Can Weed Cure ADHD? I Got High and Tried to Write This Post
I hovered my cursor over the Photoshop app in my taskbar, forgetting that I was attempting to do something completely unrelated to Photoshop. I was trying, I gradually remembered, to understand how weed can improve the symptoms of ADHD; moments before I had decided on a how to start: by getting stoned. It was not going well. But according to recent research, weed, contrary to popular belief and my current struggle, can enhance focus.
A 2008 case study published by the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine that explored the potential for THC to have positive effects on attention-deficit disorder has been making the rounds on the Internet again. The report’s authors concluded that cannabis use could mitigate problems with inattention and lead to “enhanced driving related performance.”
As seemingly unbelievable as it sounds, other doctors and marijuana advocates have affirmed this finding. Dr. Claudia Jensen, who frequently prescribes pot for attention disorders, says that the natural drug is better than Adderall or Ritalin. One of Jensen’s patients with ADHD who had previously had no luck with pills—a 15-year-old boy—was finally able to attend school regularly after beginning a regimen of cannabis candy, according to Fox News. Dr. David Bearman, who works with medical marijuana patients, has said that weed can even improve grades in patients with ADHD. Dr. Bearman frequently quotes one of his patients who told him, “I got my PhD because of smoking marijuana.”
Under pot’s influence, I could barely type the above sentences.
Under pot’s influence I, however, could barely type the above sentences, so I called Dr. Bearman to talk to him about how, exactly, weed helps ADHD patients concentrate. It turns out that cannabis affects patients with ADHD differently than patients without attention disorders. “Cannabis works by stimulating the endocannabinoid system,” reminds Dr. Bearman. “The reason that cannabis has an effect on us is that we have receptors that can either be stimulated or blocked by the 21 cannabinoids in cannabis.” When these receptors are stimulated it causes a release of dopamine, which decreasing overstimulation in the brain. Patients with ADHD, says Dr. Bearman, have an endocannabinoid deficiency, causing restlessness, impulsivity, and inattention.
“Those with endocannabinoid deficiencies are more likely to be anxious and have attention-deficit disorder,” explains Dr. Bearman. Endocannabinoid deficiency and its link to certain conditions was first identified by Ethan Russo, a former medical advisor at GW Pharmarcuticals.
“Cannabis slows down the speed of neural transmission. So the fact that neural impulses are slower allows the cerebral cortex to focus and concentrate on one or two of those impulses, rather than being overwhelmed by a large amount of neural impulses coming into the brain,” says Dr. Bearman.
Adderall and Ritalin, two drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD, also regulate dopamine levels. “The difference is in the side-effect profiles,” says Dr. Bearman. “Those drugs cause jitteriness, anxiety, and decreased appetite. With cannabis, the side-effects can be decreased anxiety, increased appetite, and assistance with sleep.” A new study, according to Metro, reported that 22 of the 30 participants with ADHD opted to “discontinue their prescribed pharmaceutical drugs and continue solely with the medicinal cannabis.”
Cannabis isn’t as effective in upping attention levels for people without ADHD.
But while pharmaceutical pills are frequently used by those who just want an edge on the SAT, or in the office, cannabis isn’t as effective in upping attention levels for people without ADHD, says Dr. Bearman. Extremely stoned, and on my third Fruit Roll-Up, my highly scientific experiment came to the same conclusion.
“I have some people [without attention-disorders] that say [cannabis helps them focus], but in my experience patients with ADHD benefit the most. If your endocannabinoid system is working perfectly OK, in terms of controlling the speed of neural transmission because you have enough cannabinoids, then adding on the extra cannabinoids isn’t necessary.
“They will still have an effect, but they’re not going to effect your attention issues, because you don’t have a problem with attention,” says Dr. Bearman.
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Research shows that weed can be just as effective as Adderall in treating ADHD. I don't have ADHD.
Could Cannabis Actually Help You Study Better?
It’s time for you to be honest with yourself. If you are a university student who loves cannabis, think about how it’s impacting your studies. Some research suggests it may be helpful in moderation. Here is our guide to the signs you should be watching out for.
