Is cannabis use worthwhile in ADHD? What is known about it so far

According to research, around two to six percent of all children in Germany suffer from ADHD, with symptoms that vary in severity. It is much less well known that in addition to children and adolescents, adults also suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, often undiagnosed. Around three percent are said to suffer from it in this country, and the trend is rising. A classic therapy consists of drugs such as Medikinet to reduce inattention. For some years now, the number of studies on the properties of cannabis therapy has been growing, and this is also of interest to ADHD experts. Although there is only one pilot study on the subject so far, it has caught the attention of researchers. We tell you what you need to know about cannabis for ADHD and what alternatives there are.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - what is it?

ADHD is a hyperkinetic disorder that occurs frequently in childhood. In order to make the diagnosis, it is necessary that the typical symptoms appear before the age of 7 and last longer than half a year. To date, it has not been fully deciphered what causes ADHD to develop, but it is tipped that there is a genetic prevalence. In addition, people with ADHD are said to have lower activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. In these regions, information is processed and transmitted to other brain regions.

What symptoms do ADHD patients show?

The everyday life of people with ADHD is characterized by numerous symptoms that can persist into adulthood. If the diagnosis was not made in children, adults are often unaware of their disorder. Here is an overview of the classic symptomatology associated with ADHD:

  • Impulsivity
  • Lack of concentration
  • Rash actions in everyday life
  • Inappropriate reactions in everyday life, such as uncontrolled anger
  • Hyperactivity (rapid speech, urge to move, inner restlessness)
  • Forgetfulness
  • Easy distractibility
  • Aggressiveness
  • Sleep disturbances

The typical ADHD patient has difficulty concentrating in everyday life. A large number of patients react impulsively, inappropriately and are therefore often rejected by those around them. In families with an affected child, it is often the siblings who suffer, as the risk of quarrels is significantly increased.

How does cannabis work for ADHD?

Although there is a lot of research regarding the effect of medication on the brain of an ADHD patient, research on medical cannabis is still in its infancy.

A pilot study was conducted in 2017 and included 30 subjects. Half of the participants received CBD- and THC-based medical cannabis. The other 15 participants were given a placebo. During the studies, cannabis was shown to reduce impulsivity, lability and inattention. However, there was no significant improvement in symptoms, so this case can only give an indication of the potential effect. Compared to the classical prescribed drug methylphenidate, however, the effect of medical cannabis was to be evaluated as equal or at least similar. This, in turn, at least suggests that more than a pilot study is needed. So far, medical cannabis is considered to have too many side effects to be used efficiently for the treatment of ADHD.

Which doctor prescribes cannabis for ADHD?

Not much is known about the use of medical cannabis for ADHD in Germany. Although it has been officially possible to be supplied with medical cannabis via a doctor since 2017, the condition ADHD is not included in this.

On the part of ADHS Deutschland e.V., a statement was made that referred to the relationship of side effects/effects in cannabis and ADHD. The effectiveness of cannabis does not exceed the potential risks of side effects, and there are sufficient drugs based on methylphenidate to achieve relief of symptoms in adults.

Nevertheless, according to the Federal Institute for Drugs, there were about 163 prescriptions of cannabis for ADHD by 2022. Due to the potential side effects from the treatment, however, no general recommendation has been released. Whether a treatment with cannabis for ADHD is useful depends on the assessments of the treating physician. If, for example, it is shown that medication does not work or only works insufficiently despite the therapy carried out, many affected persons are looking for an alternative.

Medical cannabis and methylphenidate - medical experts warn against it

Not only medical cannabis, but also the drug obtained illegally can become a danger for people with ADHD. In a study, the effect of the combination of methylphenidate and cannabis was tested on healthy people. As a result, there was an increase in heart rate, which in turn can lead to the amplification of symptoms in mental illnesses such as ADHD. It is therefore strongly advised not to take cannabis and ADHD medication in combination and without consulting a doctor.

What is known about cannabinoid therapy with CBD?

If cannabis therapy has too severe side effects in ADHD treatment, CBD could be an important option as an alternative. Several studies have already proven that cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system of the human brain and can also have an impact on mental disorders. Although research has yet to reach a final verdict on this, CBD has proven to be a valuable adjunct in modern psychiatry.

CBD is the most researched cannabinoid after classical THC. It can be used legally by adults and is available over-the-counter. Conditions include that it contains no more than 0.2% THC and that it is grown in a controlled manner from EU cannabis seeds. Although there is still no specific study on CBD and ADHD, the question arises whether the cannabinoid could be an asset in therapy in adulthood. At least the areas of application for which CBD is used by people today speak in favor of this:

CBD is said to reduce anxiety

There have been several studies and research looking at the effect of CBD on anxiety. Initial results show that the effect of the cannabinoid can be seen as calming and slightly depressing, without the typical sedation. Theoretically, it is conceivable that the complaining hyperactivity can be reduced with regular use of CBD. However, there are no research results to this effect. However, self-users regularly report that they have been able to improve their condition through the use of CBD.

An effect on impulsivity and uncontrolled behavior would also be conceivable. If CBD is able to lead to a calmer and more balanced emotional state in general, this would be a logical explanation.

CBD shows clear efficacy for sleep disorders

Symptoms such as hyperactivity cause many adults with ADHD to suffer from sleep disorders. Cannabis is known to have a sleep-promoting effect. In a study, at least the approach was created that CBD also has such an effectiveness. Especially patients with chronic pain report good experiences regarding sleep disorders and the use of CBD.

Are medicinal cannabis flowers different from CBD?

Classic cannabis cannot be compared to CBD. In the context of a cannabinoid therapy, the substance used is the decisive factor. Cannabis contains THC as its main active ingredient, a cannabinoid that is only available in Germany by prescription. It has a psychoactive effect and thus an influence on perception. Although there is no significant difference between CBD and THC flowers visually, they are not identical products.

CBD flowers contain a maximum of 0.2% THC and thus do not trigger a psychoactive effect. Moreover, they are not sold for consumption in this country, but only for the production of aromatherapy or for further processing. Medical cannabis contains CBD and THC as well as some other cannabinoids. It induces a high in the user, which can also have a negative effect on ADHD patients. This is one of the reasons why the treatment of mental illnesses with cannabis is still viewed critically today. For example, it is known that cannabis is capable of increasing anxiety or even triggering it. These effects are not known for CBD.

What do users of cannabis and cannabinoids say about ADHD?

It will be some time before there is valid and reliable data from the research community. It is unclear whether cannabis will in future be one of the alternatives to classical medications for ADHD. However, there are reports on the Internet of users who use cannabinoids, including THC, for self-medication. These often state that symptoms such as impulsivity and concentration problems can be alleviated by cannabinoids.

In general, however, it is not recommended to treat ADHD on your own, especially if a diagnosis has not been made. Cannabis, and also cannabinoids in general, can also bring interactions with medications taken that need to be considered. Consequently, anyone who decides to self-medicate to relieve symptoms should always talk to their doctor beforehand. Questions such as the right amount can then also be clarified here.

Conclusion: Research situation on cannabis in ADHD still thin

It is unclear whether ADHD can be effectively treated with cannabis. The pilot study available so far is not sufficient to draw long-term conclusions. In this country, cannabinoid therapy for mental illness in particular is just beginning to undergo the necessary research. It is quite conceivable that with the planned legalization, cannabis for ADHD will become a relevant topic in the future. Further research results on the application of CBD are also to be expected.