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Dope to Manage Dopamine - Can Cannabis Help ADHD?
Written By: A. Coffin

Weed, dope, pot, ganja, wacky Tabacky…all nicknames for cannabis, which also appears to have a direct impact on dopamine levels. As marijuana becomes more widely accepted for medicinal purposes, researchers are turning their attention to ways that it can help with other diseases. One thought-provoking use suggests that cannabis may help with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disease (ADHD), frequently called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

ADHD is a condition characterized by:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Lack of ability to concentrate
  • Impulsiveness
  • A combination of all of these symptoms

It is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in children, and affects adults as well. Approximately 3-5% of Americans have ADHD, according to Dr. David Berman.

Treating ADHD with Speed

The treatment for ADHD has been controversial, as has the disorder itself. The treatment for the symptom of hyperactivity might seem to be something that would act as a sedative, but this is not the case. Sedatives only make the ADHD sufferer more hyperactive. This was first noted by Dr. Charles Bradley in 1937, when first recognizing and trying to treat the disease. Noting the reaction to sedatives, Bradley instead tried amphetamines (commonly known as "speed"), which surprisingly calmed the patients down and gave them relief.

It turns out that the amphetamines tied up the dopamine transporter, freeing the dopamine from the transporter to act as a damper on neurotransmissions, which is what is going on with ADHD.

With ADHD, there are simply too many uninhibited transmissions to the brain. Dopamine limits the number of transmissions, permitting concentration and attention to the task-at-hand. Tying up the dopamine transporter freed the dopamine to do its job.

However, while the amphetamines worked, they had undesired side effects, including jitteriness, and anxiety, along with problems sleeping, appetite suppression, and a propensity toward quick anger.

Enter Cannabis

Cannabis also inhibits the dopamine transporter, without the unacceptable side effects. In 1998,
DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young noted,

"[…] nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, cannabis induced fatality…in strict medical terms marijuana is safer than many of the foods we commonly consume…in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."

Young made these comments during a hearing to reschedule cannabis from a Class I drug, one having no medical value, to a class level where research could be conducted within the confines of the legal system. It was not reclassified, so most of the "research" regarding the use of marijuana for ADHD is anecdotal, rather than it being studied, as it’s illegal to study it. More study is needed to determine its viability in specific medical circumstances.

Still, the anecdotal evidence supports its use, and many adult ADHD sufferers claim that through self-medication, they are able to be more productive in their lives.

Many doctors in other countries, and now in America, favor its use for treating ADHD in both adults and in children. Dr. Claudia Jensen, a California pediatrician and mother of 2 teenagers, stated,

"Cannabinoids are a very viable alternative to treating adolescents with ADD and ADHD…"

In her testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform on Marijuana, in 2004, she stated,

"The other legal drugs used to treat ADD are helpful in many patients, but they all have side effects…the other five of the nine drugs used to treat ADD in this country haven’t even been scientifically tested…for ADD in children. These are drugs for depression and high blood pressure…of all the drugs used to treat ADD, cannabis has the least number of serious side effects."

Marijuana’s Image Problem

One of the most difficult aspects that marijuana faces in being accepted by the masses and the federal government is due to its early recreational use. The image of a nine-year-old lighting up a doobie doesn’t appeal to most people.

But if there were a buttery spread, or a cup of tea, or a tablet, with measured doses of cannabis’ healing properties for your child who has ADHD, wouldn’t you consider that?  Most would.

Marijuana’s Economics Problem

The primary issue for mainstream treatment of ADHD with cannabis is probably not its image, however. It’s economic. As Dr. Jensen explained,

"The real problem with allowing patients to use Cannabis as a medication is economics…if Cannabis were approved for use in just the ADD/ADHD market alone, it could significantly impact the $1 billion a year sales for traditional pharmaceuticals…"

The Tipping Point

It’s easy to believe that facing down big pharmaceutical companies is not a winning proposition, but this is not necessarily true. As we plant ourselves firmly in the 21st century, and cannabis is used successfully for symptom treatment for other diseases, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease, perhaps the nation will give another look to this ancient plant for relief.

According to a CBS News Poll, 86% of Americans favor the legalization of medical marijuana. Eighty six percent of us should be able to face down the big drug companies and choose our own, and our children’s, destiny.

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