Can Medical Cannabis Stop The ADHD Epidemic?

Flickr - micro marijuana - melloveschallahKent Mao, Contributor
Waking Times

ADHD seems to be a touchy subject among many doctors, as it remains one of the most controversial yet most common diagnoses in today’s society. It’s interesting to note that, although ADHD is believed to affect 5% of the adult population, it is most often diagnosed in school-age children, leading many to question whether ADHD is an actual disorder or merely a convenient way of dealing with more troublesome kids.

While the days of Ritalin are long over, – there’s a new designer drug called Vyvanse – medical opinions continue to be divided on this disorder. Although most doctors agree that ADHD is a real condition, the alarming rise in diagnoses over the years leads experts to suggest that the definition of this disorder is being too loosely applied in practice.

According to a recent story in the New York Times (1), nearly one in five high school boys and 11 percent of school-age children across the United States have been officially diagnosed with ADHD. That’s a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise over the past decade.

Stimulants vs. Cocaine: What’s The Difference?

Along with the debate on how to identify children who suffer from this disorder, many parents are wary of the long-term effects of stimulant medications.

ADHD is most commonly treated with amphetamine-derived formulations, which are nearly identical in molecular structure to the street drugs known as cocaine and meth. Maybe “almost” isn’t entirely accurate, since pure methamphetamine is actually approved by the FDA for the treatment of ADHD – they just prefer to call it Desoxyn.

And while studies (2) have found that the brain can adapt to these medications – thereby requiring patients to regularly increase their dosages – there seems to be very little alternative as far as ADHD treatments go. But as is the case for many disorders, both patients and doctors alike seem to be overlooking a world-renowned plant that is currently approved for medical use in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

How Marijuana Can Help

Using marijuana to treat ADHD might seem counterintuitive, as marijuana is known to decrease its user’s attention span and overall motivation to get things done – a phenomenon admiringly known as “couch lock.” Even still, there is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence that marijuana can be useful in the treatment of this disorder, along with support from a growing body of medical marijuana research.

Before getting into how marijuana can help with ADHD, it’s important to understand just what symptoms embody this vague and often subjective disorder. Interestingly, ADHD seems to affect children in a very different way than adults. For instance, children with ADHD seem to exhibit hyperactivity, disruptive behavior, social problems and, ultimately, problems in their academic endeavors. On the other hand, adults seem to be more strongly affected by the mood-related symptoms of ADHD, which include anxiety, depression and OCD. Furthermore, the hyperactivity that is all-too-common in children seems to be almost completely reversed in adult sufferers, who seem to struggle more with an overall lack of motivation. Finally, both adults and children seem to have a higher incidence of sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Considering all of this, the symptom profile of ADHD certainly seems to support the use of medical marijuana. For instance, marijuana is known to have a calming effect on its user, which could reduce the hyperactivity exhibited by ADHD children as well as the anxiety experienced by adult sufferers. Furthermore, studies have found marijuana to be an effective treatment for depression (3), OCD (4) and a variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia (5) and sleep apnea (6).

Scientific research on the endocannabinoid system – the body’s natural cannabinoid system – provides even more support for the use of medical marijuana as a treatment of ADHD. In fact, studies (7) have found that patients with ADHD have higher levels of the endocannabinoid known as anandamide. Although anandamide is naturally produced by the human body, it has remarkably similar effects as the THC found in marijuana, as both of these cannabinoids seem to bind to the same cannabinoid receptors. Anandamide is known to be released on demand by the body in response to a variety of stress factors, suggesting that the body may activate the endocannabinoid system as a protective response to the onset of ADHD-related symptoms.

Finally, studies have identified a link (8) between activity of the endocannabinoid system and the release of dopamine. A lack of dopamine is believed to be one of the primary underlying factors in ADHD. This is the primary reason why stimulants are such an effective and commonly prescribed treatment, as stimulants mainly act to increase dopamine levels.

What Doctors Are Saying

It’s quite obvious that the majority of the medical community remains opposed to the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of ADHD, among many others. On the other hand, perspectives on marijuana are rapidly changing and doctors are beginning to voice their support for this alternative medicine.

One of these doctors is the late Dr. Claudia Jensen, who sadly passed away in 2007 after a battle with breast cancer. However, she leaves us with a convincing testimony of the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating ADHD, based on her clinical experiences as a pediatrician and her passionate work as an instructor at the University of Southern California.

