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ADHD: “I wasn’t naughty, the world just looked different to me”

For ADHD Awareness Month, Anna shares how cannabis helps manage her symptoms

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ADHD
ADHD is often quite a difficult diagnosis process, especially for women.

For ADHD awareness month, Cannabis Health meets patients who use cannabis to treat the symptoms of the condition.

In the third part of our series on ADHD, we meet Anna Ling who was diagnosed with the condition as a child. She considers herself lucky to have been diagnosed so young. 

Read the first of our series on ADHD here

ADHD is often quite a difficult diagnosis process, especially for women. Traditionally, it has wrongly been attributed to men. It was thought that women have less obvious or fewer socially disruptive symptoms than them. Studies also show that women tend to have less coping strategies for ADHD symptoms than men and present with higher levels of anxiety or depression.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more boys are likely to be diagnosed than girls at a ratio of 12.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent. 

Anna says: “I was diagnosed when I was younger as I was very hyperactive and wouldn’t sit still. I was always very fast then I could never concentrate, so it got noticed that something wasn’t right.”

Anna went through the whole diagnosis process which usually means a referral from a GP to a psychiatrist. The waiting lists for this can be anything over a year through the NHS, but the cost to go private can be out of reach for most people. 

When it comes to explaining how ADHD will affect patients, there isn’t a lot of information out there. Anna found herself on the medication, Methylphenidate, for a while before deciding to stop taking it.

She is currently not on medication but treats her symptoms with cannabis. However, she still struggles with the condition.

She explains: “I haven’t been able to keep a job for more than six weeks because I can’t focus enough and I get so anxious when I get there that I can’t do anything. I’m just completely stuck.”

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“I mainly struggle to focus and with my memory as I’m constantly losing things. I came off medication about six years ago when I was 18, I had left school and I didn’t really want to take it.”

ADHD: A row of brown oil bottles with no lids surroundd by green cannabis leaves

Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant usually sold under the brand name, Ritalin. It affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. Methylphenidate side effects may not be the best option for patients with a history of anxiety, depression or mental illness. It can cause new or worsening psychosis, unusual thoughts or behaviour, especially where there is bipolar disorder or mental illness.

Anna suffers from other mental health conditions which mean that she is currently living in an adult care home.

“I have a lot of other mental health things going on, so the ADHD disappeared amongst everything else. People seem to forget that I have it and didn’t outgrow it. I’ve learned to deal with it,” she adds.

” I also have tics as well, I will whistle a lot which can be annoying for other people.”

ADHD and tics

Tics are repetitive, sudden movements you make without wanting to make them. For people with ADHD, they could be itching, twitching their nose or neck, shrugging shoulders, or blinking. Some people have vocal tics which may be coughing, grunting, or sniffing.

It is thought that tics may not be caused by ADHD but potentially be a co-morbid disorder. However, researchers from a study found that 70 per cent of children with ADHD had tics. There are few studies that suggest it may be stimulant medication-based.

Anna started consuming cannabis to have fun with her friends before noticing it had a different effect on her. 

“Initially it was just about having fun with friends then I noticed I was feeling more normal. I was able to fit in and function better, while getting less frustrated. As time when on, I found I was able to cope better,” she said.

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Anna hasn’t got a prescription which means she worries about the quality of what she buys and access becoming scarce.

“My main concern is it being laced or not knowing what I have bought,” she says.

“It’s really hard because you can’t go to the pharmacy to pick it up. I’m conscious of being caught with it. That worry is what frustrates me the most because I haven’t got it legally.”

ADHD and cannabis

There is a lack of awareness around prescriptions for medical cannabis for conditions such as ADHD. A lot of people are unaware that it is possible to access a prescription through some, but not all, clinics in the UK.

The cost can also be a factor as many ADHD people may be struggling with unemployment or working in creative industries. 

Studies show that the reason for the struggle in employment may be due to poor executive functioning. Executive dysfunction is a term used to describe a range of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional difficulties. ADHD people with executive dysfunction struggle with planning, problem-solving, organisation, and time management – which are all valuable job skills.

To reach medical cannabis, patients must have exhausted regular medication. GPs seem reluctant to prescribe ADHD medication.

In our second article, Aodhán expressed his reluctance to seek any more help with medication after negative experiences with GPs. Jakob in our first feature also mentioned that he sees his GP once a year to have his stimulant based medication increased. The answer seems to be either exhausting patients looking for help or increasing pharmaceutical medication that carries an addiction risk. 

ADHD: a yellow pot of CBD oil next to a bunch of green cannabis leaves

So, how does this change? 

Visibility is key.

READ MORE  UK Fibromyalgia announce two-part webinar about arthritis, fibromyalgia and cannabis medicines

Anna said she is only now starting to openly discuss her diagnosis.

