It’s not just those with Epilepsy who could benefit from cannabis being available on prescription in the UK. Those with ADHD could too.
Last month, the cannabis oil Billy Caldwell, 12, needed to control his Epilepsy was confiscated at Heathrow airport.
Cannabis oil can be legally sold in the UK as long as its THC level is lower than 0.05%, but Billy requires a higher THC level.
A few days later – after Billy had been rushed to hospital – the Home Office granted him a 20-day licence (links to BBC) for use of the drug.
And then, within a week of confiscating the drug, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a review of cannabis (links to Gov.uk) for medical purposes.
But what does this mean to people with ADHD?
ADHD has been linked to dopamine deficiency. A lack of dopamine in the frontal lobe area of the brain affects executive function: the ability to pay attention, to switch focus, to manage time, to store things to memory and to regulate emotions.
The main medical treatment available currently is stimulant drugs, which increase dopamine levels in the brain. And by stimulants, I mean amphetamines.
People like me take amphetamines every day in order to increase our executive function abilities. But these drugs come with many unpleasant side effects (links to understood.org) and carry significant long-term health risks (links to WebMD) such as heart problems.
Could we use cannabis instead?
Cannabis increases dopamine levels (links to Medical News Today) in the same way amphetamines do.
Although much of the information about it being used to treat ADHD is anecdotal by those who are self-medicating their condition, in 2016, a group of researchers reviewed (links to NCBI) this anecdotal data.
They found that “despite that there are no clinical recommendations or systematic research supporting the beneficial effects of cannabis use for ADHD, online discussions indicate that cannabis is considered therapeutic for ADHD”.
Another group of researchers reviewed a case of a 28-year-old male who was prescribed THC (links to PDF hosted by CiteSeerX digital library) for ADHD where stimulant drugs hadn’t worked.
They found the THC “appears to regulate activation to a level which may be considered optimum for performance” and has “a positive impact on performance, behaviour and mental state”.
Researchers have also found a higher prevalence of ADHD in those with Epilepsy (links to NCBI). And one of the most common areas of the brain to be affected by Epilepsy is the frontal lobe – the same area that’s affected by ADHD.
The research available suggests cannabis might be able to offer those with ADHD better executive function levels through increased dopamine but without the nasty side effects.
And I’m sure I won’t be the only person with ADHD who’d like the opportunity to find out.
I’ve tweeted Prof Sally Davies (links to Twitter) – who will be leading the Government’s review on cannabis – asking her to consider cannabis usage for ADHD.
(And I’ve emailed the Department of Health & Social Care too.)