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Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

marijuana and ADD

Medical Marijuana and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, describes inattentive, hyperactive or overly impulsive actions. Although ADD is more common in school-aged children, it affects millions of adults all over the world. Fortunately, there’s hope in medical cannabis for attention deficit disorder.

ADD affects millions

What Is Attention Deficit Disorder?

Many people use ADHD and ADD interchangeably. The official name for ADD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, even some professionals continue to call the disorder by the name given in 1980: ADD. Scientific field trial findings and advances changed the name to what it is currently. Today, researchers have supportive evidence that reveals ADD isn’t a single specific disorder. Rather, it has several variations.

ADD is a developmental, neurobiological-based disability that affects around three to five percent of school-age children. The causes of ADD are unknown. However, there’s scientific evidence suggesting ADD is genetically transmitted and is often the result of a deficiency in specific neurotransmitters or a chemical imbalance.

what is ADD

Certain studies suggest that children with ADD have a three to four percent smaller brain volume in all areas, including the temporal gray matter, frontal lobes, cerebellum and caudate nucleus.

Types of Attention Deficit Disorder

Based on the primary features associated with the condition, there are now three subtypes of ADD. Behavior symptoms are divided into impulsivity, inattentiveness and hyperactivity. The three subtypes for ADD are:

  • Predominantly Combined Type
  • Predominantly Inattentive Type
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

These subtypes acknowledge that some ADD patients have little or no trouble sitting still, but they will show inattentiveness leading to great difficulty staying focused on activities or tasks.

Other ADD patients might have no issues paying attention to an activity or task. However, they end up losing focus because they’re predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, which results in them having difficulty controlling movement and impulse.
The combined type is the most prevalent subtype. With this type, your symptoms are indicative of three of these characteristics:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

History of Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD has been called by many names through history since its first medical research recording in the late 1700’s. In 1968, it was included in health professionals’ diagnostic manuals. And, for a while, ADD was called “Minimal Brain Dysfunction.” As understanding and research of this disorder continued to grow over the decades, the description and diagnosis name of the disorder evolved.

Tests on lab rats in the 1940s showed that Ritalin could increase manageability and focus in those with the ADD, which didn’t become officially recognized as a disorder until the 1980s. Adderall was the next drug released in 1996.

ADD diagnoses have been increasing in children, too — rising from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 and then again to 11 percent in 2011-12.

rise in ADD cases

Effects of Attention Deficit Disorder

If you’re worried that you have ADD, your first step is to seek a physician’s help. Your doctor will review your symptoms and see if you fit the criteria for an official diagnosis.

ADD isn’t a disorder that affects only children. Even though symptoms may develop in your childhood years, the condition can continue into adulthood. While hyperactivity seems to improve as a teenager, you may experience ongoing struggles with issues like disorganization, inattention and poor impulse control.

Your ADD symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on your environment and physiology. You may be mildly hyperactive and inattentive when performing a task you don’t like but can maintain focus on those you enjoy. Or you may struggle with more severe symptoms that can impact your work and social situations.
Furthermore, if you have another condition like anxiety or depression, it can worsen your symptoms.

Symptoms in adults can manifest differently than those in children. You may find trouble with executive functioning which is another prominent characteristic in ADD. Executive functioning is brain activity that manages your ability to monitor behavior by organizing and planning. Other symptoms you may experience include impulsivity, inattention and restlessness. You may also experience learning, behavioral and emotional problems.

When dealing with hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, you may continuously feel “on the go” and restless as you attempt various tasks at once. You often speak and act before you think.

Attention Deficit Disorder Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • 4.1 percent of adults in the U.S. population has ADD.
  • 1.7 percent of these cases are severe.
  • The lifetime prevalence of adult ADD in the U.S. is 8.1 percent.

Current Treatments Available for Attention Deficit Disorder and Their Side Effects

ADD currently has no cure. However, some treatments can help to improve functioning and reduce your symptoms. Common ADD treatments include medication, therapy or a combination of both.


