Alaska Cannabis Club CEO Charlo Greene prepares to roll a joint at the medical marijuana dispensary in Anchorage.
Spaar’s two teenage sons both have ADHD and high-functioning autism. For several months, Spaar’s younger son tried a variety of stimulants — Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta — to treat symptoms associated with the conditions.
While the drugs helped somewhat, Spaar said she was concerned with the side effects, which included a suppressed appetite and difficulty falling and staying asleep. Both are common effects of stimulants.
Some medical professionals say that medical marijuana is useful if only to get their ADHD patients off stimulants.
David Berger, a pediatrician and the medical director of Wholistic Releaf, a medical-cannabis clinic in Tampa, Florida, told Insider that he’s using it for that very purpose.
In total, Berger said 20 of his pediatric patients have been able to stop taking drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall by taking a combination of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s mind and body high, and CBD, a chemical compound that doesn’t get patients high but can help to address some medical and mental-health issues.
Spaar decided last year to give her sons a microdose of THC and CBD as an alternative to stimulants. Twice a day, Spaar’s sons, who are 13 and 15, take five milligrams of the medication orally in an oil form.
Spaar said that some families will work with pharmacists and consultants at a dispensary to figure out an appropriate dose. She confers with her children’s psychiatrist about the issue, but he doesn’t handle specifics of the case.
Since starting to take medical marijuana, Spaar said her younger son is now less anxious and better able to focus on his school work. She said it’s also helped with his tics. The 14-year-old’s sleep has improved and so has his appetite since he ceased taking stimulants.
Spaar’s older son, who has more severe autism-related and ADHD symptoms than his younger brother, has seen noticeable improvement in many areas, his mother said, since being introduced to medical marijuana. The 15-year-old’s grades are up, he’s having an easier time focusing and completing tasks at school and at home, she said.
Spaar said the marijuana has also decreased his hyperactivity and calmed his racing thoughts and restlessness.
She said she has “no doubt” that she will be seeing more cases where medical cannabis is used to treat children with attention issues.
Spaar said her peers have been vocal about their disapproval
Spaar said her patients have been pleased with the results, especially because it has allowed many of them to cut back on, if not fully cut out, stimulants. Still, Spaar said some of her peers have been vocal about their disapproval.
“There are people who say, ‘You’re just getting your kid high.’ That’s what they think of when they think of marijuana,” Spaar said. “But once I tell them the dramatic improvement I’ve seen, it tends to open people’s eyes.”
ADHD isn’t considered a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in any US state.
Even if parents make the choice to treat their children with medical marijuana, accessing it can be a major challenge.
Every state has different laws about which medical conditions qualify a patient for a marijuana card, and they’re especially strict for pediatric patients. Right now, ADHD isn’t considered a qualifying condition in any state. This means that using using marijuana to treat ADHD is illegal, even in states where medical cannabis has been approved for the treatment of some conditions. A child with ADHD may have an additional diagnosis that qualifies for a medical-marijuana card
Children diagnosed with ADHD may also be diagnosed with another condition that qualifies a patient for a marijuana card, including autism or PTSD.
Physicians in favor of prescribing cannabis to treat ADHD believe it will soon become a more standard treatment for this condition, and others, in pediatric patients.
Some physicians say medical marijuana is useful for helping patients to wean off stimulants.
Anand Dugar, an anesthesiologist and pain-medicine physician who owns Green Health Docs, in Frederick, Maryland, is one of those hopeful physicians.
Dugar said he has prescribed medical marijuana to as many as 20,000 patients. He said he’s consulted with a number of parents who want to try treating ADHD with cannabis to help their children stay calm, relaxed, and more focused.
“People who were naysayers see that the sky hasn’t fallen,” Berger said. “Of course it means more people are going to try it.”
Steve Smith, the medical director of Essential Nutrition and Wellness, an alternative wellness practice in Illinois, also believes there are situations in which prescribing marijuana is appropriate. He’s also in the camp of those who think medical marijuana is best used to wean patients off stimulants.
Too often, Smith said, conditions related to attention issues are overdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in children. Many of these children are “pliable,” Smith said, able to improve their focus with more natural treatments. In pediatric patients with ADHD, Smith has seen dramatic improvements through behavioral therapy and with better diet and sleep hygiene.
“I’d like to get to a point where we don’t dope kids up on anything,” he said.