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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

On Marijuana and ADHD

I want to make clear my view on the use of marijuana by people who have ADHD.  I am writing this post because of a recent piece in the New York Times that misled some readers.

I am totally and completely opposed to the use of marijuana by people who have ADHD.  John Ratey and I made this clear some fifteen years ago in our book Answers to Distraction, and our opinion has not changed.  The reason I feel this way is that I have seen too many patients get into enormous difficulties due to their use of pot.  Not only can they get into trouble with the law, they can develop a dependency that leads them to be less productive in their lives than they otherwise could be.  People with ADHD are at great risk for developing addiction or dependency on all illicit substances, as well as activities like gambling, spending, sex, food, and even exercise.  In my experience, marijuana ranks at or near the top of the list of substances that cause problems for people who have ADHD.

I hope this clarifies my position.  Pot and ADHD do not mix well.

Happy Holidays to you all!!!!!

24 Responses to “On Marijuana and ADHD”

  1. Pietro says:

    It is True I know first hand I Had never smoked before and at the age of 36 I smoked for the first time thinking it would help my insomnia. After the first few times I was adddicted. In my life I have had many difficult times though with hard work I built a successful business marrage family and the pot use had me almost to a vegetative state.
    Do not try it If you use it please try to stop.

  2. jdhs223 says:

    How do you feel about occasional marijuana use in the general population?

  3. Bev says:

    I’m not convinced that smoking pot is playing as big a role in ADHD symptoms I experience as much as other factors such as sleep, how busy I am, keeping regular routines, etc. I have smoked pot since I was 13 and don’t see noticable differences in how “scattered”, etc. I am when I smoke pot once a week or so. Every night? Probably not so good. Addicted? Can’t say “no” sometimes, but can usually. Everything in moderation, they say. My brother adds, “…including moderation”. I really enjoy the high with a friend or two. Cutting back again, though. Anyone cutting back on food right now? My psychiatrist could only focus on this point, never any other. I hope to post about this again some time.

  4. S. John says:

    I have found that smoking pot can be beneficial, but the trick is “how much”. One “toke” in about a six-hour period, especially w/ today’s very strong product, is more than enough. The problem I’ve noticed is that if I’m bored or depressed I’ll engage in the more addictive-type behavior and smoke a lot, then regret it because I notice it has increased my ADD related behaviors.

    I think marijuane can be beneficial if it is used with very careful planning and if one doesn’t have a tendency/propensity toward addiction to it. If used judiciously, with actual planning involved, I believe it can actually help one stay on task. I suspect, from my own experience, that it induces the hyper-focus component to a certain extent. However, as I mentioned, quantity is the key and the dosage must be very low to be beneficial.

    I typically stay away from marijuana becuase I’ve found the effects to lead me away from what I want to accomplish unless I have a strongly purposeful agenda already mapped out.

  5. Carlene Forsythe says:

    As a parent of a sixteen year daughter, I had the heartbreaking experience two nights ago of seeing the effects of this drug on my daughter. Coming from a teen who promised us she would not use or experiment due to the family history of alcoholism and drug abuse and her fears of this. She had a life changing and extreme effect from a few hits of pot with four friends. She was scared to death and was not well for two days. Her body was out of control and she became physically ill. Thank God she called us for a ride and did not drive. A lesson for all teens: You never know what is in this garbage or what it is tainted with. The vision of her getting out of the car with my husband is haunting as well as the side of his car covered in vomit. There is nothing good about drugs. Stay away from drugs!!! I pray for teens.

  6. lovscrttrs says:

    I think the confused masses are missing the point. Add/Adhd causes your brain to race at incredible speeds, the issue comes when trying to slow the brain down to process a thought or make a decision which at times is very important. Smoking slows the brain down to allow for processing and decison making. It does not confuse the brain unless you over use it which like everything else in moderation. Like anything else use with common sense. You can be as successful as you choose to be. parents freak about illegal but alcohol kills always and it is legal.
    The use of common sense in this society is a dying thought process, I encourage independent thought and not mindlessly following the masses. the govt’ is against it only because they cannot as of yet figure a way to tax it. reality check

  7. Clean website. Wondering if you sometimes trade featured posts? I am running a page on my latest hobby sleep disorders and looking to trade some content with worthy pages. I checked out your site and you’ve got some great articles and I was thinking our readers would both benefit. Thanks!