In an interview with MSNBC, Dr. Jensen concisely summarized why marijuana may be a safe and effective alternative to traditional stimulants.

“They don’t have to get stoned – it’s dose-related. But they do get the benefit of being able to focus, pay attention, not be impulsive, not be angry, be peaceful and relaxed and pay attention in school, which helps them get better grades.” – Dr. Claudia Jensen

Indeed, it seems like only a matter of time until the medical community as a whole will come to recognize the tremendous benefits of prescribing medical marijuana for patients with ADHD. Until then, we can only rely on the testimony of brave spokespeople such as Dr. Jensen to guide us in this field of alternative medicine.

About the Author

Kent Mao runs the excellent website, an online resource for medical marijuana facts, information and research. actively engages in the online discussion of marijuana research and policy. You can learn more by visiting










This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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  • Dear friends,

    If you want cannabis to become a recognized legitimate medicine for ADHD then please support clinical trials at

    If we don’t come together to fix this for ourselves then no one else will either!

    Lets not wait another decade for a cultural shift that leads to our freedom. Lets get this happening now!

  • I have now launched a crowd-funding campaign for clinical trials of cannabis to treat ADHD at Until a definitive study of efficacy has been completed most ADHD patients around the world will not be able to access this vital medicine and will continue to be denied their basic human right to happy, healthy lives. Please consider giving a donation and please share the campaign page on your networks, as this is an important cause that effects many people and you can make a difference!

  • Fire

    I have ADHD, learned about this at age 40. When a boy at school the teachers paddled me for not paying attention or whatever. That didn’t work. Never used Dr. prescribed drugs, in fact really don’t like drugs, have tried lots of street drugs in 70’s and 80’s and nothing made me feel complete except marijuana and hashish. So I didn’t mix well with alcohol or drugs and don’t use. I have used medical marijuana and like over street marijuana. Problem here in Florida is they want to play games with it’s citizens. Yes it’s pain full when the legs start twitching from the toes to my hips, it’s enough to drive one crazy. Then the mind set of wanting to do something and not being able to. Sometimes I get luck and some marijuana will come my way. I smoke or eat a bud and my brain becomes active. I can actually get things done because I have the want to attitude. My legs quit twitching and foot cramps go away. Here in Florida the lawmakers know what’s best for people, that is as long as they don’t have to abide by their same laws. This article hits home and I see and experience the same. One last thing, I will not become a guinea pig for doctors. To bad the economy and housing market is so screwed up or I would sell my home and move to California or Colorado. Lawmakers here in Florida want to make Charlotte’s web .05 THC the medical Marijuana for Florida on the ballot this November, no thanks, Trix are for Kids.

  • TheRealMacDaddy

    I’m a 20-year-old college student with depression and severe ADHD. I don’t visit this site or anything, I just Googled ADHD and marijuana because I wanted to see if anyone out there was in the same boat I’m in. Clearly, that is the case. Here’s a rundown of supports for this article’s claims in my life:
    -I’ve been prescribed Adderall XR since 7th grade.

    -Recently had to increase the dose from 20 to 30mg due to tolerance.

    -My ADHD manifests itself through severe restlessness, lack of focus, and a lot of impulsivity in all aspects of life:

    -I began USING (not abusing) cannabis regularly less than a year ago.

