Marijuana and ADHD

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in America, and both the recreational and medical use of marijuana remains a highly controversial issue in most American states. Most marijuana use is still experimental and, unfortunately, limited research exists about the clinical applications of cannabis products, especially in consideration to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Few scientific studies examine marijuana and ADHD, and anecdotal reports vary significantly on the potential benefits and drawbacks of using marijuana for ADHD. Further research is needed to understand ADHD and marijuanause and determine whether it is a safe remedy for ADHD symptoms.

marijuana nugs and leaf
So, why would someone who lives with ADHD experiment with marijuana use? Most physicians prescribe stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to treat ADHD, but for many people, these medications may prove ineffective, or their side effects may be too uncomfortable. People who live with ADHD may seek out alternatives to stimulants, and may wonder, “Does marijuana help ADHD?”

Common ADHD symptoms include social awkwardness, inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity and poor judgment. These behavioral issues may disrupt a person’s daily life significantly and impair their ability to function in settings like work, home or school. Unfortunately, these ADHD symptoms, especially impulsivity, can contribute to drug and alcohol abuse and experimental marijuana use. People who have ADHD may feel out of place in social settings and may use marijuana to fit in with their peers. However, marijuana use can also have adverse side effects for people who have ADHD.

One of the main reasons why some people believe marijuana and ADHD could have a beneficial relationship is that marijuana triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine can promote relaxation and mood regulation, which may seem appealing to people who live with ADHD. Marijuana may ease some of the symptoms of hyperactivity, but it may also worsen focus, attention and motivation issues for some people. A person who lives with ADHD may use marijuana and experience temporary relief of ADHD symptoms. However, the risks of self-medicating with a largely unstudied and unregulated drug may outweigh the short-term benefits.

Ultimately, marijuana affects people in different ways, but limited data exists on how the drug interacts with ADHD. “The fact is the relationship between ADHD and marijuana use is probably just too varied and personalized to find clearly definable groups who use and who don’t use,” says therapist Larry Maucieri Ph.D., a contributing author for Psychology Today. “At least anecdotally, many patients with ADHD mention its positive impact on focus as part of the draw in using it.” Until more research occurs, the question, “Does marijuana help with ADHD?” does not have a simple answer.

Most research on medical marijuana and ADHD treatment is short-sighted (done with small or unrepresentative population samples) and many professional studies have inconclusive, or mixed, results. A review of several hundred online forums reported that nearly 25 percent of discussion participants believed that marijuana is effective in managing ADHD symptoms, but this data is purely opinion-based and is not the generally accepted view of most medical practitioners. It is possible that clinicians would consider medical marijuana to treat ADHD symptoms if conventional medicine proves ineffective, but this approach is not the standard practice.

The relationship between drug use and ADHD is complicated. Many people wonder, “Can marijuana cause ADHD?” or whether a person who has ADHD is more likely to abuse marijuana. Although more medical studies are needed to answer these questions fully, one aspect is generally agreed upon in the medical community: ADHD typically manifests earlier than most substance use disorders. In many cases, ADHD is diagnosed, and treated, during childhood, whereas many cases of marijuana abuse and addiction are identified in adolescence or young adulthood. Marijuana use causing the development of ADHD is unlikely.

Currently, no one can say with certainty whether marijuana significantly benefits or worsens ADHD symptoms. Anecdotal evidence suggests that marijuana may help people who live with ADHD, but ongoing, scientific research may reveal different results.

For people who live with ADHD, it can be tempting to use drugs like cannabis to soothe uncomfortable symptoms and feel calm and composed, but marijuana is a habit-forming drug. The more frequently a person uses marijuana, the more their brain grows used to and dependent on the substance to function normally. When a person feels like they can’t get through the day without marijuana, or they use the drug compulsively despite the consequences, they are likely developing a marijuana addiction. If someone has ADHD and develops a marijuana addiction, these conditions are called co-occurring disorders. These conditions exacerbate each other’s harmful effects, and professional, dual-diagnosis treatment may be necessary for someone to heal from these co-occurring disorders.

If the person stops using marijuana abruptly, they may struggle with worsened ADHD symptoms. If they are addicted to marijuana, they will likely experience physical and mental marijuana withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.

Examining Risk Levels: Marijuana Use and ADHD

Unfortunately, people who live with ADHD may be more likely to use marijuana, and more prone to developing a marijuana use disorder. The latest data on marijuana abuse and ADHD illuminates the relationship between marijuana, ADHD and substance use disorders.

  • A recent research study shows that children who have diagnosed ADHD face a high risk of substance abuse and addiction, including marijuana use. The same study cited that compared to their peers, children who are diagnosed with ADHD are three times more likely to use marijuana in their lifetime.
  • Of all adults who do not seek treatment for their ADHD, half will develop an alcohol or drug addiction during their lifetime, according to existing research.
  • According to a scientific study, ADHD is a common condition among people who have substance use disorders like drug or alcohol addictions.
Important points to remember about marijuana and ADHD include:

  • It is not yet proven whether marijuana can treat ADHD. There is not enough scientific research to conclude that marijuana use, including medical marijuana, is safe to treat ADHD symptoms. Anecdotal data exists, but these reports are inconsistent and unreliable. Marijuana abuse may only worsen ADHD symptoms.
  • Any type of marijuana use is risky, including medical marijuana use. Marijuana use is not without risk because it is an addictive drug. Symptoms of ADHD, like impulsivity, may make children and adults more likely to experiment with marijuana to ease their ADHD symptoms. However, not everyone who has ADHD abuses marijuana.
  • Marijuana addiction can co-occur with ADHD. If someone uses marijuana repeatedly, they could develop a marijuana addiction.
  • Professional treatment can help a person heal from marijuana addiction and ADHD. Dual-diagnosis treatment, commonly offered at rehab centers like The Recovery Village, is designed to treat co-occurring disorders like marijuana abuse and ADHD. To better understand the risks of your marijuana use, and to learn about rehab for marijuana addiction, you can:

  • Complete a marijuana addiction self-assessment: This 12-question quiz helps you evaluate your risk of marijuana addiction. Upon submitting the assessment, you will receive a detailed email explaining your specific risk level and recommended next steps. 
  • Call The Recovery Village’s marijuana hotline: At The Recovery Village, our representatives understand addiction, and many of them are in recovery themselves. When you call our marijuana hotline, you can talk with someone about your marijuana use and get advice about available treatment options. Our marijuana hotline is completely confidential, free and available at any time.     
  • Marijuana and ADHD | Can Marijuana Help ADHD?
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