Is there really a connection between CBD and ADHD?
Due to changes in legislation surrounding cannabis over the last few decades, more research on compounds found within cannabis such as CBD have been able to be studied more vigorously.
Research has shown that there is potential for CBD to help alleviate a range of psychological disorders. There does not yet exist a concrete answer regarding the link between CBD and ADHD, but there is some exciting research which shows ways in which it may benefit ADHD symptoms.
To many, it may sound odd that cannabis - known for its relaxing effects - would help with a disorder defined by one’s inability to concentrate. However, despite this societal belief, there is some research showing CBD may help.
Here is what you need to know about the link between CBD and ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is one of the most common psychological disorders diagnosed in children - especially boys - with approximately 9.4% of children from the ages 2-17 (6.1 million) being diagnosed with ADHD in the USA.
There are different categories of ADHD; inattentiveness and hyperactivity, as well as a combination of both. People with inattentiveness struggle with concentration, while the hyperactive struggle with impatience and fidgeting.
Most cases of ADHD see combined symptoms of both sides.
What happens when you consume CBD oil for ADHD?
Cannabidiol is an active compound found in the cannabis plant, more commonly known as CBD or CBD oil.
After consuming CBD oil various endocannabinoid receptors are stimulated, primarily the CB2 receptor.
Interestingly, consuming CBD oil does not use what is inside the oil, but rather it increases the use of cannabinoids that your body already naturally produces.
Due to the direct effect that CBD has been shown to have on the brain and various behaviours relating to ADHD symptoms such as depression and anxiety, as well as numerous anecdotal reports, there have been more discussions taking place about the potential of CBD being used as a treatment for ADHD.
Traditional treatments of ADHD vs. CBD
ADHD results in a faulty transmission of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Prescription drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin are prescribed to calm symptoms such as hyperactivity and a lack of focus by working on altering the reuptake of these neurotransmitters or directly affecting them.
These drugs do support with symptoms of ADHD and can be very helpful especially in severe cases where natural means of symptom control such as diet, exercise and/or meditation are fleeting.
However, due to the addictive nature of drugs such as Adderall (which is an amphetamine), it makes sense that CBD is becoming more attractive as a potential treatment due to its safety record and lack of addictive-inducing behavior.
This is an especially important selling point for CBD as it is proven that those with ADHD have a higher proclivity towards addiction and substance abuse.
The question is, just how effective is CBD? Could it really be used as a total replacement for typical ADHD medication, or is this idea too optimistic?
Cannabis and ADHD, a mix of heaven or hell?
One of the hallmark neurochemical issues with the brain of a person with ADHD is a lack of dopamine. Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter responsible driving people to seek things that increase pleasure such as food and sex.
Dopamine is the center of the brain's reward system.
The psychoactive compound in cannabis - THC - is responsible for users feeling high and increases dopamine release significantly.
Since the body's dopamine system is controlled by the endocannabinoid system (the body's natural receptors of cannabinoids), it makes sense that cannabis is so effective at altering dopamine levels.
ADHD medication such as Adderall works by increasing dopamine and thereby increasing the attention span of people with ADHD who have insufficient dopamine levels.
Research has shown that the consumption of cannabis directly affects the brain's dopamine system.
Whether this is effect on dopamine is good or bad depends on a number of different factors such as the ratio of CBD to THC, the frequency of use, the dosage, the person using it, genetics, and so on.
CBD oil and ADHD - Could it really help manage symptoms?
Although more research on CBD (the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis) is being carried out, the totality of research on CBD and ADHD lacks sufficient evidence for us to be able to make a definitive conclusion about whether it is an effective treatment for ADHD.
Researchers from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry carried out a randomized placebo-controlled trial examining the effects of a CBD spray on 30 adults diagnosed with ADHD.
The results were consistent with participants reporting that they preferred this treatment to stronger narcotics such as Adderall.
Researchers observed significantly increased cognitive function and the improvement of hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms after the use of CBD spray (branded as Sativex).
Although the research sample was small, the significant and consistent improvements in the behavior of participants is more than enough to warrant further research.
One study looking at the association between ADHD and cannabis use on university undergraduate students concluded that some students self-medicated with cannabis for ADHD as well as depression. However, the overall effect that cannabis had on these symptoms were not able to be concluded.
One interesting study looking at the effects of CBD on ADHD symptoms (carried out on rats) showed promising results.
Researchers dosed rats with the drug dizocilpine which induced ADHD-like behavior in rats. One group of rats were given CBD before the administration of the dizocilpine to see whether the CBD helped alleviate the induced ADHD symptoms.
The group that was treated with CBD displayed more normal and even increased social cognitive function compared to the control group untreated with CBD.
Whether the artificial induction of ADHD-like symptoms in this animal study translates to genuine ADHD symptoms in humans being alleviated by CBD is another story.
