Marijuana and ADHD—it’s a topic that can be both controversial and confusing for parents.
Can marijuana help kids with ADHD (also known as ADD), or does it make symptoms worse? What about cannabis-related products like CBD oil?
Read what three experts have to say about marijuana and ADHD.
Can marijuana help with ADHD?
Elizabeth Harstad, pediatrician: There’s no evidence that using marijuana can help with ADHD symptoms. In fact, studies show it can worsen executive function and working memory. These are areas where kids with ADHD struggle. Neither medical marijuana, nor street marijuana, which is usually stronger and may contain other chemicals, should be used to treat ADHD.
It’s also important to know that marijuana may counter the benefits of ADHD medication. And kids using marijuana are less likely to keep up with their medication.
Stephanie Sarkis, licensed and board-certified mental health counselor: Studies have found marijuana decreases executive function when you have ADHD. It can cause you to have a harder time focusing. It can impact your ability to get started on tasks or manage time. Even short-term use has this effect.
What I do see is that more of my teen and adult patients with ADHD and anxiety use marijuana. They report it helps reduce their anxiety. However, based on assessments, their executive function performance has also decreased.
The effect on anxiety is mixed, as well. Using marijuana seems to reduce anxiety for some. But it can result in more anxiety, including paranoia, for others.
Thomas Brown, clinical psychologist: There is no scientific evidence that ADHD symptoms can be relieved by using marijuana. And there is evidence that it can make symptoms worse. That’s particularly true for younger teens and if marijuana use is frequent. Frequent use also can lead to not caring enough about things that are important to care about, like schoolwork, for example.
What is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, and can it help with ADHD?
Thomas Brown: Cannabis is the plant that marijuana comes from. One product from the same plant is cannabidiol (CBD) oil. It doesn’t have THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that makes you feel “high.” Using CBD oil is different than smoking marijuana.
There’s no evidence that CBD oil can help with ADHD. Ongoing research is testing whether CBD may help to improve some other disorders. However, right now there isn’t enough evidence to show that it’s safe or effective.
It is important to be clear that CBD oil is not the same as hashish oil. The latter has very high THC content. It is usually heated and smoked in a process called “dabbing.” Hashish oil is extremely addictive and harmful to health.
Elizabeth Harstad: There is no good medical evidence showing that CBD oil should be used to treat ADHD, and it may be harmful.
Stephanie Sarkis: Some people report that CBD seems to help with their ADHD. However, this appears to be caused, in part, by the placebo effect. The mind has a lot of power over the body. If you think something might work well for you, there is a pretty good chance that it will.
It’s kind of like when your mom put a menthol rub like Vicks on your chest when you had a cold. There are no inherent healing properties to it, but it sure made you feel better. That’s the placebo effect at work.
What should I do if I suspect my child is smoking marijuana?
Thomas Brown: Parents should be aware that marijuana is used by significant numbers of middle and high school students. So it can be helpful to have a conversation about it with your child—even a young teen.
Talk about what your child is hearing about “weed” from other kids and how to respond to any opportunities to use it. Help your child understand that having or consuming marijuana by smoking or in “edibles” is against the law for minors, even in states where it may be legal for adults.
If you know your child is using marijuana, don’t ignore it. Approach your child and explain that it can worsen ADHD symptoms. Talk about how it can cancel out the benefits of ADHD medication. And discuss how frequent use can lower motivation and the ability to do well in school. If the problem persists, consult your pediatrician or a mental health professional to get some help.
Stephanie Sarkis: If you suspect that your child is smoking marijuana, it’s important to be up-front and ask. Honest, open communication works wonders. Find a time to talk to your kid when you both are not rushed and are really able to talk.
It’s also important to be compassionate. When kids and adults have brain-based issues like ADHD, depression and anxiety, they may look for a way to self-medicate. Your child may be smoking marijuana to try to fix what he knows isn’t working well.
In my practice, I give my teen and adult patients executive function tests. When they see how much marijuana decreases their executive function performance compared to before use, they’re often surprised. It helps them understand the impact.
Elizabeth Harstad: One thing to know is that the marijuana people used 10 or 20 years ago is very different from what’s available now. It’s much more potent today.
The risks here are very real. People with ADHD are 2.5 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. That may be with alcohol, marijuana or another drug. If kids start using marijuana at a young age, it’s even more likely. If you know or suspect your child is using marijuana, it’s important to intervene.
More Things You Can Do
Learn about the connection between ADHD and risky behavior. Explore a list of resources to help kids deal with harmful behavior and other risks. And read about a study that found that ADHD medication reduces the risk of substance abuse for people with ADHD.
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