  8. Michael G. says:

    I’m a 47 year old man that was never diagnosed with ADD/ADHD until about age 38.
    I abused marijuana and alcohol both for many years, since age 15, trying to self-medicate.
    For those of you kidding yourselves that marijuana is okay, harmless, and compatible with ADD/ADHD, please let me share something with you.
    I have not touched marijuana now since the summer of 1988.
    So I am approaching 22 years of not using pot.
    Oh my god. If my mind had been this clear when I was younger, I could have received 2 or 3 Phd’s….
    As it was, I dropped out of school to get my GED the same year at age 17, bounced around nearly 60 different jobs in 30 years.
    I have been back in school now the past 2 years full-time and achieved a 3.8 GPA and I am Phi Theta Kappa, the International Honor Society. I get grants, loans, and scholarships to attend a private university.
    Anyway, to anyone that wants to smoke pot, just keep in mind that you are not helping your situation.
    Pot interupts the synapses in your brain…..the connections that it makes to process information.
    It also destroys your short term memory.
    And if you have ADD or ADHD, do you really want to mess up your memory and your brain’s internal connections ?
    Geez, do some research why don’t ya….
    I’m grateful that I have a second chance at life even as I approach the age of 50.
    I just wish my parents had made the effort to find out why I was special when I was younger, and were around to tell my about the dangers of smoking pot.
    For people that have cancer, sure, do what you must to survive, but if you are simply self-medicating, you are not doing yourself any good.
    Trust me. I’ve been there, and done that…..

  9. watchgeerun says:

    I disagree with you, only people who have ADHD can understand, its like your thoughts are just flashing in your head faster than you can even think about them actively. Marijuana is not a heartbreaking, family ruining monster. Its medication that helps people like me get grips with what’s going on in my mind, as a psychologist you see things from a different spectrum witch doesn’t apply to where people with ADHD are coming from and what the effect is on our minds. I used all the new medications like ritalin and concerts and adderal as a kid and it changed me as a person andi feel like my appreciation for life and the things around me was lost and it turned me into a mindless drone that would just do all of my work and sit there and stare. The medicine that doctors and the FDA approved that ducked up my personality for the rest of my life. So bluntly fuck what the FDA ,the government, and doctors say because I know when something is good and allowes me to enjoy my life in a way that I could have enjoyed maybe before it was ruined by common ADHD medicine. I know I got off topic but I want to prove a point that the professionals don’t know how to medicate it properly in the first place, so why criminalize something that’s WORKING, and saying its not proven based on the numbers and outdated studies?

  10. neelyc says:

    I respectfully disagree with you. I was diagnosed with ADHD 10 years ago and I’m taking a stimulant medication. Before my diagnosis I was self medicating with pot. It made me unmotivated and depressed after I came down off of the high. The more I used the deeper and harder the lows became. After getting properly medicated under a controlled dose unlike what smoking a pot does I went back to college and got a 3.65 GPA and have held a good job with very little sick time taken for the last 8 years. I will agree that there are benefits to smoking marijuana for terminal cancer or other terminal disease but not for treating ADD/ADHD. This is just my experience, however I do know several others with ADHD that choose to self medicate with pot or alcohol and all have not been able to hold a steady job or have meaningful relationships because of their use with either substance..

  11. gelid says:

    I disagree with the overall message of this post and most of the viewers. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. I was given Ritalin and it made me feel horrible. I could not operate properly. I was still getting good grades in school, but I was not right. When I turned fourteen, I started smoking marijuana. I immediately stopped the Ritalin. I did so much better that I actually started making friends. When I turned 17 I started doing everything you do before you enlist, which included stopping the marijuana use. I did not do well in the Marine Corps at all. Since I got out, I started smoking again and I have been back to school, was running my own company (slaughtered by the economy…), I am married, I have a good job. Oh yeah, I also started taking college classes at 15. I was smoking a lot too. I am about to go back to college yet again.

    One of my main problems with your article, is how you and almost everyone else in the world thinks that marijuana is a gateway drug. Most people try alcohol first. I had my first beer at a very young age. Sugar is the gate and parents are the key masters. If parents did not first give their children that first “sugar high” then there would probably be less people addicted to hardcore stimulants, prescription or made in someone’s garage.

  12. nz says:

    I, along with the majority of posters, disagree with most of what you’ve written.

    I’m an 18 year old male who was diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age. As a child I could not sit still, could not wait in line ups without poking and prodding the other children. I was given Concerta, and did not seem to notice a difference in my life. I was still an irritable little child who would still be very impulsive. This affected me socially a lot as the other children noticed that my behaviour was very different and often times inappropriate.