If you are a minor and studying for exams, you should NOT be taking cannabis. You should not even be reading this article. We do not condone underage use of cannabis, and there are compelling medical reasons against it. The teenage brain is still developing in a way that could be adversely complicated by cannabis use. If you are in university, however, then by now you probably have been exposed to at least some people who enjoy cannabis. Public perceptions of cannabis have long considered it a drain on motivation and productivity, yet there are students who claim it actually helps them study more effectively. To investigate these claims, let us look at the impact cannabis has on the brain.
HOW DOES CANNABIS AFFECT THE BRAIN?
Perhaps with different jurisdictions legalizing cannabis, scientific research on the plant and its constituents will improve. Universities and research institutions could be free to conduct controlled cultivation for scientific purposes. While cannabis is said to improve neural connectivity in the brain, there are also questions over the exact link between cannabis use and rare cases of psychosis. Some of the most up-to-date research from the University of Texas was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their research  concluded that while cannabis appears to physically shrink the brain, it does in fact, increase the number of connections between neurons.
Their methodology was to follow 48 adult cannabis users aged 20 to 36 and compare them with a control group of non-users. MRI scans tracked how cannabis users fared after consuming an average of three joints a day over six to eight years. The images of the brain suggest that THC could be shrinking grey matter. The orbitofrontal cortex of the brain seemed particularly vulnerable to shrinking. This could be problematic since this region of the brain is associated with the processing of reward and adversity.
And while neural connectivity seemed to improve, it could gradually degrade under conditions of prolonged heavy use. That being said, overall connectivity still seemed to be healthier than average. The study’s authors admit it does not account for occasional users or the impact sudden abstinence could have. If this study shows regular users still have improved connectivity, occasional users may find some benefit from studying while high. Let us examine the arguments for and against.
PROS OF STUDYING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CANNABIS
Getting high may be a nice reward mechanism after completing a studying goal. But could being under the influence of cannabis actually help one study better? Scientifically speaking, those with treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy may benefit from cannabis in several ways; however, CBD is the main cannabinoid utilized in this scenario, not THC. In certain cases, individuals with various forms of epilepsy who took CBD-enriched cannabis experienced not only a significant decrease in seizure frequency, but also increased  alertness, better mood, and improved sleep as a result. Moreover, the state of Rhode Island recently approved medical cannabis use for treating autism. So depending on one’s circumstances and upon consultation with a medical professional, individuals with specific neurodivergent conditions may benefit from a greater ability to study with the use of cannabis.
If one does not have such conditions, is there still any benefit to studying with weed? Indica strains are great for relaxation and helping one get to sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is hugely overlooked as a health issue in general. It’s particularly important for students to have a regular sleep schedule. Most adults typically require somewhere between 6–8 hours of sleep, so find what works for you and stick to it. A more relaxed mindset from an indica high may help you focus on a reading task before you head for pillow hugging. A sativa strain may also give you the energetic uplift you need. A cerebral, creative buzz could help you brainstorm ideas and get enthusiastic over learning your material.
CONS OF STUDYING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF CANNABIS
Depending on your cannabis strain and circumstances, there could be some benefit to studying while high. We are talking about moderate doses, of course. Heavy doses are likely to affect concentration and motivation. We certainly would not advise heading into an examination under the influence of THC-rich cannabis. That’s when you really need to focus. But is there harm in having a little bit handy for when you’re working on assignments and research? Aside from how much your finances are affected?
Cannabis may improve the flow of thought and creativity, but with it comes the ability to get distracted by tangents of thought. With such a fluid mindset, memory does become affected. Studies have shown that spatial memory can be dulled by heavy cannabis use, and so can working memory. Working memory is the ability to process information in real-time. So if you are learning with the aim of retaining crucial information, you better be keeping really clear notes on what you need to know. Your brain may be more engaged with new information, but it can also forget it quicker in the rushing flow of new thoughts.
On the other hand, being high right before diving deep into a topic could help one focus on the train of thought. It is a matter of pacing yourself and trial and error. Be mindful of your performance and whether responsible cannabis use is better left to other scenarios.
Cannabis has many effects on the brain, particularly memory. So pinning down its impact on studying is a highly individual process.