TechnologyNew research shows cannabis has no uniquely negative effects...

New research shows cannabis has no uniquely negative effects on youth with ADHD


Many people choose to use cannabis as a natural, holistic alternative to prescription drugs for many conditions. Some of the most common illnesses that fuel individuals’ interest in the herb are mental health disorders, such as ADHD. 

Researchers are still learning about what this herb can do for neurodivergent folks. However, the latest publication shows that there are not yet any particularly negative effects for kids with ADHD versus others. Still, there are some caveats regarding its effect on brain development. Here’s what you need to know. 

Cannabis is no worse for kids with ADHD than other youth

Many people turn to cannabis to manage a broad range of psychological conditions. Normally, people cite anxiety and depression as two of the primary drivers of their cannabis use. This is understandable, as scientists continue yielding evidence that this plant is beneficial for people diagnosed with such disorders. 

Even the endocannabinoid system (ECS) alone is reported to play a critical role in the regulation of your mood and managing anxiety and the stress response. Particularly, the ECS’s CB1 receptors – those that interact with cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, directly – are important in producing anti-depressive effects

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also one of the most widely reported conditions that increase a person’s likelihood of using cannabis as a form of self-medication. Yet, Philip B. Cawkwell, M.D., the individual who led a recent study of the plant’s impact on ADHD, published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, asserts:

“[T]he evidence to date does not clearly support either an addictive effect or an interaction – whether protective or harmful – with cannabis use.” Cawkwell says that there’s an “urgent need” more research is needed on the matter. 

Cawkwell and colleagues from the Stanford University School of Medicine performed a review of existing research on this topic. They discovered that only 11 studies assessed neurodevelopmental outcomes for adolescents and young adults diagnosed with ADHD who consume cannabis versus those who do not. 

The group learned that seven studies show that cannabis users display different brain structures. For example, their brains showed reduced thickness in the regions responsible for motor and sensory function. However, the “reward” centers were thicker than usual. It’s unclear if these effects were caused by cannabis. 

In the end, the study concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that cannabis is any worse for kids with ADHD compared to other youth. Still, adolescents and teens need to avoid cannabis use since it can interfere with their brain development. 

Perceptions of cannabis for ADHD

A recent study revealed that many people believe that cannabis is particularly therapeutic for ADHD. This widespread perception was indicated by 25% of posts in 268 forum threads surveyed in a study last year. 

Significantly fewer (8%) believed that it could be harmful to a person’s health, even if they did have ADHD. Less (5%) agreed that cannabis could be both beneficial and detrimental to those diagnosed with ADHD, while a mere 2% say that it does not affect the condition at all. 

Opinions seem to be split more broadly among medical professionals. This is because current research is currently insufficient on just how cannabis can help people with ADHD, despite the widespread belief that it’s advantageous. 

On the other hand, scientific knowledge on how cannabinoids improve social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other kinds of neurodivergence is much more substantial, more so for cannabidiol (CBD). 

Even less is certain about how the plant might influence a young person’s mental health when used as a form of self-medication. 

How does cannabis affect ADHD youth? 

The scientific foundation for cannabis as a natural medicinal product is ever-growing. Now, studies are homing in on how it might affect ADHD, particularly in young people. 

It’s widely known that even modest cannabis use can negatively affect underaged users. This is largely because an adolescent’s brain isn’t as developed as an adult’s brain. Because of this, they’re far more vulnerable to chemically induced cognitive changes and altered developmental patterns. 

Since CB1 receptors are in many regions within the brain, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. (The hippocampus is crucial in learning and memory. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex is the “rational part” of the brain, responsible for guiding good judgment.) 

When misused, cannabis can negatively influence the release of neurotransmitters, components of the nervous system responsible for sending signals between nerves. These play critical roles in neural development. Excessive cannabis use during youth can lead to poor cognitive and emotional development outcomes once adolescents reach adulthood. 

This is why so many medical professionals are justifiably wary of declaring cannabis “good” for ADHD, especially when it comes to diagnosed kids and teens. 

Still, there are some positives to note. For instance, some experts believe that individuals can develop ADHD partially because of deficiencies in their dopamine systems, or “brain reward cascades.” Yet, a 2017 study revealed that THC can boost dopamine levels. This is a great short-term benefit, but prolonged use can be damaging to the brain’s ability to make and release dopamine. 

Plus, a small study involving adults with ADHD showed that there is potential for cannabinoids to provide some relief later in life for similarly diagnosed youth. Although the study was small, the researchers ultimately concluded that adults with ADHD generally show reduced symptoms without any cognitive impairments. 

Cannabis and ADHD

Cannabis has been shown to be advantageous for a wide range of medical and psychiatric conditions. However, it may be a risky self-medication alternative for adolescents and teens.

If you live with ADHD, reach out to your medical provider and keep up with the latest research to determine whether it’s right for you. 

Jazmin Murphy
Jazmin Murphy is a trained science writer & reporter who has covered a breadth of topics. She is also a strong supporter and advocate of cannabis for recreational, wellness, and medical purposes.


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