The study’s abstract said while people with ADHD are more likely to use cannabis, little is known about how cannabis affects factors related to ADHD, such as side effects of medication, symptoms and executive dysfunction.
The researchers gathered data from more than 1,700 people via an online survey that measured factors such as executive dysfunction, ADHD symptoms, cannabis use and the perceived effects of cannabis on ADHD symptoms and medication side effects.
About 75% of participants were classified as cannabis users, and half of them reported they used cannabis to self-medicate and manage ADHD symptoms. About 17% of participants reported they’d previously been prescribed ADHD medication.
Additionally, while most participants did not have an ADHD diagnosis, about a fourth of them reported ADHD-like symptoms and met or exceeded the threshold for mildly symptomatic ADHD.
The study found the frequency of cannabis use was a “significant moderator” of the relationship between executive dysfunction and symptom severity. As cannabis use increased, the relationship between symptom severity and executive dysfunction shrunk, suggesting using cannabis more frequently could mitigate ADHD-related executive dysfunction. This finding may be surprising, considering cannabis can have negative effects on executive functioning.
The researchers also discovered various findings related to how short-term and long-term cannabis use can affect ADHD-related symptoms.
About 92% of participants with ADHD who use cannabis reported short-term use helped improve their symptoms. Different percentages of participants reported improvements in hyperactivity, impulsivity, mental frustration and restlessness.
About 35% of this same group of participants said long-term cannabis use improved their overall ADHD symptoms, 37% reported no effect and 14% reported chronic cannabis use worsened their symptoms.
For individuals who were prescribed ADHD medication, most reported cannabis improved side effects, such as headaches, loss of appetite, mood and stomach aches.
In addition to correlations between ADHD symptoms and frequency of cannabis use, the study found symptoms of cannabis use disorder, a “problematic pattern of cannabis use linked to clinically significant impairment,” according to ADDtitude, a magazine centered around ADD and ADHD.
With these findings in mind, the study suggests cannabis affects the distress associated with ADHD symptoms rather than directly affecting the symptoms themselves.
The researchers also noted the study’s findings can improve understanding of how cannabis interacts with and affects ADHD, as well as provide clinicians with a better understanding of their patients who use cannabis.