    As I entered into high school, I began to become more aware of myself socially, and began to develop anxiety and depression and a very negative personality and perspective o n things as I was a little more osctracized as a kid because of my abnormal behaviour. I became quiet in class and didn’t move around too much, even my own mother noticed that my behaviour changed and so naturally she attributed maturing to be the main cause of the so called “disappearance” of my symptoms.

    Fast forward a few years, I am now well aware of my social problems, and I am self-medicating with marijuana. Almost everyone I know is noticing HUGE behaviour improvements. Less impulsivity, I’m relaxed instead of hyper, Marijuana has been proven to improve mood as well as it works on the chemical dopamine in the brain, which as I understand is one of the chemicals involved in the chemical imbalance in my brain that is causing this mental disorder.

    So far since using marijuana, I have done more things in and with my life as a result. I am saving up and I am going to be going back to school. I’ve noticed improvements in the relationships I’ve had with people. I’ve been able to maintain them, in fact, much better than I ever did before, as I could not hold on to many friends for very long. Sometimes my family or my girlfriend will joke that I need to take some medication (as in marijuana) because I’m exhibiting the symptoms again as the medication is wearing off.

    I have never used any hard drugs, never used anything like Ecstasy or mushrooms. I’ve only used marijuana. I, and many of the others who are aware of our circumstances, are living proof that it is not a gateway drug, and that the only reason that it is even referred to as that, is because other people who have addictive personalities, who smoke marijuana, get it illegally, therefore the other drugs will become available to them from the dealer. It’s the legality of marijuana that makes it a gateway drug.

    I just wanted to let you know that Marijuana has improved my life so greatly, and relieved me of all the symptoms that I felt from ADHD.

  13. nate_the_great1 says:

    I have suffered from ADHD (inattentive, non-hyperactive) for all my life and didn’t know it until a couple of years ago. As a teen, I started smoking marijuana while trying to balance the stress of high school, a difficult family life and very harsh religious pressures (Mormonism). I honestly believe that my marijuana usage helped me graduate high school. That stuff was just cheap, commonly available “weed” that I could find from friends in school, and there was NOTHING medical about it in the least. Now, as an adult who suffers from my condition every single day, I have matured both as a person and in my understanding of myself and my symptoms.

    Just as a point of reference about who I am, I will also say that I am a happy, well balanced adult man in my early 30s. I have a wonderful wife and two amazing children. I helped my wife start her own business from scratch, and together we have grown it into a wonderful career for her as well as helping to provide more stability and security for our family. I am also a very talented professional in my field, and earn an above-average income in my senior-level position at work. I help to raise my kids and take care of our household as much as I am able while working my full-time schedule and I spend most of my off-hours helping my wife run her business, which she is now being recognized nationally and even internationally for her work (which I obviously support as much as possible). Clearly, I’m in NO way some “hippy stoner punk”, living in my parent’s garage and wasting my life away under the influence of drugs.

    Having read and agreed nearly across the board with most of Dr. Hallowell’s books from my life experiences, this is one of the very few points on which we categorically disagree. I pursued ADHD medication through a very talented ADHD specialist in Phoenix, and initally was told that my lifestyle pressures and stressors were the biggest trigger for my symptoms as an adult. Initially, my doc prescribed antidepressants which wreaked havoc on my life in ways I could never even dreamed; almost immediately, I couldn’t sleep, could hardly eat and my focus was so bad I could hardly hold a conversation. Exhausted and desperate, I even started having suicidal thoughts after my doctor strongly encouraged me to “stick with the treatment plan” – I knew that I had to stop the anti-depressant medication.

    Eventually, I did get on a stimulant which helped me quite a bit, but I had difficulty keeping up with the schedule and consistency that I needed to get the most effect out of them. I would gain short bursts of productivity and then almost lose it completely after a few hours.

    Thoroughly disappointed in the clinical medicines I was offered, I started researching and pursuing alternatives, and discovered a lot of support for medical marijuana as an ADHD treatment. There is clearly MUCH heated debate about it however, with vastly contradictory opinions.

    To me, it makes perfect sense as a medication for *my* condition; keep in mind that I am inattentive, NON-hyperactive. Marijuana *slows* my brain down to allow me to concentrate on the thing that I need to focus on, but also helps my focus and attention in ways that the prescriptions seem to only have tangent benefits, and allows me to completely avoid ALL of the negative side effects that nearly destroyed my life and made me want to die after only a couple of short weeks on SSRI antidepressants.