“I’ve only started to be open about it in the last three years,” she admits.

“I found it really hard to make friends before that as I was always the child who didn’t get invited to birthday parties, so I hid it from people for a very long time. Then I figured as an adult, I get to make the choice and I’d rather tell people than have them think I am weird.”

Her ADHD was often viewed differently by her friends’ parents.

“A lot of parents think we are the naughty kid. When I was 13, my friend’s parents didn’t want me to come around because I was naughty. It wasn’t that, it was just the world was different for me,” she says.

“I found it very hard to control myself, not because I was naughty but because I had ADHD.”

Anna has even had to educate the staff at her facility about what ADHD looks like.

“[The staff] were absolutely clueless, they had no idea, I have had to educate them on how I function as a person, she says.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have to have done that, they should be getting that education from elsewhere, but I’m happy to do it so that they can support me.”

She is also educating them about cannabis as a medication for ADHD.

“It’s a good thing to talk about our different experiences because it’s still quite an unknown thing,” Anna adds.

“People just associate it with wanting to be high and having a good time. It’s more a case that it helps me to stay calm, reduces my anxiety and helps me not to lose my temper as much.”

Fibromyalgia

UK Fibromyalgia announce two-part webinar about arthritis, fibromyalgia and cannabis medicines

The two-part webinar about arthritis and fibromyalgia will also feature patient’s voices

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Fibromyalgia: A stethoscope on a wooden surface surrounded by cannabis leaves

UK Fibromyalgia, Integro Clinics, Primary Care Cannabis Network, CPASS and PLEA are proud to present a collaborative two-part webinar discussing fibromyalgia, arthritis and cannabis medicines.

An estimated 1.5-2 million people are living with fibromyalgia and 10 million with arthritis in the UK. The management of the symptoms of these conditions can take a long time to diagnose correctly and can take even longer before they are effectively brought under control.

This two-part series aims to educate attendees on the experiences and lives of those living with fibromyalgia and arthritis, as well as show the benefits that cannabis medicines and CBD can have in alleviate some of the symptoms of these conditions.

Steven is one of three patients, who will be speaking at the second episode of the webinar.

He is a medical cannabis patient with fibromyalgia. He shares his story from first being diagnosed to gaining his medical cannabis prescription, and how his life has improved since then.

UK Fibromyalgia: A blue and white logo for the charity UK Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia: Steven’s Story

Steven first developed FSH Muscular Dystrophy in 2014 and was diagnosed in 2016, after an initially incorrect diagnosis of Brachial Neuritis. Then in 2015, he developed fibromyalgia, which restricted him to a wheelchair, when outside his home.
His FSH Muscular Dystrophy had caused him severe nerve damage leading to his arm dropping forwards at the shoulder and giving him huge pain. He was prescribed Naproxen, Amitriptyline, Pregabalin, Tramadol and Baclofen.

All had limited effects on his pain and had horrible side effects. So much so that he was taken off them leaving him with very little to treat the symptoms of his fibromyalgia.

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He said: “Fibromyalgia arrived during a very stressful period in my life, triggered by a car crash. Four months after the accident, I was admitted to the hospital having difficulties with walking and pain in my back, hips and legs. I had already exhausted all other common pain killers because of the treatment I had already received for FSH muscular dystrophy, which had started a year before.”

Having come off these medicines, Steven then had six weeks of physiotherapy, which didn’t help and caused him great pain. After this, he was not referred to any doctors or for psychological help, which he should have been as per NICE guidelines. It was at this point that he turned to medical cannabis, and in June 2019, he received his first prescription.

Steven discovered that using medical cannabis allowed him to gain back his mental and physical strength. It allowed him to sleep better and recoup.

Cannabis and Fibromyalgia

Steven said: “I got my first medical cannabis prescription in June 2019 and it was the best decision I’ve ever made to treat my illness. Over time the brain fog that I was perpetually in receded. I can compare my fibromyalgia with a volcano, that was bubbling and active – the cannabis soothed and quietened it. It allowed my stiffness and fatigue to reduce, and my body began to recover and flourish. Whole aspects of my personality that had switched off returned. Mentally and physically, I was healing, and I had the space to be me.

He added: “The consistent quality and regular supply of medical cannabis, as opposed to black-market cannabis, was vital. It allowed me to get a constant level of relief that allowed me to rebalance my vulnerable body and mind. With each month of use, symptoms would reduce or completely go and my kids all commented on the massive change in my energy levels.”

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Steven will be part of the round table panel in the second episode of the webinar and will discuss why he believes medical cannabis should be more widely accessible for patients when conventional medicines no longer help.

