Patients diagnosed with ADHD may be able to replace habit-forming pharmaceutical treatments with medical marijuana, according to a new Israeli study.
The study, recently published in the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal, set out to identify whether specific cannabis compounds could effectively treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To test their hypothesis, researchers identified 59 adults who were diagnosed with ADHD and were also enrolled in Israel's medical cannabis (MC) program. Subjects were asked to self-report their medical cannabis use, ADHD symptoms, anxiety levels, and sleep quality using standard psychological questionnaires.
These subjects were divided into two groups based on their cannabis use. Thirty-five subjects were considered a “high dose” group, using medical cannabis four to 12 times a day and consuming 40 to 70 grams of cannabis per month. The “low dose” group consumed cannabis an average of three times a day, or 20 to 30 grams per month. Six other subjects were unable to accurately report their specific dosages.
Half of the subjects were able to provide the exact name of the specific cultivar of medical cannabis that they were using, and this data allowed researchers to explore which cannabis compounds were most effective at providing ADHD treatment. Researchers discovered that patients in the high dose group consumed more THC, THCV, CBD, and a terpene known as trans β farnesene than the low dose group.
After analyzing the subjects’ questionnaires, researchers found that “the higher-dose consumption of MC components (phyto-cannabinoids and terpenes) is associated with ADHD medication reduction.” Overall, the subjects in the high dose group “reported a higher occurrence of stopping all ADHD medications.”
Further analysis of specific cannabis cultivars also revealed that high doses of CBN were associated with lower scores on the self-reported ADHD symptom questionnaire. Researchers did not find any difference in anxiety levels, sleep quality, or sleep duration between the two groups, however.
ADHD patients are traditionally treated with psychostimulant pharmaceuticals, including methylphenidate (Ritalin) and other amphetamine derivatives. In addition to being habit-forming, these drugs can cause many adverse side effects, including insomnia, anxiety, high blood pressure, nausea, headaches, and erectile dysfunction. In contrast, medical cannabis treatments are rarely associated with adverse effects, raising the possibility of a safer, cannabis-based treatment for this common disorder.
The researchers note that the questionnaire-based nature of the study prevents them from conclusively stating that medical cannabis can treat ADHD, but the results clearly indicate that further research is worth undertaking.
“These results, although not causal, might shed light on the potential beneficial effects of MC on ADHD symptom severity and motivate future prospective studies in order to validate our results,” the authors concluded. The researchers also suggest that further studies could eventually lead to ADHD being approved as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis use.
This study also supports prior research suggesting that medical cannabis can help patients suffering from chronic pain or other conditions decrease their usage of opioids, benzodiazepines, or other addictive drugs.