    There is a HUGE side note to usage of medical marijuana however (aside from the obvious legal issues, which is a completely separate issue and discussion) – there are quite literally THOUSANDS of strains of marijuana with vastly differing psychological effects. With my specific type of ADHD, I have found that strong sativa hybrids are the most effective. Some strains, Purple Kush for instance, are so counterproductive to my ADHD symptoms that I fully support Dr. Hallowell’s opinion in that case. Others, such as Sour Diesel, provide me with almost the exact same psychological feelings and mental results as the Ritalin (10mg, extended-release) I was prescribed, without the “jitters” and cold sweats that I used to get on the pills, and with lasting beneficial effects long after the “high” has worn off.

    I have to imagine that a heavy indica (heavy, lazy, body effects) would be more beneficial for a hyperactive than for me, as a strong sativa would probably be counterproductive for that type of patient – my online research also seems to support this opinion based on numerous reviews of hundreds of strains of marijuana with a specific ADHD focus. I think there is MUCH more to the discussion than “is marijuana good or bad for ADHD?”, as there are quite a lot of variables at play than just a simple A to B.

    Depending on your actual symptoms and the type of ADHD patient you are, one specific strain could be an amazing solution while another could simply be the worst thing for your condition, ever.

    I don’t enjoy “smoking” nor have any desire for the negatives from smoking, so I use a vaporizor. This has huge benefits for my health in reduced carcinogens (and smell), and makes medicating much easier and more consistent (it’s much easier to just get as much as I need without accidentally getting out of hand).

    Today is the 2-year anniversary for when I started medicating with marijuana, and in the last 2 years I have gotten more *done* than I did in the previous 5 years, and I now live an unbelievably better life directly because of it. This might not work for everyone, but for me it was and continues to be a great benefit to my life and condition.

  14. renordw says:

    Dr. Hallowell, I am also going to have to diametrically oppose your position as well.

    THC mimics the endocannabinoid anandamide, which is a substance that occurs naturally in the brain.

    Anandamide actually DECREASES the refractory period of neuron firing. That means that after you have one thought, it is possible for the neurons involved to fire again more quickly than usual, which is helpful for sufferers of ADHD by allowing thoughts to continue in the same direction.

  15. ciarakay says:

    This is pretty much BS. I have a very, very bad case of ADHD and weed has significantly helped me. “be less productive in their lives than they otherwise could be.” bullshittt I am getting good grades, at the top of my class, taking and passing all AP classes and have been smoking weed EVERYDAY for the past year and a half.

  16. Todd says:

    Ciarakay….do us all a favor and keep the words at a professional level. thanks

  17. Seige says:

    Well this is getting me pretty irritated….
    First of all for that man who said he got addicted… it’s in your head, you just enjoy it like you like your favorite food, you wanted more.
    Second, I have ADHD and smoking if anything HELPS your adhd…. for me I become absolutely sooo quiet, why? Because I sit there and think mainly(even when around people.. it just relaxes me a lot). Smoking definitely doesn’t make you more jumpy and crazier than you already where if you have adhd. The only people I see get like that are those that don’t have adhd.
    Third,the only reason someone who be all crazy n acting really goofy is if they are new to it and have no tolerance built up. My first time I was giggly and all that, things seemed like they were in slow-mo, still went positive in cod though :P

    p.s. Maybe it is just me… but I feel as though my ADHD was surpassed and overtime lessened as I aged. I’m only 18 for the record

  18. kleinbf says:

    I completely agree… I am the mother of a 20 year old young man who got addicted to pot late in his teen years, which then led to alcohol and other drug use. He swore that the pot made him “peaceful” but my experience was that he was much more irritable, certainly much more lethargic, and it has led to trouble at all levels. People need to know that addiction to marijuana is a real thing and it can lead to very real and severe losses in a person’s life.

  19. sunshine says:

    Okay I have ADHD never been put on medication for it, but when I smoke I get so geeked up can’t be still have more energy than usual. Makes no sense because does not affect my friends that way. I also have anxiety trying to find a psychiatrist that will take my insurance. I think I’m just all messed up lol.

  20. Kristopher says:

    Honestly, I think a lot of you, especially you Hallowell, are completely blind to the fact that everyone is different. I am 32 yrs old and have battled adhd and bipolar my entire life and have been prescribed a wide variety of pharmaeutical “aids” that didn’t work for the aid of any of my diagnosis. But, just because those meds don’t work for me, doesn’t mean that they don’t for someone else. Take off the blinders people and stop being so dam ignorant. Just because marijuana did not produce any viable medicinal effects for some of you, doesn’t mean it won’t for others. I have been using marijuana illegally as a supplement in the afternoon when my meds start to wear off. It keeps my mood level, I can process thoughts and actions easier, and I can easily get 2x the amount of work done than I can withou using it. I am in support of medical marijuana and a lot of people in the US think very similarly and it is a very closed-minded point of view.

