Study: ADHD Patient MMJ Use Leads to Improvements in Anxiety, Sleep, Quality of Life

In addition to its many medicinal uses, a new study provides further evidence that cannabis could prove useful in easing anxiety, enhancing sleep quality, and improving overall quality of life in ADHD patients.

When it comes to medical benefits, cannabis is often associated with its anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and sedative properties. But given the versatile nature of the plant, researchers are looking beyond some of the more common qualifying medical conditions to uncover the full medicinal potential of cannabis. 

Though it’s largely under-researched, it’s possible that cannabis could work to help folks with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to better manage their symptoms.

A recent observational study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology Reports found that, indeed, medical cannabis may be beneficial for people with ADHD — though not necessarily for reasons associated with focus and attention. Rather, researchers found that cannabis use led to observed improvements in the anxiety, sleep quality and health-related quality of life among participants.

While the results are not definitive, authors argue that the findings are substantial enough to hopefully prompt future research on cannabis and ADHD.

ADHD and Cannabis: A Largely Unexplored Potential Treatment Alternative

The team of UK-based researchers aimed to primarily assess the health-related quality of life and safety outcomes in ADHD patients treated with cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs).

ADHD has an estimated global prevalence of 5% in children and 2.5% in adults, with estimated incidences of ADHD diagnosis increasing by approximately 42% in children between 2003 and 2011 and 123% in adults between 2007 and 2016 in the U.S., according to the study.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition generally associated with issues with focus, hyperactivity, impulsivity and/or psychosocial differences in managing relationships. ADHD is also associated with a higher instance of sleep disturbance and co-morbidities like anxiety and depression. 

It falls under the neurodivergent umbrella, characterized as a natural variation in how the human brain processes information.

Researchers note that current treatment for ADHD consists of a combination of psychological therapies and both stimulant and non-stimulant medications. However, they note that stimulant medications may come with unwanted side effects, while non-stimulant medications can similarly result in adverse effects that may hinder people from taking them on a long-term basis.

They note that the endocannabinoid system, which cannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with directly, plays a vital role in cognitive function, motor coordination and homeostasis,” suggesting that medical cannabis could be useful in treating symptoms associated with ADHD.

Improvements in Anxiety, Sleep, Quality of Life as Push For Future Research

In order to examine how cannabis use can impact people with ADHD, researchers tracked data on 68 patients from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry (UKMCR) and patient-recorded outcome measures at one, three, six and 12 months from baseline. Eighty percent of the participants already consumed cannabis at the point of initiating treatment.

At each followup, patients answered surveys regarding severity of generalized anxiety disorder symptoms, sleep quality and health-related quality of life. Ultimately, researchers found that all three elements had improved over time.

Specifically, anxiety and sleep quality metrics showed improvement at each check-in over the observed year. Researchers also observed significant improvements in health-related quality of life during the first six months of the study, but by the 12th month there was no difference between those who were current consumers and those who were not.

Just 11 of the 68 participants reported negative effects, largely insomnia, concentration impairment, lethargy and dry mouth. Despite this, nine patients stopped using their other ADHD medication during treatment.

Researchers argue that future research should include comparative analysis on patients in the UKMCR while highlighting the need to conduct high-quality random controlled trials for the treatment of ADHD.

“This case series is the first of its kind in assessing the clinical outcome of patients from the UKMCR with a primary diagnosis of ADHD prescribed CBMPs for up to 12 months,” authors conclude, adding that the preliminary findings suggest that medical cannabis products may play a role in alleviating symptoms, comorbid anxiety and sleep disruption associated with ADHD. 

“CBMPs were well-tolerated throughout this study and the majority of patients (83.82%) did not report any adverse events,” they continue. “Due to limitations in study design, a causal relationship cannot be determined, thus, a definite conclusion cannot be drawn from these results. The findings from this study guide further investigation to assess the therapeutic efficacy and long-term safety profile of CBMPs.”

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