Study: ADHD patients benefited from medical cannabis
A recent observational study by a team of British researchers found that medical cannabis may be beneficial for people with ADHD. In the rare study, researchers followed certain cannabis patients with ADHD for 12 months and observed improvements in their anxiety, sleep quality and health-related quality of life. The patients tolerated the cannabis well: less than a fifth of them reported negative side effects, most of which were moderate. The authors argue that while these results are not definitive, they still provide strong motivation for future studies on cannabis and ADHD.
“A connection between [cannabis] Treatment and improvements in anxiety, sleep quality, and overall quality of life have been observed in patients with ADHD. The treatment was well tolerated after 12 months.”
Ittiphakorn, 2023, Neuropsychopharmacological Reports
Expanding ADHD treatments with cannabis
The Haze hybrid Blue Dream has a focusing effect that some patients report helps with ADD. (David Downs/Leafly)
ADHD – or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually characterized by uneven concentration, hyperactivity and impulsivity. While it was traditionally classified as a disorder, many experts now define it as a type of neurodivergence (a natural human variation in the way different brains process information).
Viewed from this perspective, ADHD offers unique benefits such as creative thinking, high energy levels, and hyperfocus. But the diagnosis also brings with it some difficulties: not only difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity and impulsivity, but also a more frequent occurrence of sleep problems, anxiety and depression. These difficulties can have a negative impact on quality of life, school, work and social relationships.
Does weed help with ADHD?
The National Health Interview Survey estimates that over 10% of the US population has ADHD. While some medications have been shown to be somewhat effective in relieving ADHD symptoms (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin, or Wellbutrin), many of them cause negative side effects. Because of risks such as decreased appetite, insomnia, emotional dysregulation, irritability, and adverse cardiovascular events, many people diagnosed with ADHD avoid taking these medications.
Given these challenges in treating ADHD, researchers have wondered whether cannabis could provide an effective alternative without such a high risk factor. According to preclinical research, cannabis is known to activate the endocannabinoid system, which can be affected by ADHD. Further research suggests that cannabis may help increase concentration, motivation, learning, memory, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in individuals with ADHD.
However, other studies have observed that cannabis can worsen cognitive function in ADHD patients.
ADHD and cannabis: 12-month study
Sour Diesel is another strain with a focusing effect on ADD, patients report. (David Downs/Leafly)
To examine the long-term consequences of cannabis use for people with ADHD, researchers in the current study analyzed data from 68 patients with ADHD from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry. Eighty percent of patients were already cannabis users.
Using patient-reported outcome measures (as well as patients' daily doses of CBD and THC) using 1-, 3-, 6-, and 12-month benchmarks, they found patients' anxiety levels, sleep quality, and health-related quality of life improved.
only 11 of the 68 participants reported any negative side effects at all. Nine patients actually stopped taking their other ADHD medications during treatment.
Notably, anxiety and sleep quality scores improved at each check-in over the 12 months. Significant improvements were also noted in health-related quality of life in the first 6 months of the study. However, by month 12, these improvements returned to baseline – there was no significant difference between patients who were already users and those who were not.
Researchers also noted some moderate negative side effects: most commonly, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, and dry mouth. Still, only 11 of the 68 participants reported any negative side effects at all. Nine patients actually stopped taking their other ADHD medications during treatment.
The study adds specificity to research on cannabis for ADHD. The researchers isolated data from real patients who used real cannabis, as opposed to population-level survey data or cell or animal studies.
The best cannabis strains for concentration and ADD/ADHD
We need more research on ADHD and cannabis
Although this study suggests that cannabis may improve some symptoms of ADHD, it does have some limitations. For one thing, it cannot be proven that cannabis caused the improvements; it could simply be a correlation. Furthermore, the study did not examine the different effects of different cannabis consumption regimes: not only the dosage, but also the chemical components of different strains and the method of consumption. Therefore, each different regime needs to be examined. We cannot assume that all variations of cannabis will produce the same results.
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The cohort also had more male participants (80.88%) and therefore may overrepresent the effects of cannabis on men with ADHD. Future studies should examine how cannabis might impact male and female patients with ADHD differently.
Finally, considering that the majority of the cohort were already using cannabis at the start of the study period – and that a cannabis user can develop tolerance to its effects over time – it is possible that some patients had already developed tolerance or had developed tolerance during their Basic assessment to get the maximum benefit from cannabis. This could skew the results and show less benefit from cannabis.
Overall, the study shows strong evidence that cannabis could benefit people with ADHD, particularly when it comes to relieving the anxiety and sleep problems associated with the condition.
Overall, the study shows strong evidence that cannabis could benefit people with ADHD, particularly when it comes to relieving the anxiety and sleep problems associated with the condition. However, further research is needed to confirm these results and determine the best ways to use cannabis for these effects.
If you are interested in using cannabis for your own ADHD, always consult a doctor who specializes in cannabis.