Article written by
Ruth LemonVP of Operations
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that generally begins in childhood and is characterized by impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. There are numerous existing treatments to help individuals cope with symptoms of ADHD and get on with their daily activities. Many of these medications come with undesirable side effects, which is one reason why people with ADHD seek alternative remedies, such as cannabis.
There is no evidence to conclusively state that medical marijuana helps those with ADHD, although there is some positive preliminary evidence for the use of cannabinoids in adults with ADHD. Although cannabis produces many pleasant feelings, the effects differ between individuals.
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Should People With ADHD Use Cannabis?
The usage of marijuana in conjunction with ADHD medication is a complicated topic. ADHD medications are extremely stimulating and can produce serious side effects, such as insomnia or heightened arousal. Many questions about the efficacy and safety of ADHD medication remain a mystery, particularly for younger patients, as the medication may impact brain processes such as learning and memory.
Marijuana, or cannabis, is the green product produced from the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive element in marijuana that provides euphoric and calming effects. Cannabis also contains a non-intoxicating component, cannabidiol (CBD).
Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter that plays a role in overall well-being and is responsible for reward-seeking behavior. People with ADHD actually have a higher concentration of dopamine transporters in their brains, but these transporters remove dopamine too quickly for it to have any effect. This may be why the ADHD mind seeks stimulation to boost dopamine production more rapidly and intensively.
The use of marijuana is a common way for people with ADHD to cope with their symptoms. It is reported to boost dopamine levels and increase a sense of happiness, thus reducing the reliance on highly stimulating activities. This effect is supported by a study of 59 adults with ADHD who found that taking a high dose of cannabis and its cannabinoids reduced dependency on ADHD drugs while also improving ADHD symptoms.
Risks and Drawbacks
Some evidence suggests that THC has long-term harmful consequences, particularly on the brain during early development.
It can also negatively affect executive functioning, such as problem-solving, memory, and learning. According to a study, people with ADHD who use marijuana scored worse on cognitive and decision-making tests than those who did not, and these effects were most pronounced for those under the age of 16.
When people use marijuana and other drugs, the reward area of their brain is triggered, enhancing positive feelings. This effect is amplified in those with ADHD, who may already be using stimulant-based prescription medications that increase dopamine levels. This pattern of medication use, where dopamine levels become elevated, can lead to addiction and dependencies.
Safety of Using Cannabis With ADHD Medication
ADHD medications are prescribed to help regulate impulsive tendencies and are often combined with behavioral therapy for optimal ADHD treatment. They can be either stimulating or nonstimulating.
The concerns of combining cannabis with certain medicines or supplements include the possibility of unknown synergistic effects that are not present when each drug or supplement is taken separately. This may result in unpredictable and harmful consequences for the individual.
Marijuana has both stimulant and depressant properties. This means that, in some cases, it can counteract the stimulating effects of ADHD medications but exacerbates them in others
Some patients may use medical cannabis to reduce their intake of stimulant drugs and/or to manage adverse effects. One study on mice shows that limonene, a common terpene in many varieties of cannabis, decreased methamphetamine-induced hyperlocomotion (incessant movement due to excessive nervous system stimulation). One case study corroborates this mouse study, where a patient found cannabis to help manage ADHD symptoms such as poor tolerance to frustration, outbursts of anger, boredom, and problems related to concentration.
Despite some promising case studies, caution must be considered when mixing ADHD medications with cannabis. You should always speak with medical professionals and inform them of all the substances you are taking.
Here are some of the major ADHD medications and their potential effects when combined with cannabis:
Ritalin, methylphenidate hydrochloride, is one of the most common ADHD medications, but it reacts strongly with cannabis. A study found that it puts the heart under additional strain while impacting performance.
Adderall contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is a stimulating drug that enhances the availability of neurotransmitters, which help your brain process and execute activities faster. Because THC and Adderall increase heart rate, someone taking both medicines may experience a rapid heartbeat.
Vyvanse, lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, is an amphetamine stimulant that helps improve cognitive functioning. Cannabis may antagonize the effects of this drug, leading to unwanted side effects. However, the severity of this interaction is low.
Concerta contains methylphenidate and is similar to Ritalin. When this medicine is used with cannabis, the heart is stressed.
Dexedrine, dextroamphetamine sulfate, is similar to Adderall and can cause shallow breathing and a racing heart when combined with cannabis.
Focalin contains dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride. Some reported effects of combining Focalin with medical cannabis include a loss of consciousness, drowsiness, and depression.
The Bottom Line: Marijuana and ADHD Medications
Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder find it difficult to complete tasks and focus daily. Taking a substance that assists with levels of pleasure or makes them feel more relaxed could help improve their quality of life. Individuals who find medical marijuana use a helpful treatment for ADHD may still be taking prescription medications and should avoid mixing drugs due to the lack of known effects and the possible cardiovascular implications.
Although there may be positive effects from medical cannabis, it is not advisable to combine it with ADHD medication. Those who wish to commit to phytocannabinoid-based treatment for managing their ADHD symptoms may need to reduce their intake of other ADHD medications to prevent negative interactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does smoking marijuana make ADHD worse?
Smoking marijuana can sometimes make ADHD symptoms worse since it can negatively impact cognitive functioning. In addition, the positive effects of cannabis use are not experienced by everyone. Some people may experience adverse effects like fear, paranoia, or anxiety.
Does CBD or marijuana help ADHD?
Yes, marijuana use may help those with ADHD to manage their symptoms by improving their mood and well-being. But more research is needed to determine how marijuana and CBD can aid with ADHD symptoms. CBD does not contain THC, possibly making it a safer alternative for those on medication. However, there is limited evidence to show that it assists with ADHD.