A Controversial Treatment for a Controversial Disorder

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.

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  1. good article I seem to be hearing more and more now about how cannabis helps mental health problems, not cause them as the daily mail would have us all believe. Also if you are in the UK and don’t know anyone to get cannabis off you are a bit stuck really apart from growing your own which isn’t always possible, as you mentioned the paranoia that comes with it, is your heightened sense of the illegality of it .

  2. I saw a prog recently about the growing of weed to manufacture Sativex and the government spokesman said there was evidence that it was actually anti psycotic but what does he know when put against the all knowing Daily Mail

  3. i suffer from ADHD and Aspergers and i smoke Cannabis on a daliy basis because it actually helps me with my disorders (unlike all this S**t the doctors give out). When i was told i had ADHD and aspergers they gave me these pills called ‘concerter XL’ < they didnt help me 1 bit, in fact all they gave me was headaches?! Cannabis is a proper medicine for me and it helps by slowing down my ADHD and i guess kinda calms down my Aspergers, i shouldnt have to go to a street dealer or some dark ally way to get my medicine. Legalies cannabis for to good of everyone!!

  4. I admire the article and it certainly resonates, but I live in VA, which has hugely incriminating policies against cannabis. I suffer from unbearable ADHD, anxiety, and struggle abhorrently to make it through my final year of college. I haven’t blazed in months, and my aggrivation towards even those i care about, could not be more real. I need help. I need legislation to be passed.

  5. I don’t have a doctor. He decided because my liver can’t handle his meds, and upon finding out i self medicate very effectively he threw me off. My local councillor won’t wade in due to becoming a “social outcast” of she tried….so I’m another stat huh. Another criminal….that’s me, why? Because i was born with hepatitis C and I’m I’ll.
    Please legalise my life line.

    • Hello! I am a student journalist writing about cannabis and I am hoping to find someone who uses marijuana for medical reasons so that I can write an article about it and hopefully share their story. Please email me if you feel you would like to help – amyannerose@gmail.com. Thank you

  6. Great article! I am sorry on your behalf and hope to see change within a near future for people in need of medicine. Do what you know works best for yourself because none else can really know what works for you, keep fighting!

  7. This is like reading something from my own head.

    I have ADHD and cannabis was a godsend. Prohibition and circumstance denies me the right to what I consider a much more effective and safer alternative to the drugs I am prescribed. And what am I prescribed?

    Amphetamines. Dexamphetamine to be precise. The same sort of drug most ADHD people are prescribed.

    They make me feel like shit, look like shit and aren’t half as good at controlling my symptoms. I also think it is slowly ruining my body and mind. The depression, anxiety and insomnia that cannabis also helped with massively are getting worse, and I’m sure it’s because of the amphetamines but I have no choice. No freedom. My GP is sympathetic but can do nothing more than I can, except keep prescribing a different, more dangerous, less effective Class B drug.

    Someone make sense of that.

    I’ve vaped 7g total over the past year, so I can be pretty sure it ain’t cannabis that is making me sicker! I had mental problems long before I first tried cannabis, and when I was a user it only made things better. My family and friends all noticed and commented on how much better I was.

    Sorry for the long post, but like I said – I am legally on state-supplied amphetamines. At least I’m not on the killer weed. Since when have amphetamines ever made anyone psychotic or otherwise mentally ill? (/sarcasm)

  8. I also suffer with ADHD and just so happen to be able to relate to so many on the things you said about the positives of using cannabis. I think it is also vitally important to note that ADHD is becoming a shut, close and label procedure in schools all across the nation. I don’t mean schools are diagnosing but that instead they are referring hyper/so called bad children for which lots seem to come back being told they have ADHD and here is a nice amphetamine based medication to counter that. I am not disputing ADHD, Ritalin or similar but raising the point/problem with how we want to label all children that don’t fit the norm as ADHD kids so to speak.

    On a totally different subject yet again we see cannabis being used in a positive medical way for which we are constantly told “it has no medicinal purposes but we have a nice overpriced model which no trust will provide due to cost.”

  9. Im currently awaiting arrest for growing cannabis to help control my ADHD which I was diagnosed with and medicated with anti histamine phenigan in 1982 (hyperactivity) I’m probably gonna go to prison due to the cultivation laws and the efforts taken to avoid being arrested I haven’t seen my psychiatric team for over a year and have been discharged due to missing appointments (a symptom of my condition) so while being dosed up with Ritalin olanzipine and zopiclones to sleep I decided to have a pop at growing enough to medicate me for three months however the police have found me and I’m now about to fight a medical cannabis case as they are absolutly going to try and pin intent to supply on me I’m probably going to do a couple of years in prison for it I don’t mind but it has ruined my life I’m 35 years old and have suffered ADHD FROM A CHILD IT’S A VERY ISOLATING CONDITION I’VE MANAGED TO LEARN A LOT ABOUT MANY DIFFERENT THINGS DUE TO THE USE OF CANNABIS INCLUDING MUSIC performing and PRODUCTION, COMPUTER PROGRAMMING AND BOTANY 🙂 all because of using cannabis to manage my ADHD before that I couldn’t control my impulses and spent most of my teenage and early twenties in prison for extreme crimes of violence and basic uncontrolled impulses I’m a mixed race male and I’d say I have the pure form variety of ADHD possibly even misdiagnosed aspergers syndrome due to the ritalin making me even more aggressive than normal Its like a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome but without the altered personality but more altered control of the emotional responses……so good luck and I hope norml

  10. Forget the ADHD pharmie medications. Just drink a cup of coffee for alertness and smoke high quality sativa strain for the rest of the symptoms. As long as you drink plenty of fluids, your only side effect will be a euphoric high. After 4 years of struggling with ritalin. aterol, and stratera side effects, I had found success medicating with marijuana. Success that has lasted 20 years. I was able to graduate college, have a professional career, get married and have kids. I guarantee you without marijuana none of that would have happened for me with my ADHD disability. Psychiatrist never talk about the social ramifications of ADHD. I am able to socialize 10 times more normally with at least some amount of marijuana canaboids in my system, and that is the main reason marijuana is much better that pharmies. The ability to slow down and relax my brain is imperative for my success.

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