For many patients with ADD, medications reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity. Medications may also improve ability to learn, focus and work. Stimulants are typically the first line of treatment for ADD.

1. Stimulants

Although stimulants may sound a little unusual for treating ADD, they are effective. Researchers believe they’re useful because they increase brain levels of dopamine, which plays a significant role in attention and thinking. Examples of stimulants include methylphenidate or amphetamine.

Side effects of stimulants may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Stomachaches and headaches
  • Delayed growth
  • Tics
  • Irritability after medicine wears off
  • Moodiness

2. Non-Stimulants

Non-stimulants take longer than stimulants to begin working, but they still help to improve impulsivity, focus and attention in patients with ADD. Your doctor may prescribe a non-stimulant if you’ve been experiencing troubling stimulant side effects or if stimulant medication hasn’t been effective. Examples of non-stimulants include guanfacine and atomoxetine.

Depending on the non-stimulant medication, side effects may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss (due to less appetite)
  • Sedation
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Mood swings
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart rhythm changes

3. Antidepressants

Although the FDA hasn’t necessarily approved antidepressants for the use of treating ADD specifically, doctors sometimes prescribe them to adult ADD patients. Tricyclics are the common antidepressants prescribed. They work similarly to stimulants by affecting the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine.

Some side effects of antidepressants may include:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rebound
  • Tics
  • Emotional problems
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches

Various brands of antidepressants have their potential side effects and benefits. Your doctor may have to try out a few different types or dosages before finding the one best suited for your symptoms.


Therapy is another ADD treatment, but it may not treat ADD symptoms effectively. Nonetheless, when your doctor adds therapy to medication or another ADD treatment plan, it may help you and your family cope with the everyday challenges of ADD better.

In children and teens, teachers and parents can help with following directions and staying organized with tools like keeping a schedule and routine, giving rewards and praise for good behavior and using notebook and homework organizers.

In adults, a therapist or mental health provider can help manage ADD with tools like breaking large tasks into smaller tasks and keeping routines.

How/Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder

Cannabis can help sufferers of this condition with being able to pay attention, focus their attention on a specific subject, and formulate ideas in their head that they could not before. Cannabis truly helps ADD sufferers stay on task and help them keep their lives on track. Marijuana, in its most natural form, is one of the safest and therapeutically active substances known to man.

cannabis ADD help

The benefits of medical cannabis for ADD are undeniable — as acceptance of this form of medicine continues to increase nationwide, hopefully, more patients will one day be able to take advantage of it.

Because there are so many medical cannabis patients reporting marijuana’s ability to promote focus as an alternative to stimulants, physicians have begun to take a closer look at its use in treating ADD.

Having to live with ADD can be paralyzing and stressful. However, many ADD patients have found relief and comfort using medical marijuana. In fact, a 2014 study suggests that people who are impulsive and hyperactive tend to be more likely to turn to weed.

Since the herb is effective for reducing stress and promoting relaxation, this information is not surprising. Individuals with attention deficit disorder often think of multiple things at once throughout the entire day. This can be exhausting! If you’re experiencing the same issue, consider medical weed as a way to mentally switch off and unwind.

What Symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Some symptoms of ADD treatable by marijuana include:

  • Hyper-impulsivity: You have CB1 receptors that decrease and modulate neuronal activity and producing a calming effect.
  • Panic attacks: THC, the chemical compound in marijuana, deconditions CB1 receptors.
  •  Anxiety: CBD works as an anti-anxiety agent and binds to your CB2 receptors.
  • Lack of attention: THC will slow down the overactivity of your ADD brain so you can stay focused on the task at hand.
  • Hyper-sensibility to situations that are stressful: CBD and THC help to relieve fear and anxiety.
  • Insomnia: Since THC slows your brain down, it helps promote sleepiness.
  • Depressive tendency: When THC binds to your CB1 receptors, it enables the release of serotonin.

