With marijuana becoming more prevalent in use, whether medical or recreational, many people are talking about it helping their ADHD. But there is no current research showing a specific direct impact on ADHD.
To get the facts about the use of marijuana, or cannabis, I had a conversation with Dr. Roberto Olivardia, clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. What I learned was quite revealing.
There are specific conditions that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for medical marijuana. Other than that, when people say they are using marijuana for medical purposes, they might be self-medicating, which is very different from actual medication.
Marijuana has a direct impact on ADHD, but not in positive ways. In fact, it can actually make symptoms of ADHD worse in the long run, particularly for people younger than age 28, as the frontal lobes of the brain are still in development stage. Use of marijuana in people under age 28 can have a significant negative neurological impact.
Some have claimed that nicotine helps to focus with ADHD, which may be true because nicotine is a stimulant, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Those with ADHD are at a higher risk for nicotine addiction.
In the 1960s when almost everybody smoked, those with ADHD were much more likely to smoke, and there’s a dependent side of it, but there was also the notion that they were rewarded with a higher level of performance and focus because nicotine helped them. The issue is that, while it may appear to be good, there are a lot of long-term negative consequences to smoking.
Smoking these substances is more like short-term gratification versus long-term risk. For example, it’s not good for your heart because it dilates blood vessels, changes the heart rate, and increases the chance of a heart attack just one hour after smoking.
It’s difficult to get accurate data from people who self-report around the effect that cannabis has on them, especially those with ADHD, because they more likely will report benefits. However, it’s hard for them to report on things that they don’t know are happening.
For example, there is a wealth of research showing how cannabis decreases motivation over time that actually leads to memory impairment and makes attentional focus more difficult. It slows the brain processing speed. The ability to learn is decreased. Reaction time is slower. One’s personal affect is changed in terms of emotional expression. The ability to perceive time is diminished. Ability to control impulses is reduced.
These effects apply to everyone, not just those with ADHD. But when you add all these negative effects to an ADHD brain that is already vulnerable, you have a brain that is so much more degraded in its executive function ability.
If you consume cannabis or know someone who does, you should learn more by listening to my podcast with Dr. Roberto Olivardia at this link: http://tobtr.com/11884280