ADHD and Weed: A Look at the Latest Research

weed and adhd
By Rebecca Olmos Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

ADHD has been diagnosed in over 6 million children under 17, according to the CDC. This neurodevelopmental disorder can affect various aspects of a patient's life and well-being, from daily tasks to work and personal relationships. 

While many treatment options are available, from prescription medication to psychotherapy, plenty of patients also seek alternative remedies. With the rise in accessibility of cannabis products, many ADHD patients have even considered the federally illegal but robustly versatile and therapeutic plant as an option. 

Get Your Medical Card Online Get approved today in minutes with the nation's #1 trusted medical card provider.
No appointment needed. Only billed if approved.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to function, usually diagnosed by age 12 and continues throughout life. The symptoms affect attentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and emotional regulation, impacting the ability to perform daily tasks and reach developmental goals. 

The condition has become more prevalent in the last 10 to 15 years but has been diagnosed under different names, like minimal brain dysfunction, since the 1930s. ADHD and ADD (attention deficit disorder) used to be classified as two separate diagnoses but have since been combined under one umbrella term separated into three categories: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactivity, and combined.

For a person to be diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms must be present in multiple settings like school and home. This requirement also reflects the condition's ability to affect various circumstances for the individual, from general disorganization to emotional frustration. 

For this reason, treatment is usually a mix between prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Doctors recommend more than a few different types of medications for patients, including stimulants, non-stimulants, and antidepressants.

In one review, stimulants, both amphetamines and methylphenidates, were effective in treating ADHD in about 70% of patients. Adverse side effects of these medications may include disrupted sleep, headaches, changes in appetite, and stomach issues.1 The wide range of effective and adverse effects can cause some patients to seek alternative treatment methods, like cannabis, for their ADHD diagnosis. 

Can Weed Help with ADHD?

does weed help with adhd

While many patients have found cannabis products helpful in managing their ADHD symptoms, researchers have found evidence that it may not always be the best remedy and even exacerbate certain symptoms.

One extensive review of self-reported cannabis use of patients across 268 online platforms found that 25% believed cannabis was therapeutic for ADHD, while only 8% believed it to be harmful.2 The usefulness of cannabis for ADHD patients may be due to its wide range of potential effects. 

Symptoms of ADHD can vary and are unique to the individual but can include being unable to sit still, an inability to concentrate, excessive talking, and being easily distracted. Cannabis may be helpful with its potential to be relaxing, calming, and useful for some when needing to focus.3,4 One study even noted that cannabis may be able to help increase dopamine in the brain, which may be helpful since ADHD patients are known to have lower levels of dopamine than average.5

However, one review of several studies noted that cannabis and ADHD may have the same adverse effects on attention, memory, and executive dysfunction. They also found that patients with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing cannabis use disorder, but none of them linked cannabis to symptoms of ADHD getting better or worse.6  

How weed and ADHD interact or affect one another may be unique to the individual. If you are interested in cannabis as a treatment for ADHD or its symptoms, it’s best to speak with your medical team, especially if you take any medications.

Does Cannabis Bring Any Risks or Complications for ADHD Sufferers? 

adhd and thc

ADHD and its symptoms can affect various aspects of the body and how it functions. For some, cannabis may ease some of their ADHD symptoms, but it may cause adverse effects for others.

The most direct link between cannabis and ADHD is that those diagnosed display a higher risk of developing a dependency or tolerance to the drug. Some patients with ADHD may experience issues related to their mental health, including anxiety and depression, which cannabis may sometimes make worse, especially in those who are high-dose users.7 

Cannabis use may also make ADHD symptoms related to focusing, executive dysfunction, and memory more prevalent.

Another risk ADHD patients may face is that there is no set recommended dosage that medical professionals have agreed on. This leaves room for overconsumption which has its own adverse effects or a dose not small enough to have any effect. Even if a patient works with a medical professional, it may take a few attempts with different products and dosages before they find a suitable cannabis treatment method. 

Doctors and patients should know the adverse side effects of mixing cannabis with ADHD medications. 

Can You Take ADHD Medication and Weed Together?

Cannabis products come in various consumption methods, dosages, and cannabinoid concentrations. Any form it comes in can affect various bodily functions by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. This is why it’s important to understand how cannabis also may interact with other medications.

One study examined how 10mg of THC affected methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin). While some patients were partial to it, it also increased the risk of cardiovascular strain.8 A 1:1 THC to CBD ratio administered to patients in another study produced no significant benefits or adverse effects on ADHD symptoms.9 

Since there is no set dosage that doctors recommend for ADHD patients, the effects of different cannabinoids may impact each patient differently. The safest way to experiment with cannabis as a treatment method for ADHD or any condition is to consult a medical professional first. Then, ensure you note the dose, cannabinoid concentration, and how you feel after consumption.

