Imagine having a very difficult time paying attention to others and making sense of what they are saying. Imagine being constantly restless, bored and ready to jump to the next thing. Welcome to the life of individuals with ADD/ADHD. This condition affects about 6-9 percent of children and young adults as well as about 5% of all adults globally. In this article, we will treat the two as the same condition and see how and why people use medical marijuana to treat this serious condition.
What exactly is ADD/ADHD?
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two forms of mental health conditions that impact the ability to: l
- Retain/process information
The difference between the two is the hyperactivity since individuals with ADD have the ability to stay peaceful and calm.
ADD/ADHD has been shown to affect men and women differently. First, women are less likely to be diagnosed with this controversial disorder, in addition, not a lot of research exists on how it affects women.
Women with ADD/ADHD are more susceptible to suffer
- Obesity and
- Eating disorders
On the other hand,
men are more likely to experience
- Portray behavioral issues
- Trouble with substance abuse
- Prone to car accidents
As if these were not enough problems already, this cognitive condition often goes hand in hand with other mental disorders such as anxiety disorders e.g. obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and chronic depression.
Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
People suffering from ADD/ADHD experience acute restlessness which can disrupt many aspects of life. Cognitive problems start showing at around the ages of 5 and 7 years. The first sign is when a child starts having a lot of trouble with school work. Some of the most common symptoms of ADD/ADHD include:
- Being easily distracted, bored or forgetful
- Difficulty paying attention to details
- Issues with maintaining focus and concentration
- Poor organization skills
- Frequent daydreams
- Shifty moods
There is a lot of speculation among the medical community when it comes to the exact cause of ADD/ADHD. However, as with a lot of mental disorders, many researchers agree on the factors that may contribute to its development. Primarily, scientists think that the condition may be as a result of lack of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that transmits signals between neurons, that is, the nerve cells in your brain. Dopamine is responsible for thought processes such as attention and memory.
According to a study performed on twins and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, there is a strong genetic link for ADD/ADHD with up to 70-80 percent heritability.
A number of risk factors have also been shown to increase the chances of a child being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. These factors include:
- Drinking during pregnancy
- Exposure to toxic environments
Treatments for ADD/ADHD
No matter what causes ADD/ADHD in the first place, the condition is bound to worsen if left untreated. Fortunately, it is highly treatable and the symptoms can be managed successfully.
Treatments for ADD/ADHD normally entail the use of stimulant medications, for example, Adderall and Ritalin are one of the most prescribed drugs by doctors. These drugs help by improving attention, focus and cognitive functioning. Nevertheless, even though these medications help address the symptoms, the side effects can be unpleasant and some people are unable to keep up; not to mention the risks of addiction and substance abuse. For this reason, non-stimulant medication such as Intuniv and Strattera can be more effective.
The only issue with Intuniv and Strattera as treatments is that they do not help you relax. In addition, they can cause nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal cramping and even diarrhea. To avoid the adverse effects caused by these drugs, an increasing amount of people opt to use marijuana as a treatment instead. Theoretically, this is a viable option since cannabis portrays the same effects such as raising dopamine levels, same as the above medications. Let us take a look at how exactly medical marijuana can help control ADD/ADHD.
How Medical Marijuana can help treat ADD/ADHD
Through the lens of popular culture, people who take marijuana are rarely considered as a model for high cognitive performance and focus.
That explains why there was a lot of skepticism when a small group of researchers decided to study cannabis as an alternative form of medication for treating ADD/ADHD. However, the number of patients who could swear to how marijuana helped with their conditions fueled the interest, and well, the findings are interesting.
According to Dr. David Bearman, a leading cannabis researcher,
There are many potential therapeutic values when the cannabinoids found in marijuana interact with the brain center that produces dopamine.
It increases the availability of dopamine which has the same effects as the treatments for ADD/ADHD mentioned above.
The mechanism of action is, however, different since stimulants such as Ritalin act by binding to the dopamine and influencing its metabolic breakdown.
The compounds found in marijuana (cannabinoids) can regulate dopamine levels when dosed appropriately. Marijuana has been shown to provide the mental relaxation necessary for keeping patients focused. Furthermore, it has been shown to make organization easier and it helps to even out mood swings.
In another paper published in 2009, researchers focused on the connection between the dopamine and endocannabinoid systems in those with ADD/ADHD.
For an unknown reason, individuals with this cognitive disorder tend to have elevated levels of anandamide, a chemical produced in our brains with the same properties as THC.
In those with ADD, the enzyme that is supposed to breakdown anandamide does not function correctly. Additionally, this enzyme, known as FAAH, was way less in the patients.
This is where medical marijuana comes in.
Consuming cannabis increases the concentration of dopamine as well as activating dopamine neurons in your brain. In this sense, it works just the same as normal ADD/ADHD medications since more dopamine means better focus and attentiveness.
When people use marijuana for recreational use, getting “high” is usually the objective. This comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, most of the marijuana’s therapeutic effects come from a different compound known as cannabidiol or CBD.
It is non-psychoactive and causes a feeling of alertness and can reduce pain. Therefore, if you are self-medicating with marijuana and would like to avoid the “high”, taking CBD oils or strains with higher concentrations of CBD is advisable.
Besides helping with the direct symptoms of ADD/ADHD, marijuana can also: ease the side effects caused by conventional medication, including nausea, insomnia and lack of appetite.
While most medical experts agree that the anecdotal evidence to support the use of marijuana as the major treatment for ADD/ADHD is not yet sufficient, researchers are very optimistic about the potential this natural herb holds.
When stereotypical and political obstructions slow up and with research full steam ahead, chances are that cannabinoid therapy can provide a whole new frontier for more effective and secure medication for ADD/ADHD as well as many other mental disorders that affect the lives of millions of people.