medicate and it didn’t really make a lot of sense given what we know the effects of most strains of cannabis can be.

According to Loflin, that’s because most people think of problems with attention when they think of ADHD, forgetting about the other symptoms. But ADHD consists of three different subtypes, two of which include symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

And while researchers have yet to link cannabis use with improvements in attention, there is support for a role in impulse control.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that cannabinoids actually work on the area of the brain that’s responsible for self-regulating behaviors.

Based on this hypothesis, Loflin and her colleagues looked at self-reports from 2,800 adult marijuana users and divided them into groups based on ADHD-related symptoms and how often they used cannabis.

What they found was that people who used cannabis on a daily basis – a pattern scientists refer to as self-medicating – were more likely to match the criteria for hyperactive subtypes.

We saw this difference where there was a higher proportion of people with the combined subtype – people with the extra hyperactive symptoms – among the group of users that use in ways consistent of self-medication.

Symptoms were assessed according to the adult ADHD self-report scale (ASRS) – an 18-item criteria often used in epidemiological studies as an indicator of the disorder. Participants were asked to complete the ASRS based on symptoms that occurred only when they weren’t using cannabis.

Because of this, Loflin believes the study provides support for a role of marijuana in helping those who suffer from hyperactive forms of ADHD.

They have those symptoms only when they’re not using, so their use seems to help curb that potentially.

Self-medicating behavior is often a sign of an undiagnosed disorder, which is one reason why the researchers decided not to ask participants about past diagnoses. ADHD is also frequently overlooked among the adult population, which leaves many sufferers unaware of their condition.

While the latest findings are promising, Loflin says more research is needed to confirm whether marijuana is truly effective in these cases.

The study received funding from the University at Albany

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