    -Since then, the following has occurred:
    1. I’ve relaxed. I used to get very startled and experience severe mood swings when things didn’t go my way. Stress dictated my life. Now, I’m able to let things slide and go with the flow. I no longer get worked up over changes in plans, and stress no longer becomes debilitating.
    2. Motivation. Everyone says pot makes you lazy, but unless it’s some super-loud, couch-lock indica, pot actually motivates me. When I’m sober, even on my Adderall, I pin ball around, doing whatever presents itself. When I smoke, I can not only focus on my studies, but become engaged and put-forth my best effort. Homework takes me a little longer when I smoke, but not because I’m being lazy. When I smoke and do work, I feel a need to get it done the right way. I would venture to say cannabis addresses my impulsivity better than Adderall, and helps with my lack of interest from depression. My grades have actually increased since I’ve started smoking… who knew.
    3. Performance. Music is my thing. I’m on vocal scholarship at my school and am a proficient guitarist. I’m better and both of these things after using cannabis, but not just by my own estimation. Thursday night, I smoked a couple bowls with my buddy then proceeded to MC and sing in a concert of old American standards. After the concert, everyone that could make it to me made sure to shake my hand and tell me I did a wonderful job both singing and MCing. But that’s not a testament to medical cannabis without a control. I’d been suffering from performance anxiety in the spring of last year and some of the fall of this school year. Thursday was my first time performing after using cannabis, and I have to say it was my best and I’ve been singing since the 4th grade.
    4. Driving. Chock it up to ADHD, immaturity or aggressiveness, but I have nearly no patience in any situation. I walk fast, eat fast, write fast, type fast, read fast, and I drive fast. Even on Adderall, going the speed limit sounds absurd to me, but when I smoke, I’m less anxious. I can let go, and accept there’s things outside of my control, including the speed I need to be going. I’m more patient with other drivers and am able to think through my driving decisions more clearly.
    I hope the medical community addresses the benefits of cannabis for ADHD sufferers. No, ADHD isn’t painful, but my daily life is a constant struggle with impulsivity, inattentiveness, disinterest and aggression, so I’d say it’s something that causes some suffering. Pot fixes that for me. End of story. I was skeptical of medical marijuana at first. All the stoners I knew in high school were irresponsible, punk kids who just wanted to do something they weren’t supposed to. Naturally, I didn’t see much value in their drug of choice. But then I tried it a few times, and began to prefer it to alcohol, my former drug of choice (I only drink and smoke weed). I realized it didn’t make me lose control, vomit, cause blackouts, have a risk of overdose or give me a hangover. As I started to replace alcohol with pot, I began trying it on weeknights, using it before choir rehearsal or jam sessions, hell, I even smoked on the way from my mom’s to my dad’s house on Christmas.

    I’ve found that using cannabis helps the symptoms of my ADHD and depression, therefore improving my performance in nearly all aspects of life. Just a couple eye drops and some cologne and I’m good to go!

    For the record, I smoke recreationally a lot too. I’m a regular participant in nights of nearly constant smoking for hours. After doing that, I’m considerably worse at life, because at that point I’ve abused the drug. I realize this, but in my college environment, nights of blackout drinking are common, and I’ve done my fair share of that and made some horrible mistakes. That being said, I have yet to get high and make a decision I’ve regretted in the morning… that wasn’t related to overeating. I wanted to include this point to show that even when used in excess, marijuana is safe.

    Let’s all hope probation meets a swift death and we can have the freedom to use cannabis.

  • Jared Strike

    I have had ADHD for longer than I can remember. School was always challenging to me but not because the material was hard, but it was hard to pay attention. I am not in college and I use medicinal cannabis WHILE I study, and right now have a 3.0 GPA. I have noticed that when I try to study without cannabis, I have the urge to get up and walk around or my mind wanders every few minutes. I do not believe in children smoking cannabis, but I do believe at the appropriate age it is ok to let them use cannabis at their own will. It has done wonders for me even outside of my ADHD. It also helps me sleep or calm down when I have anxiety attacks or a depression episode. I am currently working on my Forensic Psychology degree and hope to shed some light on medical cannabis one day.
    One thing people don’t realize is that there are OTP extracts that come from the Cannabis plant that have a lot of the medical effects of cannabis (very limited medically compared to smoking the plant)that don’t give you the high that smoking/ingesting does. This extract is taken twice a day orally if I remember right.
    another thing is I have friends and family of friends that suffer from Crohn’s Disease. Hash Oil treatments, if legalized and affordable, could completely cure them. So to me the whole “keep cannabis illegal” is biost and stupid. I strongly encourage people to research cannabis, as did I before I tried it.
    Remember that there are THREE strains of cannabis. Sativa,Indica, and Hybrid. Sativa affects the mind and Indica affects the body. Both have played rolls with famous politicians and leaders (such as Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson).
    For the record, I suffer from subtype 2 ADHD (thats hyperactivity), insomnia (plausible cause by hyperactivity), and anxiety.

    • Jared Strike

      Also another AMAZING thing Cannabis can do is neurogenesis: it mimics and replicates neurons in the brain. This can help patients with Alzheimer’s and many more illnesses caused by neuro-decay.