Here are some other ways marijuana can act beneficially:

  • Stimulates Appetite. When on Adderall and some other medications, your appetite may decrease, and you find it difficult to eat. If you don’t eat enough, it can impact your health negatively. Cannabis for attention deficit disorder treatment help stimulate your appetite.
  • Treats Nausea. Some medications for ADD can also leave you nauseous for extended periods of time, which is why many patients turn to marijuana instead. In fact, there have been numerous studies proving how beneficial medical weed is for nausea.
  • Releases Dopamine. As mentioned, weed also helps your body release dopamine, and this helps regulate mood. It can be especially useful for ADD patients who also struggle with mood disorders. Dopamine release is also linked with reward, which is associated with other essential body processes that control appetite, attention, sleep and learning.

A 2009 study explained the interconnection between the endocannabinoid system in ADD patients and dopamine. An ADD diagnosis means you have more anandamide, which is a neurotransmitter that binds to the THC receptor. In ADD patients, the Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme needed to break down anandamide down, is insufficient. When this type of imbalance occurs in your body, you run out of your dopamine supply too quickly, making it hard to focus. Taking marijuana, however, regulates this dopamine supply and your mood.

According to a 2015 study in which researchers evaluated standard treatment for resistant patients, marijuana dramatically improves ADD symptoms. The study included 30 participants between 21 and 51 years old, with more male participants than female, as the majority of ADD patients are male. All the patients in the study reported improvement in ADD symptoms like impulsivity and concentration.

Patients also experienced improved sleep in other cases. All of the participants used a medical flower and dronabinol, a THC drug used for treating nausea and vomiting. Even though it was a small case study, researchers were still confident that marijuana is an effective treatment option for ADD patients, particularly those who don’t respond well to typical treatment methods.

ADD medications like Adderall and Ritalin may work well to help you improve cognitive functions and concentration. However, they also cause unwanted side effects like nausea and vomiting. Prescription medications can also cause a lack of appetite, insomnia and suicidal thoughts, and they’re highly addictive as well. Medical cannabis is a nausea-free option that is safer for your mind and body.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Attention Deficit Disorder

When receiving an ADD diagnosis, you’ll need help concentrating. Certain cannabis strains can help you stay productive and focused while others provide a calming effect.

Mental engagement and energy strains may include:

  • Sour Diesel (Sativa)
  • Cinex (Sativa)
  • Green Crack (Sativa)

Calming focus strains include:

  • Blueberry Headband (Hybrid)
  • True OG (Indica)

There are also strains that help you through the side effects of ADD medication like lack of appetite and insomnia. These include:

  • Goo (Indica)
  • Jupiter OG (Indica)

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Attention Deficit Disorder

A lot of patients who have ADD are children, making smoking medical marijuana problematic. One effective alternative method is a tincture which is a liquid, such as oil, which is an extract of cannabis. This extract sometimes consists of the leaves of the plant, but more often consists of the buds or flowers.

You take tinctures in the form of drops administered to the gums. Tinctures are extracted from a particular strain or they can be a hybrid of multiple strains. These liquids tend to be highly concentrated, meaning patients don’t need to take a lot to get the amount of medication they need to find relief.

Much like smoking, tinctures will usually take effect very quickly — in as little as a few seconds, in some instances. Patients often report feelings of calm almost immediately after administering a dose. But it can take a while to determine exactly how much to take. Some people find they may need to take a bit more to achieve the effects they’re looking for. Many tinctures, however, have a somewhat bitter taste when taken in their concentrated form. Some patients find that mixing a tincture with their favorite morning beverage or in a mild tea at night will produce beneficial effects without the unpleasant taste.

Getting Started With Medical Marijuana and Attention Deficit Disorder

As with all forms of medicinal marijuana, you need to have an extended talk with your or your child’s doctor to determine the best way to administer medical cannabis for ADD. If your doctor believes that marijuana would be beneficial, talk to an expert at your local dispensary to find out the strains that are typically most effective for treating the condition.

If you’ve been on the fence about trying cannabis for attention deficit disorder, you may want to talk with others who have had success in using it for treatment. When you’re ready to give it a try, search for a medical marijuana doctor.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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