ADHD and ADD are conditions that are being talked about more than ever today. As the stigma around them is lessening, more and more adults are being diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. But with more awareness of this condition, we’ve also been hearing about some of the downsides of traditional methods of treatment. For example, the recently released Netflix documentary “Take Your Pills” examined some of the harmful effects of ADHD medications like Adderall. More and more people are looking for alternatives. Could CBD be an option?
Although CBD works on many mental disorders, including depression, social anxiety or PTSD, its effects on ADHD and ADD remain under-researched. While CBD could help people with ADHD manage their anxiety better, it is unlikely to alleviate symptoms like a traditional drug would. Here’s why.
What causes ADHD and ADD?
To this day, it is still unclear what the cause of ADHD and ADD might be. Specialists suggest that it might be a mix of genetic factors and neurological issues.
Recent research also suggests that people with ADHD and ADD might have slightly different brains from those who don’t suffer from the condition. But whether the condition develops in early childhood or whether people are born with it is still unclear.
Treatment of ADHD and ADD: still in the early stages
Regardless of whether or not ADHD or ADD are conditions people are born with, there isn’t a cure for them. Many adults learn to manage their ADHD and ADD effectively, especially if they go through some form of therapy. Nevertheless, ADHD and ADD treatment don’t offer to “undo” the condition. Rather, the aim is to help people live with it more easily, so that they are able to function on the same level as their peers.
The two main ways of treating ADHD and ADD are psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy might look something like talking to a specialist about the problems the condition causes in your life and working together to find practical solutions. It might also involve elements of behavioral therapy, where you learn special techniques that can help you deal with your symptoms and respond to them differently.
Finally, many people are prescribed ADHD or ADD medicines, which can be very effective ways of improving attention and impulsivity. These medicines are usually stimulants which work to increase the amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, or non-stimulants, which only raise the amount of norepinephrine. Usually, people with ADHD or ADD go through a few different sorts of medicines before they find one that works for them.
Side effects of ADHD medicine
As with any drug, ADHD and ADD medicines also come with a range of side effects. The most common ones, especially in stimulants, are loss of appetite, irritability and insomnia. By adjusting doses and trying different molecules, people with ADHD or ADD are usually able to find medicine that they tolerate well. Others decide to avoid medicines altogether, preferring to focus on “natural” solutions instead.
Could CBD be one of those solutions? Research at the moment is inconclusive—here’s what we know so far.
What is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is a phytocannabinoid, a compound found in the cannabis plant. Phytocannabinoids are active compounds with a range of effects on the body and mind. The most famous one, THC, is responsible for creating changes in consciousness and making people feel “high” when they smoke cannabis. Although CBD is another phytocannabinoid, it is a non-psychoactive one. In other words, CBD doesn’t cause significant changes in mood or perception and doesn’t create a high.
What CBD is best known for is a range of medicinal properties, which include:
- Preventing seizures
- Relieving pain
- Fighting depression
- Stopping nausea
- Helping digestion
- Protecting the brain from cognitive decline
We attribute the effects of cannabidiol to its impact on the endocannabinoid system. Every mammal, including humans, has an endocannabinoid system, regulating pain, inflammation, mood, and appetite, among others.
In particular, this makes CBD capable of affecting the brain. This explains why it has been found useful in treating mental disorders like depression, anxiety, PTSD and even psychosis. When it comes to helping with ADHD or ADD, however, the results seem to be less impressive.
Can CBD help people with ADHD or ADD?
The first thing to note about research on the effects of CBD for ADHD and ADD is that it is severely limited. Throughout the years, research on the effects of cannabis on this condition has tended to focus on full-spectrum marijuana; that is, a substance that contains THC as well as CBD.
In 2017, a study conducted on just 30 people with ADHD found that those administered a daily dose of full-spectrum cannabis showed “a significant improvement” in their levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity. The scientists also noted improvement in terms of inattention and emotional lability. But their conclusion was far from enthusiastic. They concluded that numbers were too small to really judge the effects of cannabis on the condition.
Moreover, the experiment didn’t isolate the effects of THC or CBD, meaning either of those, or other cannabinoids, may be responsible for the improvements observed.
Despite the lack of medical evidence, some people with ADHD report finding that ingesting this compound helps them to relax and be less frantic throughout the day. This makes sense when you consider that CBD has known anti-anxiety effects.
The most recent study on the subject, a 2019 experiment on adults with anxiety and sleep disorders, found that a daily dose of CBD drastically improved sleep and lowered levels of anxiety.
While anxiety is not a primary symptom of ADHD or ADD, anxiety medication can help people suffering from the condition. In particular, it helps to relax their mind, making it easier to focus for long lengths of time.
It’s likely that CBD has some effects on ADD and ADHD and might help some people. However, from the evidence we have, it doesn’t seem that CBD is a real “cure” for ADD. It will likely not provide nearly as much relief as traditional ADHD medication, but it could be a viable alternative for those who don’t want to take such drugs.
Is CBD safe to take for ADHD or ADD?
Although its effects on ADHD and ADD are very limited, CBD at least appears to be safe. A 2017 review of studies on CBD found that it had very few side effects and fewer dangerous ones. Among some of the side effects are nausea, changes in appetite and irritability. However, most people seem to be able to tolerate it well.
But while CBD is generally considered very safe to take in the short term, there aren’t enough studies pointing to its consequences in the long term. This could be problematic, as ADHD and ADD are lifelong conditions. Any potential CBD-based ADHD or ADD medication will have to be taken for years on end. As of yet, we have insufficient evidence to judge whether this is safe.
Can I legally buy CBD?
CBD is legal on a federal level in the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. However, it is still prohibited by certain state laws and doesn’t have FDA approval. We encourage you to consult a physician before you start taking CBD.
Can CBD work for ADHD and ADD? It could, but it’s unlikely to be as effective as other more popular methods of treatment for the condition. In fact, the lack of studies on the question doesn’t allow us to recommend it as a first choice in terms of alternative ADHD medicines. That being said, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety as a result of your ADHD, CBD might prove to be useful. And with the rapid development in CBD research that we’ve been witnessing, we can expect to have more conclusive evidence on that topic in the coming years. Stay tuned!
Cannabis for ADHD
2017 study on the effects of cannabis on adults with ADHD
CBD for sleep disorders and anxiety
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep
Recent studies on ADHD
2018 study of brain scans of adolescents with ADHD
Safety of CBD
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD