ADHD and Marijuana

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder most commonly diagnosed in childhood, though it sometimes continues into adolescence and adulthood. The main symptoms of ADHD are difficulty focusing, trouble controlling behavior, and hyperactivity.

While hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity are normal childhood behaviors, children with ADHD experience them to a more severe degree that interferes with daily functioning. Symptoms must be present for at least six months in order to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD

Inattention symptoms include the following:

  • Easily distracted, forgetfulness, failure to notice details, and switching frequently between activities
  • Finding it difficult to focus
  • Becoming bored easily
  • Having trouble completing tasks or learning new things
  • Have trouble finishing homework or frequently losing things
  • Appearing not to be listening when spoken to
  • Tending to daydream, seeming confused, and moving slowly
  • Processing information more slowly than others
  • Having difficulty following instructions

Hyperactivity symptoms include:

  • Frequently fidgeting or squirming
  • Talking quickly and often
  • Seeming to move quickly and touch everything
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Being in motion constantly
  • Struggling during quiet tasks

Impulsivity symptoms include:

  • Frequent impatience
  • Making inappropriate statements, appearing emotional, and acting without caring about consequences
  • Having difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often interrupting others

This disorder has three subtypes:

  1. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: Most of the symptoms experienced are in the hyperactivity and impulsivity categories. Inattention symptoms are usually still present but to a lesser degree.
  2. Predominantly inattentive: Symptoms from the inattention category are predominantly present, although some symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity may also be experienced. This subtype typically leads to less overt symptoms, such as poor behavior in school, so adults may not notice the child has ADHD.
  3. Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive: This subtype is the most common. At least six symptoms from each category, both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive, are experienced.

ADHD is most common among young boys, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. On average, the age of onset is 7 years old. About 9 percent of American children have the disorder, and 4.1 percent of adults do. The number of diagnoses is increasing each year.

ADHD and Marijuana Use

Substance use is common among people with ADHD. According to Psychology Today, the most commonly used substances by people with this disorder are alcohol and marijuana. The reason for this link between marijuana use and ADHD isn’t clear, but some people claim that marijuana eases their ADHD symptoms. Some studies have suggested that marijuana use is most common among those with the hyperactive subtype of ADHD, suggesting that the drug alleviates these symptoms. However, this link is not well established. It is likely that the reasons for marijuana use vary between people with ADHD.

In a recent study, 35 percent of adolescents with ADHD reported using one or more illicit substances, as compared to teenagers without ADHD, of whom only 20 percent reported substance use. Ten percent of teens with ADHD met the criteria for a substance use disorder. In fact, 13 percent of those with ADHD abused marijuana, while only 7 percent of those without ADHD used the drug. A study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that risk for drug abuse was especially high among adolescents with ADHD who also had an externalizing disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder.

Effects of Marijuana

Marijuana contains a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which effects the brain and body in several ways. THC overwhelms certain areas of the brain, causing the “high” users experience, as well as symptoms like altered senses, changes in mood, slow movement, difficulty thinking, and impaired memory. Marijuana can be consumed by smoking the leaves and flowers, by consuming food products containing the plant, or by smoking marijuana extracts.

The long-term effects of marijuana can be especially pronounced in adolescents who use the drug. Marijuana can reduce thinking, memory, learning, and brain development in young people. People who begin using marijuana during adolescence lost an average of 8 IQ points in a recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other effects of prolonged marijuana use are breathing problems, increased heart rate, problems during and after pregnancy, temporary hallucinations and paranoia, and worsening mental illness.

NIDA reports that people who use marijuana experience various negative impacts on quality of life, including lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, and increased relationship problems. They also experience less success within academics and careers, with higher rates of dropout and work absences.

Treatments for ADHD and Marijuana Use

It is recommended that people with ADHD who regularly use marijuana receive treatment for both disorders simultaneously, as they can affect each other, and it may be difficult to recover from one while still suffering from the other. People attempting to self-medicate by using marijuana to treat ADHD symptoms may reduce their drug use once their ADHD is being properly treated. Cognitive and behavioral therapies have been shown to be useful in treating both ADHD and substance abuse, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry. Treatment will likely also include medications to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Medications to treat addiction are also available and appropriate in certain instances.

Various treatments are recommended for people with ADHD. Medications are usually prescribed, with the most common being stimulants. Stimulants typically have a calming effect on people with this disorder. They relieve symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, improving the individual’s ability to focus and learn. The medication that works best will vary between individuals and situations.

Behavioral therapy is often used with those with this disorder, in order to help them change or control behaviors. This can provide help with organization and completing tasks. Greater self-control is emphasized, as well as self-awareness. Therapists teach social skills and how to appropriately express emotions. Structure in daily life can also be very helpful for those with ADHD.

About The Contributor

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers

The editorial staff of Greenhouse Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

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