      • Jared Strike

        NOW in college*

  • anonymous

    here’s a brief explanation of the effect medicinal cannabis has on I, someone afflicted by ADHD
    for purpose of contrast here’s an outline of my cognitive failures whilst sober
    -multiple thoughts consciously rendered at once
    -impulsive mood swings and decisions from such changes
    -inability to focus as result
    these perpetual thoughts I can’t help but consciously divine pile up and eventually encumber my mind to consume my bodily actions. it puts me in a state of almost possession where I am beside myself watching an episode of rage take place. it’s the continual pattern of the same track of thought I can’t unload that really unnerves me.
    how does medicinal cannabis help? upon researching it I learned it inhibits the neuron’s synapse communication (you get the idea) which provides a beautiful cure to my ailments. on it I no longer experience the claustrophobic effect my manically charged thoughts compel me to feel. I can focus on one thought at a time. I can actually use my mind to think. cannabis doesn’t inhibit cognitive ability, in my experience. it doesn’t make you stupid. it slows the thoughts providing me an environment suitable for deeper realization and understandings of conceptual aspects of life I otherwise before never would have been able to achieve so constantly stressed by my own natural psycho stimulation. this I have been able to apply to better my life in ways adderall never could. with adderall I become a zombie, obsessively compulsive and I have a strange feeling in my chest and throat for the duration the medication is in my system – the best I can describe the feeling as would be “synthetic”. I absolutely hate adderall’s effect in my personal experience and much prefer medicinal cannabis. I wish only the world would see just what degree of exponential error they hold in their misconception of marijuana as a substance as well as a medicine, especially in this world where pharmaceuticals are encouraged (over this natural grown plant) and products such as alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are in mainstream advertisement.

  • Bob Reeves

    We know that marijuana has a positive effect on the psyche, but I was surprised to find out that it is a much better treatment for ADHD and Bi-polar with no side effects than the medication I had been taking.

    Until a year ago, for seven years I took for Lamictal 200MG which has a primary use for epilepsy, but is also considered the latest treatment for ADHD and Bi-Polar, it spaced me out, put me into a cloud, It allowed me to focus by deadening my awareness of my surroundings. I told my doctor a year ago that I was quitting the medication so I could get an idea of who I am, without medication. I wanted to get a base line on my psyche and get a handle on my disability. I had tried to quit the medication several times previously without success.

    Just for the record, I have a medical marijuana card because I also have severe reflux and digestive issues, with a diagnosis from a physician at Peace Health that I had a qualifying disability. I have an up to date medical certificate based on my physical illnesses, so I was legally using marijuana during this period of time.

    My psychiatrist assisted me to slowly get off my medication and after four months I was finished with Lamictal for the first time in years. I still take seroquel an anti-anxiety medication, but have reduced the dose from 100MG to 25MG over several months, which is below the therapeutic threshold. While I was getting off Lamitcal, I continued to smoke marijuana, mostly shake, it calmed me, the changes were noticeable, but, I was amazed to find that I was doing better than I expected. Several times, I had tried to get off Lamitcal without using marijuana, sometimes because I ran out of medication; I would experienced extreme mood swings, panic attacks and would have to get back on Lamitcal within days. This time when I got off Lamitcal, it was different, I had enough shake to smoke marijuana during my withdrawal from the medication, I was surprised to find that marijuana was a much better mood regulator than the pharmaceuticals I had been taking all these years. A year from when I started this journey, I am still maintaining a functioning lifestyle, no panic attacks, depression and mood swings that are manageable, ability to focus and no more cloud. I am clearer than I have been in years, It is really amazing to me and I am thrilled by the result.

    I talked to my psychiatrist about the how happy I was with the astonishing results I was experiencing with marijuana therapy, and asked if any studies had been done about the use of marijuana for ADHD and Bi-Polar therapy. He said he had no knowledge of any studies and that marijuana had never been considered therapeutic for mental illness. In my case I am convinced that marijuana is therapeutic, my doctor is impressed by my improved state of mind, and I am thinking that there must be others out there with an ADHD or Bi-Polar diagnosis that have experienced the same improvement in their ability to cope with their psychiatric disabilities. It could be a new tool to treat mental illness.