He explained: “I want to help raise the profile of medical cannabis as an effective form of treatment for Fibromyalgia at the same time as helping to raise awareness of the condition. Because it destroys people’s lives, it destroys families, careers, takes parents, partners, friends & loved ones away from us and locks them in a constant cycle of pain, anxiety and fatigue. It is a very destructive illness yet mostly invisible because these people are isolated at home suffering & unable to talk about it.

“This webinar is an opportunity to shed light on the topic of fibromyalgia and bring more attention to this illness and exactly how it affects people.”

 

To register for this free event please follow the links to get your tickets:
Part 1: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/168090997699
Part 2: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/168112536121

Dr Anthony Ordman, senior clinical adviser at Integro Medical Clinics Ltd said: “Integro Medical Clinics always recommends remaining under the care and treatment of your GP and specialist for your condition, while using cannabis-based medicines, and the Integro clinical team would always prefer to work in collaboration with them.”

If you would like further information or to speak to Dr Anthony Ordman please contact Integro Clinics:

Website: www.integroclinics.com
Email: Contact@integroclinics.com
Twitter: @clinicsintegro

Read more: Integro Medical Clinic on living with and managing arthritis pain

UK Fibromyalgia: A banner for collaborative content

READ MORE  Cannabis activists highlight patient's struggle to return home
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Advocacy

Cannabis activists highlight patient’s struggle to return home

The campaign has had activists walking in countries across the globe

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cannabis activists walking campaign

Cannabis activists across Ireland, the UK and Spain are aiming to walk over 2,000km to highlight the distance that cannabis patient and activist Alicia Maher has to travel to access her medication.

The Irish campaign started on Sunday 26 September to coincide with the second annual National Walking Day but it has since been extended for the week. Activists were encouraged to get out and walk, run or cycle a minimum of 2km while tweeting their participation in the campaign.

Several Irish ministers were tagged in tweets calling for changes to cannabis access including Frank Feighan, Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy and Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health.

Read more about Alicia’s story here

Irish cannabis activism: Alicia Maher

Irish campaigning

Speaking to Cannabis Health News, Alicia said: “Martin Conway from Martin’s World actually organised the campaign. He noticed that Frank Feighan had been made an ambassador for National Walking Day so he came up with the idea for the campaign.

“We wanted to get as many people to walk as possible to cover the distance it would take to walk from Cork to Alicante which is 2,055 km.”

She added: “It’s really taken off. I can’t believe how many people are taking part. We think we have gone over the 2055 kilometres and now we are doing the way back.”

Alicia said there have been people walking in countries including Ireland, UK, Spain, Portugal, America, Canada, Australia, and Thailand. She is hopeful that the ministers tagged in the tweets can see the demand for access.

READ MORE  Cannabis activists highlight patient's struggle to return home

“I hope that Stephen Donnelly might see it,” she said.

“I’m already tagging him in hundreds of posts and I’ve emailed him but received an answer copy and pasted from the internet. I wrote back repeating my questions which was two months ago, I’ve heard nothing since.”

Irish cannabis activism

Alicia left Ireland last year to access medical cannabis to treat her chronic pain. Ireland’s Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) does not include chronic pain, leaving Alicia struggling to find £2,000 every three months for her medication.


She would like to return home and have access to cannabis in Ireland covered by the medical card system or long-term illness scheme. However, recent updates announced to the Medical Cannabis Access Program show no signs of including patients living with chronic pain.

The campaign progress can be seen on Twitter under the hashtag, #BringAliciaHome

Read More: Spain approves first cannabis-based medication

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Case Studies

ADHD Awareness Month: “There is more to ADHD than just annoying stereotypes”

To mark ADHD Awareness Month, we are focusing on patient’s stories of using cannabis to help their symptoms and manage their daily lives.

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ADHD: A pink pen highlighting the word ADHD in a text

For ADHD awareness month, Cannabis Health meets patients who use cannabis to treat the symptoms of the condition.

In the first of our series on ADHD, we meet Jakob Fullagar who was diagnosed with the condition as a teenager. He treats his condition with a combination of prescription medication and cannabis.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition. It can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, they may have trouble concentrating and seem impulsive. While a lot of people are diagnosed at a young age, there are adults being diagnosed with the disorder.

It is thought that ADHD presents in three different ways:

Inattentive: An individual may struggle to organise or complete tasks, pay attention to details, follow instructions or conversations. It also causes a person to be easily distracted or to forget parts of their daily routine.

Hyperactive: A person with hyperactivity may fidget or move or talk a lot. They can struggle with sitting still for a long period of time due to feeling restless. They also struggle with impulsivity and may interrupt frequently, speak at inappropriate times or fail to wait for their turn. They may be more accident-prone.

Combination: They present symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattentiveness.

