CBD for ADHD: A Calming Ally for a Hyperactive Mind

Child reading a book, CBD for ADHD

Is it possible to effectively use CBD for ADHD treatment? The short answer is: there is reason to believe it may help, but we have no official evidence that it works. Read on to learn what we know and what we don’t.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychological condition that causes above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. ADHD sufferers often have difficulties focusing their attention on a task, being forgetful about completing tasks, or staying still for prolonged periods of time.

There are three different types of ADHD according to the level of inattentiveness and/or hyperactivity manifested: the predominantly inattentive, the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and the combined type. The first type used to be called attention deficit disorder (ADD), and it now implies just one of the symptom clusters of ADHD.

The Scope of the Disorder

The numbers of individuals diagnosed with ADHD are staggering and on the rise. In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million US children 2-17 years old (9.4%) were diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder also reportedly occurs in about 4.4% of the adult population in the US, although this figure is likely an underestimation, as up to 85% of children with ADHD are at risk for having the disorder as adults, and only 10.9% of adults with ADHD receive treatment. The fact is that many adults live with ADHD and avoid getting diagnosed for various reasons.

There is also high comorbidity connected with ADHD. Based on data from the CDC, 33% of individuals with ADHD suffer from anxiety, 17% from depression, and 14% are also on the autism spectrum.

Conventional ADHD Treatments

ADHD is treated with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and structural changes in lifestyle and discipline. It’s a long and bumpy road, and infrequently ends with complete success.

Most of the pharmaceuticals commonly used fall into the class of stimulants. These drugs are designed to increase overall brain activity, and especially to improve attention and focus. They are either taken for immediate release or on a daily basis to keep the neurochemical levels stable.

Unfortunately, these medications also come with many common and undesirable side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, irritability, aggression, mood swings, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, nausea, diarrhea, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, and many others. As adults, many of these are manageable; however, in children, they can cause much more dismay.

CBD for ADHD study difficulties

Can CBD Help with ADHD?

CBD is a cannabinoid from the Cannabis sativa plant. Compared to THC, the major cannabinoid these plants are known for, CBD activates different areas of the brain and is not psychoactive. CBD products are extracted from cannabis plants which are grown to contain negligible amounts of THC (less than 0.3%); due to this, the use of CBD products also causes no psychoactive effects.

CBD has been scientifically shown to have a wide array of therapeutic benefits. While the research is still young, the results have been quite promising, both in human clinical trials and on animal models.

The main effects of CBD are those it exerts on the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. It stimulates the former, promoting rest, healing, rejuvenating, and regeneration, and inhibits the latter, suppressing stressful responses and the triggering of the fight-or-flight mechanism. This way, CBD reduces overall levels of stress.

CBD also has anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. It achieves this through its action on the serotonergic system, specifically by activating the 5-HT1A receptor. Levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for governing mood, sleep, digestion, and behavior, and the bioavailability of its receptors, have been shown to directly regulate levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, the main choice of pharmaceuticals used for managing these disorders function by modulating the serotonin levels.

In short, this means that CBD should benefit those who suffer from ADHD and also show symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, which is a significant portion of the total ADHD population.

As for ADHD itself… We don’t know for sure if CBD can help.

While a number of positive experiences can be found online, there is only one published study available which reported beneficial effects of a CBD-enriched cannabis extract on ADHD. This recent study’s focus was actually the impact of CBD on autism. Only fifteen patients participated and their symptoms were evaluated by their caregivers. The ADHD symptoms in these patients on the autism spectrum disorder were reportedly improved in thirteen out of the fifteen participants. In a few participants the improvement was substantial, while most of the others only saw mild benefits.

As for the anecdotal reports, they are a mixed bag of positive and null effects; reviewing the reports on online forums indicates that the outcome likely depends on the type of ADHD and the specific strain of hemp used to treat it, as well as on other factors like age and individual body chemistry.

The fact is that it’s impossible to say whether it’s effective or how effective it is without proper double-blind clinical trials. Still, many people seem to be finding benefits in it, while others report no improvement, but no negative side effects either.

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While there is little CBD-specific research available, there are a few studies that look into the use of cannabis for ADHD treatment. However, this research is also in its infancy.

A small-scale study, which looked at a group of adults who were treating ADHD with cannabis, found insignificant improvement in brain functioning and overall symptom reduction. The study reported slight improvement in impulsivity and hyperactivity, but it was insufficient to consider cannabis more effective than the placebo. Additionally, a review of reports on online forums found that 25% percent of posts indicated that cannabis is therapeutic for ADHD.

It’s important to note, however, that consuming cannabis has drastically different effects on the brain and the body than consuming CBD products. It’s not just the effect of THC, which activates entirely different receptors; there’s also the synergistic effect that CBD has when consumed with THC, as well as the effects of the other cannabinoids and terpenes, which differ in medical marijuana strains and in CBD-rich cannabis plants (hemp). This is collectively referred to as the “entourage” effect in cannabis.

Should You Try Using CBD for ADHD?

All said, it’s unclear whether CBD can have a therapeutic effect on ADHD. However, it’s likely that it can help alleviate symptoms of frequent comorbid disorders like anxiety and depression.

And, finally, the touching reports of individuals who claim their and their loved ones’ condition, which couldn’t be helped by conventional treatments, drastically improved with the use of CBD should be taken with a grain of salt, but should not be dismissed entirely. 

As millions of parents are finding themselves desperate after having tried everything to help their children, even with its sporadic and anecdotal success rate, CBD may be worth a shot.

Would you, or have you tried using CBD for treating ADHD in yourself or your child? What are your experiences?

If you haven’t, are you considering it? What are your concerns?

Please share them with us in the comments below.


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