A person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is hyperactive and has difficulty staying focused. Likewise, doctors who prescribe cannabis to ADHD patients believe that it can help decrease impulsivity.
What’s more, some evidence shows that people not formally treated for ADHD have found cannabis works for them and self-medicate as a result.
A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse found that some people may be self-medicating with cannabis to help manage hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. This suggests that it’s possible cannabis might help in treating hyperactive forms of ADHD, according to researchers.
Dr. David Bearman, a practicing physician in California and an expert in the medical marijuana field, agrees with the notion that many people may be unknowingly using cannabis to calm their symptoms.
“Anybody who uses cannabis before the age of 15 either has ADHD or PTSD until proven otherwise,” he explains.
A German study published in 2015 investigated the effects on 30 patients who didn’t respond to Adderall or Ritalin. After cannabis treatment, the majority of subjects experienced “improved concentration and sleep, and reduced impulsivity.”
Dr. Eva Milz, a psychiatrist who co-authored the study, said that standard medications were “more demanding” on patients, whereas cannabis brought them “control that helped them in life, love and work, without feeling intoxicated.”
According to Bearman, ADHD is one of the disorders associated with a proposed condition termed clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD).
If a person who is deficient increases their amount of cannabinoids, “you’re likely to slow down the speed of neurotransmitters and you’re going to give the brain a little bit more time to concentrate and focus,” Bearman says.
ADHD patients are typically prescribed stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall. However, both Milz and Bearman say patients often combine cannabis and stimulants.
According to Bearman, cannabis not only treats ADHD, but also treats possible side effects of stimulant medications. For example, stimulant drugs can cause nervousness, loss of appetite and sleep problems, whereas cannabis can treat those issues.
However, Bearman says his first choice would be to treat a patient with cannabis alone.
“One of the important criteria in practicing medicine is to balance the side effects versus the therapeutic effects. The therapeutic effects of marijuana are the same or better than conventional drugs… and the side effects are much less.”
Milz agrees and says many patients prefer marijuana treatment.
“ADHD patients don’t seem to use any medication without a clear cost-benefit analysis. Cannabis seems to have the lowest cost,” Milz says.
For ADHD patients who do choose cannabis treatment, Bearman sometimes prescribes two and a half milligrams of Marinol, two or three times a day.
A relatively low dose of cannabis with a low amount of THC will also treat symptoms, he says. Milz says a portion of CBD seems to help patients with pronounced impulsiveness.
Limiting impulsiveness and increasing concentration with marijuana treatment has largely impacted patients, according to Bearman.
“I had a patient who credited graduating with his use of marijuana. And I had a PhD candidate who credited marijuana with being able to get his PhD, and that’s because it helped him concentrate.”
“The feedback I’ve received from patients that have ADD or ADHD who use cannabis have been universally favorable,” he says.