For children – and adults for that matter – with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (previously known as attention deficit disorder), research has shown that cannabis can calm symptoms.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a variety of symptoms including:
- An inability to stay focused
- Impulsive acts
In adults, the condition may manifest itself by an inability to manage time, stay organized, set goals or hold a job. Symptoms, however, always start in childhood.
How Marijuana treats ADHD
Marijuana’s most common effect, relaxation, helps ease some of the hyperactivity associated with ADHD and can also decrease impulsivity.
Medical marijuana for ADHD has been shown to be effective because it increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that impacts the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. It can also be more effective that the prescription medication most often recommended for ADHD, the stimulant drugs Ritalin and Adderall, either alone or in combination with the prescription medications.
While both Adderall and Ritalin do boost dopamine levels by elevating the production of endocannabinoids, marijuana does the same thing, without the side effects associated with the prescription drugs.
“Cannabis appears to treat ADD and ADHD by increasing the availability of dopamine,” says Dr. David Bearman, a California physician whose expertise lies in medical marijuana.
The added dopamine, Bearman said, calms the brain, preventing it from going into overdrive to produce more of the neurotransmitter, which sparks brain activity.
“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,” he said.
Not only is medical marijuana generally more effective than prescription drugs, Bearman said, it can also help ease some of the potential side effects of the traditional meds, including nervousness and agitation, sleep problems and loss of appetite.
A 2015 German study of 30 patients who did not have success with either Adderall or Ritalin saw several benefits, researchers said, including “improved concentration and sleep, and reduced impulsivity,” from medical marijuana.
Cannabis in the right strain can also help users stay more focused, so they are able to be their own personal best without the mental distractions usually suppressed by prescription drugs.
“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,” Bearman told Leaf Science. “The feedback I’ve received from patients that have ADD or ADHD who use cannabis have been universally favorable.”
Medical marijuana also has a positive impact on another potential cause of ADHD, leaky gut, which is a condition that 75 percent of people with ADHD have.
Medical marijuana is believed to help strengthen the gut wall, where the majority of the body’s immune system lives, allowing the cells to better communicate with the brain, easing overactivity.
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