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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.

Weed helps me focus

Unfortunately, the modern day workforce doesn’t often allow much room for creative tasks. Rather, there is a more systematic workflow that aims to maximize efficiency—and minimize fun. Sure, there is an association between efficiency and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, but what if we told you that creativity and productivity could go hand in hand too?

If you have creative hobbies outside of work or if your job requires some creative thinking and brainstorming, marijuana can definitely add some pep to your step. New testimony argues that marijuana use makes creative workers more productive, diverging from the usual findings that show cannabis consumers get distracted while doing mundane, unmotivated work. Here are some reasons why the perfect high can get your creative juices flowing.

The Right Kind of Marijuana

First thing’s first, you need to pick the right kind of cannabis. If you’re an avid cannabis user, you know that there are two main classifications: sativa and indica. Sativa is the go-to strain for those who need to be productive. This specific type of cannabis has a higher concentration of THC than indica and produces a more psychoactive high. Sativa is normally used during the daytime as it keeps your mind working, your energy high and your motivation steady. Plus, cannabis sativa keeps you from entering the zoning out state that many indica or indica-dominant strains may encourage.

Get Creative

Marijuana helps with many tasks, but they all share one common characteristic: creativity. Fast Company published a piece discussing drug use and work, but specifically focused on its usefulness during creative tasks. In another interview with MTV, Seth Rogen testified that marijuana does, in fact, make him buckle down and get right to work. The work he does? He writes scripts, acts and participates in other aspects of filmmaking—all creative tasks.

Other successful individuals have argued that marijuana is helpful in creative functions that go beyond the fine arts. Business owners, lawyers, writers and painters alike have found that the herb can help them with constructive thinking as well as application-based work. The consensus is that marijuana helps open you up to creativity and hone in on the engaging task at hand. Of course, until academic studies look into this aspect of creative motivation, user testimony is all we have to formulate any sort of logical proof.

The Unmotivated

For now, all academic work seems to be fixated on proving otherwise: that marijuana impedes productivity. The potential problem with these studies is that a majority are focused mundane tasks that don’t consider the positive effects of marijuana.

A study that followed seven men found that productivity decreased when marijuana was readily available and continued to decline as more and more was consumed. This is essentially the same finding as most academic sources. Productivity went back up as soon as access was cut off, but we want to focus on what happened when these individuals were high at work.

The study noted that individuals didn’t necessarily work slower; rather they spent their time doing other tasks that entertained them. We’re all guilty of falling into a stream of TV episodes on Netflix or Buzzfeed articles when taking what was supposed to be a short break, but the seven men were noted as displaying signs of what is called amotivational syndrome—something that may occur to some long-term marijuana users. If we compare this to the user experiences discussed above, we can see that the type of work a marijuana user is doing is critical, and it is a variable that is overlooked by the studies that have been conducted thus far. Eventually, there might be research that examines creative productivity in its own right, at which point we will have answers that can compete at a scientific level.

Marijuana appears to improve focus and productivity—if you use it correctly. It can be incredibly motivating and drive you to complete tasks, so long as your head is in the game. In order for it to work, you have to be doing something that gets you excited or at least forces you to be creative while also selecting the right strain. If cleaning the house is something you like to do but you seem to get distracted during the process, maybe enjoy some cannabis beforehand and see if that motivates you to clean more productively. Of course, make sure you are acting responsibly and partaking when appropriate—at least until more studies might convince your employer otherwise.

Far from the stereotype, cannabis is helping people do more.