A NORML UK member shares her experiences using cannabis to treat severe adult ADHD
I’d like to tell you a little about what it feels like to live with ADHD on a daily basis, and how cannabis helps me cope with my symptoms. I’ve also developed a significant anxiety disorder as well, which is a very common issue for women and girls with ADHD, partly because we are socialised against acting out (being “hyper”). These two mental disorders combine to create a perfect storm of non-productivity, a real problem as that I’m a PhD student and meant to be producing reams of brilliant essays. If only!
At the age of ten, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, now typically referred to as ADHD). I was diagnosed again aged 24 with severe adult ADHD of the “predominately inattentive” variety. That means I’m frequently in a daydreamy, lackadaisical state rather than being hyperactive and impulsive. Unfortunately for those who struggle with it, ADHD is a controversial disorder prone to politicisation, rampant misunderstanding, and a great deal of hostility. For good reason, many are concerned about the frequency with which young children are diagnosed with this disorder and treated with potent stimulant medications. These issues are well worth our caution and investigation; however, ADHD is a legitimate and well researched condition that can cause tremendous suffering.
Many ADHD patients have been told from a young age that they’re lazy, incompetent, uncontrollable, stupid, and more. Even after a positive diagnosis, family, friends, and society at large typically continue to attribute the symptoms of ADHD to character flaws, which achieves nothing except to ostracise and shame us. Yet the latest research shows that ADHD’ers also tend to be very empathetic, exceptionally creative, and highly intelligent. So it’s quite the mixed bag.
Having ADHD feels like having a high speed merry-go-round spinning in your brain night and day. My thoughts race rapidly and it’s very difficult to hold onto a single idea long enough to do much with it. This frantic cycling goes on every moment of every day, and as you might imagine I’m exhausted by the evening. But that doesn’t guarantee a good night’s sleep — most nights I lie awake for hours with anxiety and racing thoughts, feeling guilty about what I didn’t accomplish.
When I sit down to perform a time-consuming and intellectually draining task, my brain behaves like a petulant child. No matter how interested I may be in the subject or how urgently I must accomplish it, my brain simply will not have it. I’ll easily spend thrice as much time forcing myself to concentrate as it would take the average person to accomplish the task in the first place. This leads to more anxiety, more racing thoughts, and more distraction. I end up feeling completely “fried”, unable to do quality work and feeling quite low about myself. No one can do their job well under these conditions.
Cannabis is the only treatment I’ve found that really puts the brakes on this destructive process. What a godsend to be able to hold onto a thought for more than a moment! When I need to read dry academic literature, taking cannabis not only allows me to sit still long enough to do so, it helps me make the abstract connections I would otherwise likely miss. It allows me to think more creatively and engage with the reading, instead of wrestling my brain into staying on task.
Smoking is by far the most effective means of consumption for me as the effect is immediate. Whenever I feel too overwhelmed and anxious to sleep or do work, I smoke as much as needed for the purpose and am able to instantly calm down. While sativas are ideal for reading and writing tasks, I find that they can aggravate my anxiety. Heavy indicas help me sleep and relax best.
Cannabis also works excellently in tandem with my pharmaceutical ADHD medication, cutting down on the jitteriness it can cause so that I can focus on…well, focussing! For me, it’s all about finding the proper balance between stimulant medication and cannabis strain. Achieving that harmony is crucial to maintaining my quality of life. Perhaps most importantly, cannabis reduces the amount of stimulants I need to function and has thus far prevented a need for riskier anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium. While I’m not personally opposed to using either if it becomes necessary, I’m very glad to have a safer option as well.
In the United States, I’m a medical marijuana patient and have access to nearly any strain I could need. I get my medication from friendly professionals, and I can even have it delivered to my doorstep. In the UK, patients are forced to purchase cannabis from the black market. They don’t know where their money’s going, they have no control over the quality or strain, and they live in perpetual fear that they will be arrested just for peacefully pursuing a treatment that works. I don’t need to tell you what that kind of fear can do to someone already living with intense anxiety.
I’m NORML because I want every British citizen to have safe, reliable, legal access to quality cannabis. My life would be very different without this treatment. I would not be able to contribute to society nearly as much as I do as a cannabis user. That’s a fact.