Cannabinoids in ADHD

ADHD and ADD* are mainly known in children and adolescents. However, the symptoms of the agonizing attention deficit disorder continue into adulthood for many of those affected – it is not uncommon for the diagnosis to be officially made only then. Some adult ADHD patients report an improvement of their symptoms when they start a therapy with cannabinoids. The main positive effects mentioned are less forgetfulness and an increased ability to concentrate. This is primarily relevant because ADHD patients find it difficult to pay attention to a task over a longer period of time – as a result, they “procrastinate” in less important activities. Therapy with cannabis can lead to a higher focus with more inner calm – as a result, those affected have a better grip on the “big picture” and can therefore manage their everyday life more competently. 

What is ADHD/ADD?

ADHD or ADD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is considered the most common psychiatric disorder in childhood and adolescence. According to current estimates, around five percent of children and adolescents between the ages of three and 17 are affected in Germany; boys are affected around four times as often as girls. Around 60 percent of ADHD patients continue to suffer from the core symptoms in adulthood, which are associated with difficulties in concentration and attention. The root causes of the disorder are not yet fully understood, but there seems to be a hereditary component. The clinical picture occurs more frequently in some families. Doctors also suspect a signaling disorder of the brain with reduced activity in the frontal lobes and a deficiency of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin as a cause [1].

 

Medical cannabis: getting a better handle on the big picture?

Although scientific research on the use of medicinal cannabis is still in its infancy, individual studies, but above all individual case reports and patient surveys, certainly give cause for optimism.

 

Sativex (CBD and THC) clearly superior to placebo in study

For example, in a 2017 study conducted at Kings College London, adult ADHD patients receiving medical cannabis reported significant improvements in hyperactivity and impulsivity, without any impairment of cognitive abilities. For background, the study involved 30 ADHD patients* who were either treated with the cannabis oral spray Sativex (THC and placebo) or received a placebo. Sativex was clearly superior to the placebo. However, since only 30 people participated in the study, the data is of limited value to experts. Nonetheless, the authors of the study suggested further investigation of the relationship between ADHD and symptom reduction with pharmaceutical cannabis [2].

 

Case reports from patients and practitioners suggest efficacy of medical cannabis for ADHD

The individual experiences of ADHD patients and their physicians are also encouraging. For example, the German physician and cannabis expert Franjo Grotenhermen presented a case series from his practice at a congress of the IACM (International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines) in 2015 [3]. All ADHD patients treated by Grotenhermen had received an exemption – still required in Germany at that time – for the use of cannabis flowers from the Federal Opium Agency.

The effects of cannabis therapy cited by those affected were:

  • improved sleep quality
  • better concentration ability
  • less impulsive behavior  
  • reduction of internal and external restlessness

In addition, many individual patient reports on the effectiveness of the use of cannabis for ADHD can be found on the internet. Since a large part of the therapy still takes place as self-medication without medical supervision, a broader empirical data base is urgently needed.

*ADD, attention deficit disorder, is often referred to as the little brother of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The “h” thus stands for the motor hyperactive manifestation of the disorder.

Sources:

[1] “ADHS-Deutschland – Home.” ADHS-Deutschland – Home. Accessed 4 July 2022.

[2] Cooper, Ruth E., et al. “Cannabinoids in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomised-Controlled Trial.” European Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 27, no. 8, Aug. 2017, pp. 795–808,  www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924977X17302377, 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2017.05.005.

[3] “Cannabis Bei ADHS Und Hyperaktivität.” Zentrum Für Cannabismedizin, zentrum-cannabis-medizin.de/journal/cannabis-bei-adhs-und-hyperaktivitaet. Accessed 4 July 2022.

About Mirjam Hübner

Mirjam Hübner ist Diplom-Journalistin und arbeitet als Redakteurin und Kommunikationstrainerin. Sie verfügt über langjährige Erfahrung in Journalismus und Unternehmenskommunikation, vor allem in den Bereichen Gesundheit und Finanzdienstleistung.