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.