  21. austinhin says:

    I find this to be absolutely absurd. I am 19 years old and i have been diagnosed with adhd since i was about 5. i tried Ritalin when i was about 7 to try to calm me down. It did not at all work my heart was racing and i was up for 2 days straight. after that my parents decided to no longer let me try any medications, until i was about 16. I really was having trouble in school getting into trouble all the time being kicked out of classes, for not being able to sit still and pay attention. My grades were falling drastically i was super unorganized, causing me to do homework assignments which was a huge struggle then i had the problem of losing all my papers because of my focus level. My School was very strict with assignments if they were late they were a zero no exceptions. So after loosing many papers knowing i did them and still getting zeros i gave up on school completely.
    I started seeing a neurologist in hopes of finding something to make me feel normal. HUGE mistake i was a lab rat, i tried every ADHD med under the sun and it was working at first until i started to get the side effects, i couldn’t eat(Which was a huge problem i am 19 and i weigh 145 after being on Focalin for 1 MONTH and had lost 15 pounds. i looked like a crack head my face had sunken in and i had lost all color i was very pale which is not normal and i was very very weak i could barely stand). This happened with several different kinds of meds. At 17 i started smoking marijuana and it was amazing the results(i dont mean i would go out and Get super stoned i just smoke a little for the relaxation and it also greatly improves my focus Greatly. i was interested in my school work again i was and still am doing well in school and happy i dont always feel stressed and rushed because i am not as easily distracted. So i have found it to greatly benefit me. and dependency on marijuana is absolutely ridiculous to even bring up because first of all; if you have adhd you are supposed to take your medication daily any way and secondly you prescribe Ritalin or Adderall now for adhd, which is very similar to meth and cocaine which is VERY ADDICTIVE And has soo many side effects. so i really see no strong argument what so ever. it agervates me that i have to go behind laws because i found something to actually help me. i find it ridiculous that our society is so tainted on a natural plant, but something like Adderall (SPEED) is acceptable. And to all the people that say well it leads to other drugs that is not entirely true i know many people that have only tried pot many adults have only done pot and alcohol and cigarettes i feel are gateways i know i started smoking cigarettes and drinking before i even smoked pot. I feel that the biggest problem with it leading to other things is not the pot its self but the problem of not even knowing if you are actually just getting pot sometimes the problem is that it is laced with something that leads you to do other things. But that can be fixed if it was regulated you would not have the problem of laced marijuana. i just find it very upsetting when doctors like you try to bash marijuana when you have no idea how it works on other people it is not fair that because you probably had a bad experience with marijuana so now you have to go and write an article making it harder for some one like me t actually be able to do this legally. Also i would like to point out that i do not smoke every day and i can take a break when ever i would like, i do sometimes, i go a few weeks without smoking during summer when i dont need to focus.

  22. austinhin says:

    And Also @Carlene Forsythe who posted about her daughter in this segment even though her daughter does not have adhd and that is what this entire post is about… like yes some people do have bad reactions to marijuana but that doesn’t mean it does that to every one, it was honestly probably laced Especially if she was vomiting and if you were thinking you should have taken a drug test this way you would have probably found out it was not the marijuana, and By judging how you wrote the post i also feel when she got home, like most parents started getting mad and reprimanding her and paranoid her. So it is probably your self you should blame for her not being herself for the next two days.

  23. jhosch14 says:

    I know this is going to sound bad but im only 15 and ive been self medicating with a heavy indica chocolate and it has made my mind mote clear than ever. Well lets back on up, I have severe Adhd. Before I was put on 60 mgs of vyvanse, (which turns me into a emotionless drone) I had adhd so bad I would walk up to the board and start drawing on it out of impulse. Since I have started these chocolates I have been much more clear on everything. I will take them at night to avoid the stoned feeling while at school, and the next day I am in much more control. But I will skip my meds when I do this. Mixing the 2 makes me super depressed. I am in no way addicted and my grades are rising. I heavily disagree with you and I think you need to do much more research before you make such bold claims. Thanks for your time

  24. emt4life says:

    it helps me I have had adhd all my life didn’t do good in school quit and get my ged started smoking pot and now I focus so much better on what im doing.

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