Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental condition that affects 11% of school-aged children and an estimated 4.4% of adults.
ADHD is characterized by an inability to sit still, trouble focusing, and impulsive behavior. Because cannabis (Cannabis sativa) has been linked to relaxation, many people are curious whether the medicinal herb can be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms.
The research on whether cannabis can provide short-term relief of hyperactivity in people with ADHD is mixed. And researchers are still trying to learn more about cannabis and ADHD. Here’s what you should know about the effects of cannabis on people with ADHD.
To understand how cannabis might provide relief for ADHD symptoms, it’s important to understand the two components of cannabis, which are:
When you smoke or consume cannabis, you take in both THC and CBD.
There isn’t much research on using cannabis for ADHD because federal research on cannabis has been restricted by the drug’s schedule 1 status (drugs not currently accepted for medical use that have a potential for abuse). However, the research that is available gives a mixed answer to the question of can cannabis help with ADHD, including:
More research is needed to determine if cannabis can have benefits for adults with ADHD. However, at this time, most states with medical cannabis programs do not include ADHD as a qualifying condition for getting a license.
Although ADHD is most often diagnosed in children, cannabis should not be used by most young people. Even states with recreational cannabis laws don’t allow people under 21 years old to purchase or consume cannabis. Medical cannabis programs for children are extremely limited, and ADHD is not a qualifying condition.
There’s limited research on how cannabis interacts with ADHD medications, such as Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine). A small 2015 study of adults without ADHD found that when Adderall and marijuana were taken together, they produced unique effects (neither positive nor negative) compared with either medication taken alone.
If you’re on ADHD medications, it’s important that you be upfront and honest with your healthcare provider about your cannabis use. Cannabis use is becoming mainstream and is legal in some places. Your healthcare provider can help you understand the benefits and risks of using cannabis with ADHD medications.
Some people believe that different strains of cannabis produce different effects. Strains are different varieties of the cannabis plant. Common marketing distinguishes between these two strains:
However, research shows the differences between strains are not necessarily accurate. The effects of cannabis are dictated by its levels of THC and CBD, with each having different effects on the brain and body. Most Indica strains are thought to have a higher proportion of CBD, which lends them their calming effects.
Most research in favor of cannabis for ADHD shows benefits of CBD, so you may want to choose a cannabis strain with a higher proportion of CBD (such as an Indica product) or try CBD oil (or other CBD-only product) instead of cannabis.
About 30% of people who use cannabis will develop a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder occurs when substance use begins to interfere with a person’s day-to-day functioning.
Research shows that CBD alone, without THC, is not addictive. So, if you are concerned about developing a substance use disorder, you may want to choose a product with only CBD as opposed to both CBD and THC.
There’s little research on whether cannabis can help with ADHD. The research that exists is mixed: Some studies have found that cannabis can help with ADHD symptoms, while others conclude there is insufficient evidence to make that conclusion.
In most cases, ADHD doesn’t qualify for state medical cannabis programs, and cannabis should never be used to treat ADHD in people under age 21. It's best to have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider about using cannabis if you have ADHD.
It’s normal to wonder whether cannabis can treat your ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. Luckily, researchers are continuing to explore the medical potential of cannabis. Hopefully, within a few years, we’ll have a better idea of the impact of marijuana on people with ADHD.
Yes, you should always talk with your healthcare provider before stopping ADHD medications. Sometimes finding the right medications for ADHD can take time. Rather than stopping your medications, reach out to your medical provider to discuss your concerns.
If your cannabis use is interfering with your day-to-day functioning, it’s time to seek help. Remember that even in states with recreational cannabis programs, cannabis is illegal for people who are under the age of 21.
There’s little research about the effects of different forms of cannabis for people with ADHD. However, CBD seems to show more promise for treating ADHD, compared to cannabis that contains THC and CBD. Talk to your healthcare provider about your specific situation.
There’s not enough research to conclude whether cannabis helps people with ADHD. This includes microdosing, or the practice of taking ultra low doses of cannabis to help manage symptoms without a high. If you’re interested in microdosing to help control ADHD, talk with your healthcare provider.