It’s best to start with the lowest dose possible and wait for the full effects to settle in before consuming any more.

Remember that THC-rich products will induce intoxicating effects, so CBD-rich products may be a better alternative if you wish to avoid that experience. Smoking, vaping, or tinctures will have effects that onset quickly, between a few and 15 minutes, and last for a few hours. Edibles and capsules may take longer to take effect and last several hours.10

While some users feel cannabis is beneficial for dealing with ADHD and its symptoms, others may be at risk for adverse effects.

Can Medical Marijuana Be Used as an Alternative to ADHD Medication?

which strain of weed is best for adhd

Cannabis has not been approved as an alternative for ADHD treatment or medication and remains federally illegal. This means that even for those who wish to experiment with using cannabis as ADHD treatment, it may not be accessible to them where they live.

While hemp-derived products are easier to find nationwide, little to no research supports CBD’s effectiveness on ADHD. However, it may have calming, anti-anxiety effects that may be helpful to some ADHD patients.11

Most studies that link cannabis to positive effects on ADHD symptoms come from groups of patients who self-medicate. A review of more than 1700 studies found that those who did use cannabis for ADHD did so because it helped manage their symptoms as well as the side effects of their prescribed medications. Those who used cannabis more frequently found that the cannabis mitigated their executive dysfunction.12

These findings conflict with others that have noted the high risk of developing cannabis use disorder and dependence in patients diagnosed with ADHD. Deciding whether cannabis use is potentially an effective treatment for ADHD and its symptoms is best left up to the patient’s comfort level and the doctor’s recommendation. 

While it’s important to be open and flexible when experimenting with cannabis for any condition, it’s equally important to remember that cannabis use may not be beneficial for all situations. If you continue to experience adverse effects or your ADHD symptoms worsen, stop usage and speak with a medical professional as soon as possible.

Get Your Medical Card Online Get approved today in minutes with the nation's #1 trusted medical card provider.
No appointment needed. Only billed if approved.

References

  1.  Stevens JR, Wilens TE, Stern TA. Using Stimulants for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The Primary Care Companion For CNS Disorders. 2013;15(2). doi:https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.12f01472
    ↩︎
  2.  Mitchell JT, Sweitzer MM, Tunno AM, Kollins SH, McClernon FJ. “I Use Weed for My ADHD”: A Qualitative Analysis of Online Forum Discussions on Cannabis Use and ADHD. Lidzba K, ed. PLOS ONE. 2016;11(5):e0156614. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156614
    ↩︎
  3.  Shannon S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente Journal. 2019;23(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/18-041
    ↩︎
  4. Mansell H, Quinn D, Kelly LE, Alcorn J. Cannabis for the Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Report of 3 Cases [published correction appears in Med Cannabis Cannabinoids. 2022 Sep 30;5(1):128]. Med Cannabis Cannabinoids. 2022;5(1):1-6. Published 2022 Jan 13. doi:10.1159/000521370 ↩︎
  5.  Cooper RE, Williams E, Seegobin S, Tye C, Kuntsi J, Asherson P. Cannabinoids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A randomised-controlled trial. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017;27(8):795-808. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2017.05.005
    ↩︎
  6. Stoner S. Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Considering Locked vs. Unlocked Treatment Facilities.; 2017. Accessed October 7, 2023. https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjadhd.pdf. ↩︎
  7. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice. Mental Health. In: The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. National Academies Press (US); 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425748/ ↩︎
  8. Kollins SH, Schoenfelder EN, English JS, et al. An exploratory study of the combined effects of orally administered methylphenidate and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on cardiovascular function, subjective effects, and performance in healthy adults. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2015;48(1):96-103. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsat.2014.07.014 ↩︎
  9.  Hergenrather JY, Aviram J, Vysotski Y, Campisi-Pinto S, Lewitus GM, Meiri D. Cannabinoid and Terpenoid Doses are Associated with Adult ADHD Status of Medical Cannabis Patients. Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal. 2020;11(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.5041/RMMJ.10384
    ↩︎
  10.  MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2018;49(49):12-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
    ↩︎
  11.  Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825-836. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1 ↩︎
  12. Stueber A, Cuttler C. Self-Reported Effects of Cannabis on ADHD Symptoms, ADHD Medication Side Effects, and ADHD-Related Executive Dysfunction. Journal of Attention Disorders. 2021;26(6):108705472110509. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/10870547211050949 ↩︎

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

You might also like: