Marijuana is the most prevalent intoxicating drug in the U.S. (not including alcohol), and both medical and recreational use of marijuana remains a controversial issue in many states. Much research regarding marijuana use is still preliminary. Unfortunately, few examinations have been conducted concerning clinical applications of cannabis products, especially those investigating their potential effects when used by persons with ADD/ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
For this reason, only anecdotal reports by users exist, which can vary significantly on the pros and cons of using weed for ADD/ADHD. Further research is needed to understand these conditions and marijuana use and ascertain whether it is a safe and effective solution for ADD/ADHD symptoms.
Note: For the purposes of this article, the terms ADD and ADHD will be used interchangeably for the same condition. ADD, unlike ADHD, does not include a hyperactivity component.
Does Marijuana Help With ADHD?
Most physicians prescribe stimulant drugs, such Adderall, Concerta, or Ritalin, to treat ADHD, but these medications may prove ineffective for many people, or their side effects may be undesirable. Typical ADHD symptoms include social awkwardness or anxiety, inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and impaired judgment. These behavioral issues may significantly disrupt an individual’s day-to-day life and compromise their ability to function in work, home, or academic environments.
Unfortunately, these symptoms, especially impulsivity, can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse in various forms. Individuals with ADHD may feel out of place in social settings and may use marijuana as a social lubricant to feel more comfortable with their peers. However, marijuana use can also produce unwanted side effects in those who have the disorder.
One of the primary reasons why some people believe weed and ADHD could have an advantageous relationship is that marijuana stimulates dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine promotes mood regulation, which may be attractive to persons who live with this condition, mainly if it is already unmanageable using federally-approved methods.
Marijuana may relieve some symptoms of hyperactivity, but it may also worsen focus and attention, and motivation issues for some individuals. People who live with ADHD may utilize marijuana to help with specific issues and experience a temporary reprieve from the condition’s related symptoms. However, the risks of self-medication using a largely unresearched and unregulated drug may outweigh any short-term benefits.
Ultimately, marijuana affects people differently, but limited data exist on how the drug interacts with ADHD. At this time, the relationship between weed and ADHD is likely too varied and individualized to determine if persons with the disorder who use marijuana garner more benefits regarding symptom reduction than those who do not. At least anecdotally, however, many people with ADHD report its positive impact on focus and concentration as part of the desire to experiment with its use.
Medical Marijuana and ADHD
Most research on medical marijuana and its effectiveness at reducing symptoms of ADHD has been done using small or unrepresentative population samples), and many studies have yielded inconclusive or mixed results. For example, one review of 268 online forums reported that nearly 25% of participants believed that marijuana effectively manages ADHD symptoms. Still, this data is entirely opinion-based and is not the generally accepted perspective of most medical providers.
It is possible that some health professionals would consider medical marijuana to treat ADHD symptoms if conventional medications prove ineffective, but this approach is not by any means standard practice.
Does Weed Cause or Contribute to ADHD or Enhance or Relieve Symptoms?
The relationship between ADHD and weed and other forms of substance abuse is complex, and more research is needed. However, it is pretty much universally agreed upon by medical experts that ADHD is an inherent health condition that typically manifests earlier than, and independent from, substance use disorders.
In many instances, ADHD is diagnosed and treated during childhood, whereas most marijuana abuse and addiction cases are identified in adolescence or young adulthood. Moreover, it goes without saying marijuana use causing the development of ADHD appears to be unlikely.
Currently, no one can say with any degree of certainty whether marijuana significantly benefits or exacerbates ADHD symptoms in a large enough sample of this population. However, anecdotal reports suggest that marijuana may help people who live with ADHD, but ongoing and controlled scientific research could yield different results.
When Does Marijuana Use Become a Co-Occurring Disorder?
It can be tempting for people who live with ADHD to use drugs such as marijuana to relieve uncomfortable symptoms and feel more calm and centered. Still, marijuana has the potential to be habit-forming and can lead to emotional dependence.
The more frequently an individual uses marijuana, the more their brain becomes accustomed to it and requires it to function normally. When he or she feels as if they can’t make it through the day without using marijuana compulsively despite potential adverse consequences, they are likely to develop an addiction.
If a person with ADHD develops a marijuana addiction, these conditions are referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. These conditions intensify each other’s unwanted symptoms, and professional, integrated treatment may be necessary for someone to heal from these two disorders.
If the person stops using marijuana suddenly or “cold turkey,” they may struggle with worsened ADHD symptoms. If they are addicted, they will likely experience emotional withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue use, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Marijuana Use and ADHD: Studies Among the Very Few
Unfortunately, persons who live with ADHD may be more predisposed to using marijuana and developing substance use disorder than others without this condition or other mental health issues.
For example, a recent study revealed that children diagnosed with ADHD face a high risk of future substance abuse and addiction, including marijuana use. The same study reported that compared to their peers, children with ADHD are three times more likely to use marijuana sometime in their lives.
Other research has found that the problem usually starts in adolescence—until age 15, people with ADHD are no more likely than people without ADHD to experiment with drugs. From this age on, rates of abuse and dependence spike. Indeed, about half of all adults with untreated ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.
How to Get Professional Help for Marijuana Addiction
Professional treatment can help individuals overcome marijuana addiction and better manage ADHD. Dual-diagnosis treatment, commonly offered at rehab centers, is intended to treat co-existing disorders such as marijuana abuse and ADHD.
In doing the following, you may better understand the risks of marijuana use for yourself or a loved one and reach out to those who offer treatment, such as Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery.
Complete a drug abuse self-assessment. This screening tool helps can help you evaluate your chances of being addicted to marijuana, other drugs, or alcohol.
Call Just Believe Recovery’s drug abuse hotline or use the chat or email feature. Our representatives specialize in addiction. When you call our marijuana hotline, you can talk with empathetic individuals about your marijuana use (or that of a loved one) and be adverse about available treatment options. Our hotline is entirely confidential and available at any time.
If appropriate, enroll in a detox program followed by partial hospitalization or inpatient treatment. Our programs are based on a multi-faceted, individualized approach to substance abuse and mental health treatment. We offer various corrective methodologies and activities, including psychotherapy, counseling, group support, relapse prevention, art and music therapy, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and more.