    • Anonymous

      I agree on that. One thing to add though, you gotta stay under the effect of weed if you wanted that feeling of clear mind to continue. Which in other terms considered an addiction case. I would chose to be a weed addict rather than man made pill addict.

  • McDoogle

    A sativa dominant strain would help someone diagnosed with ADHD exponentially. Couch lock as you put it is indicative of an indica dominant strain, commonly used to alleviate bodily pain and discomfort. Whereas a sativa dominant strain promotes energy and focus. I speak from personal experience as a disabled veteran and a former college student diagnosed with ADHD.

    • Anonymous

      So its the indica strand that makes me feel like a …”couch lock”(lazy, daydreamingly out of it, drowsy, etc)? and the sativa strand is what (which actually sometimes doesn’t make me ‘feel’ high) but helps slow down my brain to focus on what is necessary and help control anger?

  • Winston Ridge

    If it didn’t help the students, well at least the teacher could use it. I had to take over my wife’s daycare a couple of times she was out. A couple of tokes sure helped me cause those kids were busting my balls. I couldn’t hardly catch my breath while something was happening or needed my attention every few seconds. A couple of tokes earlier and now you can run them like a three-ring circus until they slow down and drop. Whew ! Man, did I love “Nap Time”.

  • who

    yeah mate this site and it’s admin are in cohoots with the philosophy, we’re here to make money! and Polarize the lot of you.
    LSD25 says it all you fucking worms on that side of the screen, moderate me! deal with it OM NI!

  • dimitri

    I’m starting to be very skeptical about all the noise around medical marijuana. So much noise that it can be no other than propaganda.

    • dr brown

      it’s so easy to see the ones who’ve given their lives over to the propaganda machine…’take your pharma-meds, now…and die the slow designed death.
      they blurt the vomit regularly without even thinking.
      cannabinoid is the word, youngsters.
      twits will always follow twits
      so, don’t even try to change their minds; they’re lost with the rest of the twits.
      dr brown knows.

    • Anonymous

      Dr. Michael Alcalay successfully treated a young boy with 20 different diagnosis, including ADHD, with small amounts of medical cannabis and with great success. Letters attesting to the success came from school principals, county public nurses and teachers familiar with the boy. Traditional medicine had the boy in Level 14 lock down dosing him with more than 24 drugs, making him a total zombie. If it works, it works. The simple truth.

      • DizzyLizzy

        I don’t think that people understand what the prescription meds do to the child and how parents who have a child that actually has ADHD (which is way more than just being energetic) will look for natural ways to combat the disorder. I am not “for medical marijuana” in the use of lazy people with scripts trying to fill it just to have it. But I do believe that there are times when it can actually help a person. ADHD medications hurt the child’s liver and other internal organs. Most people do not know this. The medications cannot be stopped and started again without detrimental effects on the child’s system. This happens when the pharmacy runs out because they can only keep a certain amount in stock, or the child moves and switches pharmacies only to find out that the pharmacy cannot order it because there are not enough scripts coming in to justify keeping it in stock. I do not smoke weed, I do not ingest drugs or over the counter medications. But if I could, I would definitely get my son medical marijuana. I have him on the lowest dose of ADHD medication possible for his symptoms. The normal person would run around like a tweaker on them. Most children who come off ADHD medication, because they grew up and grew off of their parents’ insurance or the parents lost their health insurance, become dependent on street drugs such as meth. An ADHD child is rated 375% higher on health insurance than a child without ADHD. I did not believe in ADHD because I saw so many children medicated who should not have been, until my son was little. I didn’t understand. ADHD is more than energy, it is as if your child is possessed by another being. No one understands until they live it.

        • dr brown

          i feel for you and your son from my heart DL…’my inner being, i do.
          the pharma-boys n girls have had their sights leveled at ALL of us since the first ‘medicine man’ decided to sell his snake-oil
          they’ll do nothing less than attempt to have us ALL on their poisons
          now, it’s part of de-population; ‘heck put about 400 poisons into tobacco and what do you get? Something a lot different than what the red-man smoked!
          if we don’t wake up, or, if we’re ‘on’ what they’ve ‘given’ us, might as well go back to sleep.
          dr brown ain’t no back-hills hick-boy, but he grew up like one.
          dr brown thinks cannabinoids are the best medicine; why does the propaganda machine do its poppin’ best to keep Her from Us after thousands of years of proven goodness, man?

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