ADHD: A person sitting at a table laughing

Jakob Fullagar

ADHD and Jakob

Jakob was diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager. As with a lot of ADHD children, he was labelled the naughty child and was placed into therapy. ADHD symptoms are often mistaken for emotional or disciplinary problems. It is estimated that ADHD children hear an average of 20,000 more negative messages than neurotypical children by the time they are 10-years-old.

In Jakob’s case, teachers also failed to recognise signs of the condition in his behaviour.

“I was a troublemaker as I caused problems and couldn’t concentrate. It took about seven to eight years of therapy before a psychiatrist said it actually might be ADHD, which made a lot more sense.

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“I was straight away labelled as a naughty problem child and there was no point where a teacher turned around and said there may be something underlying there,” said Jakob.

As well as therapy, Jakob was placed on a low dose of Concerta. Concerta is a common ADHD medication containing methylphenidate similar to Ritalin. It is thought to improve focus in attentive presentations and also decrease risky or hyperactive behaviour.

He continued: “They just kept increasing it in three or four weekly increments. It tends to work fairly well. I can normally get about a year and a half before I feel I need an increase.”

Jakob had been consuming cannabis recreationally before he realised that it could be beneficial for his ADHD. It wasn’t until he received his diagnosis that he realised he had been subconsciously medicating with it.

“I started [using cannabis] before I actually knew I had ADHD, a friend recommended it,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I got diagnosed and talked about it with doctors that we realised I had been unknowingly self-medicating and self-managing. But it does work. I realised I could chill a little bit and I’m less all over the place.”

ADHD studies

The studies of cannabis on ADHD are few but promising. A small Israeli study from 2020 on medical cannabis patients suggested that CBN may help to reduce symptoms. The study involved 59 patients who were asked to record their ADHD, sleep, anxiety patterns using questionnaires. Those on a higher dose of CBN recorded less medication use while those on the lower doses recorded less anxiety. CBN is a controlled substance in the UK as it is created when THC breaks down and becomes oxygenated.

Jakob finds that medical cannabis has pros and cons when it comes to symptom management.

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“In terms of benefits, it’s absolutely taken me down a bit when it comes to energy levels. I am able to think things through after I’ve consumed. I’ll happily be able to sit and properly think out a process rather than just jumping straight in. I’ll take a step back.”

ADHD people can struggle with blurting things out, acting without thinking or failing to recognise risks as they act on impulse. This can have negative effects on their jobs, home lives and relationships. It can be difficult to take a step back to recognise the potential for danger, upset or difficulties.

He added: “I can process and choose an appropriate response. When it comes to being social, it’s much better to be able to navigate situations where I may upset someone by speaking before thinking.”

Diagnosis rise

While ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the condition. This can cause ADHD people to lose jobs, relationships and friendships. A survey from the US ADHD Awareness Coalition showed that more than half of those who participated said they had lost or changed a job because of their ADHD symptoms. A further 36 percent said they had four or more jobs in the past ten years with 6.5 percent saying they had more than 10.

Jakob is honest at work about his ADHD. Although he has just started working in a butchers, the smells, sights and textures don’t bother him. However, he admits that noise is a problem with distraction.

“I started working at a butchers about two months ago and it’s noticeable that I take longer to learn,” he said.

“At the minute, I’m constantly learning new things every day so I explained to everyone at work and said I have a learning difficulty so please be patient with me.

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“They have to show me things a few times and supervise me while I try it myself. It takes all of that while I crack a process. Then there are the sensory processing issues that come with it. There is constantly fans, fridges and machinery going on and it’s a running joke that I can’t hear anything unless people shout.”

Sensory overload can happen when a person has input from their five senses that they can process. Multiple conversations, flashing lights, or a loud party can all produce the symptoms. It is common in ADHD, autism, fibromyalgia and PTSD.

ADHD: A person holding a yellow phone taking a selfie

 

ADHD and cannabis stigma

While Jakob is open at work about his diagnosis, he does get frustrated that people feel it’s about just being a stereotype. He believes that cannabis use and ADHD still carries a stigma.

“I think especially around ADHD, there is a stigma. You tell someone you have the condition and they think it’s about hyperactivity, being energetic and funny. There is a lot more to ADHD than just annoying stereotypes,” he said.

“When it comes to cannabis, I think a lot of opinions have changed over time so I don’t tend to say that I use it a lot of the time but the majority of people know that I do. I think the main reason people don’t like cannabis these days is because of the negative connotations around it.”

Jakob added: “I wish people knew we are all trying our best with the resources and strategies we have at that moment but we have to try that little bit harder, unfortunately.

“It’s not all balancing, happiness and excitement, as it can be really stressful.”

Read more: I’m prescribed cannabis for ADHD but I can’t travel home with it

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