Regardless, the results of this study seem to point towards CBD being a legitimate treatment for ADHD symptoms, or at the very least, definitely not something that would worsen them.
Why would CBD oil help with ADHD symptoms?
As ADHD is known to produce symptoms such as a lack of attention, many researchers hypothesized that cannabis use would exacerbate these symptoms; however, this does not seem to be the case.
CBD promotes the production of dopamine as it blocks the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), but without the psychoactive medicating effects of THC . GABA deficiency is linked to anxiety and so because CBD increases GABA is may decrease anxiety. This is important as around half of adults with ADHD suffer from anxiety.
Another possibility is that CBD - known to help improve insomnia and other sleep conditions - can be used to decrease the stimulating effects of ADHD medication such as Adderall and Ritalin which may prevent someone from sleeping.
Another way that CBD could be used as a means to improve ADHD is more indirect. Stimulants, alcohol and other drugs are frequently used as a way for people with ADHD to self-medicate symptoms such as depression, anxiety or a lack of focus.
Since people with ADHD have a much higher inclination towards addictive behavior and substance abuse, the use of CBD may help to decrease symptoms of withdrawal and help people reduce their use of harmful substances.
Because ADHD is one of the most widespread psychological disorders and is increasing every decade, the prospect that a compound which is not psychoactive and is shown to lack addictive properties and be safe for use is incredibly promising.
Whether CBD for ADHD helps is a tough question to answer
The thing about ADHD is that the type of ADHD will affect whether cannabis is a viable treatment. Different types of ADHD medication work better than others for certain kinds of people and the same most likely applies to cannabis use.
This is why it is essential - especially in these early stages of research - to avoid using absolute terms about whether CBD treats or does not treat ADHD. Whether a benefit is seen or not is too subjective per person for absolutes right now.
More research on a larger scale via randomised controlled clinical trials needs to be carried out before we can become more adamant about the benefits.
Does CBD get you high?
The short answer is no, unless the product contains a considerable amount of THC.
Part of the stigma associated with any medical cannabis product is the association between cannabis use and degenerative recreational behavior (although this is quickly changing).
What is important to understand is that CBD is very different from cannabis.
CBD oils are made from the same plant but usually do not contain any significant amount of THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active compound in cannabis responsible for users feeling high or stoned after smoking or orally ingesting cannabis.
The ratio of CBD to THC varies between products, but most CBD based products contain minuscule amounts of THC which will not induce any psychoactive effects. Research has even shown that CBD in and of itself is antagonistic to the effects of THC.
How is CBD oil consumed?
There are a variety of methods to take CBD oil.
Typically it is consumed via vaping or oral consumption.
Oral consumption is a simple way to take CBD. You simply put a few drops under your tongue, take a CBD capsule, or consume a CBD-infused food product.
Vaping CBD oil is common too and especially beneficial if immediate relief of symptoms are required.
What sort of dose of CBD is good for ADHD?
In terms of dosing, most beginners start with a small dose of 20-30 milligrams. However, in terms of dosing for ADHD, we simply do not know an optimal dose yet due to a lack of studies.
Ideal dosages will vary on a case by case basis.
CBD Oil for kids with ADHD - Is it safe?
Due to widespread legalization of cannabis still being relatively recent as well as the stigma of cannabis use in adolescence (which can be negative), extensive studies looking at the effects of CBD on ADHD and children have yet to be carried out.
What we do have are some small sample surveys and polls with parents describing positive effects seen when their children with epilepsy were treated with CBD. Improved sleep, alertness and improved mood were observed, which could be signs the same could occur in children who have ADHD.
Dr. David Bergery, who is a paediatrician, has recommended CBD to patients who have ADHD stating that he has:
"clearly seen patients who have improved their ADD symptoms."
His reasoning seems to follow the conclusions of CBD and ADHD studies which say that there is potential to replace stronger medications such as Ritalin and Adderall with CBD.
He goes on to describe that in his own anecdotal experience taking care of ADHD patients, the benefits seen are comparable to the benefits of strong stimulants.
The only problem right now is that there is not a significant scientific backing regarding the effectiveness of CBD for ADHD.
If you think that there is a possibility the medicinal properties of CBD may help with your child's ADHD symptoms, then it is best to speak with a doctor who understands CBD.
Due to the lack of research on ADHD and CBD, it is challenging to outline definitively what the risks or benefits could be.
However, according to the World Health Organization CBD is stated to be safe and tolerable across multiple populations and so, in general, it should be safe for people with ADHD too.
The question is, just how effective is CBD and is it effective enough to treat more severe cases of ADHD.
It will be interesting to see how the research unfolds over the next few years and hopefully human trials verify that CBD is a viable and safer alternative to current treatments.