National surveys indicate that about 6.1 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The prevalence of adult ADHD is estimated at 0.96 percent.
The symptoms—lack of attention, hyperactivity, and weak impulse control—can interfere with work, school, and home life, making it extra difficult for children and adults to succeed.
Treatments typically include medications, but many people are looking for more natural alternatives. Might CBD oil be one of them?
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder associated with poor impulse control, focus, and organization. Scientists believe it involves neurological malfunctions that impact part of the brain, affecting how we plan or execute tasks.
We don’t yet know what causes these malfunctions, but it seems that our genes play a large role in determining who gets it. Exposure to certain chemicals may also increase risk.
ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in children, but it can sometimes remain hidden until adulthood. Common symptoms include inattention, lack of focus, poor time management, weak impulse control, hyperactivity, and exaggerated emotions.
Standard treatment for ADHD may include medications like stimulants and antidepressants, psychological counseling, and mindfulness meditation.
How CBD May Affect the Brain
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD-based medication to treat certain rare and severe forms of epilepsy. Since epilepsy is also a neurological disorder, many have speculated that CBD may help treat ADHD too.
CBD is already used by some people for its potential to help people increase focus and attention. Anecdotally, it’s been found to help people concentrate, reducing stress and allowing them to focus on a task. Particularly those who suffer from chronic anxiety may find that CBD helps them to pay more attention to what they’re doing as they have fewer anxious feelings bothering them.
In a 2015 review, for example, researchers found that CBD could interact with the cannabinoid and serotonin receptors in the brain that regulate anxiety-related behaviors. They concluded that CBD could be an effective treatment for many different anxiety types.
We also know from research that CBD helps improve blood flow to the brain. In a 2020 study, researchers gave participants 600 mg of CBD or a placebo on different occasions, then used brain scanners to measure changes in blood oxygen levels. Results showed that CBD significantly improved blood flow to the hippocampus—a part of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory.
In 2018, scientists published a review of studies examining how CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the brain’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS). They concluded that CBD has shown “numerous therapeutic properties for brain function and protection,” and that it had powerful therapeutic potential.
Might CBD Help Those with ADHD?
So far, because of the former stigma surrounding cannabis use, we don’t have much research on CBD and ADHD.
There was one study published in 2017 in which 30 adults with ADHD took either a cannabinoid medication or a placebo. Those taking the cannabinoid medication had overall higher scores on a cognitive performance test, and they also experienced improvements in hyperactivity/impulsivity and attention. Though not definitive, the study provided evidence supporting the use of cannabis in those with ADHD.
While we wait for more studies on the issue, we can turn to research on particular symptoms like anxiety, concentration, and impulsivity.
For a 2018 study, for instance, researchers examined CBD’s potential in treating drug addiction. Specifically, they wanted to see if it might help subjects to resist relapsing back into their addictions after healing from them.
Subjects who had gone through alcohol or cocaine addictions received CBD at 24-hour intervals for seven days. Then researchers tested them for relapse. They found that CBD helped reduce impulsive behavior—which many with ADHD struggle with—making it easier for the subjects to avoid temptation and stay clean.
Even better—the results lasted up to five months even though CBD levels remained detectable in the brain for only three days.
What Do People Say About CBD and Symptoms of ADHD?
When considering how CBD may affect ADHD, we can also look at individual experiences. In a 2015 study, researchers did just that. They conducted a brief online survey of parents who administered CBD-enriched cannabis preparations for the treatment of their children’s epilepsy.
Over half said that the CBD helped their children sleep, while nearly three-quarters (71 percent) said it improved alertness and 63 percent said it improved mood.
These are symptoms that those with ADHD would be interested in treating.
In an earlier survey of cannabis users with ADHD, researchers found that those who were more likely to use cannabis were also more likely to have hyperactive-impulsive symptoms rather than only attention symptoms. This suggests that cannabis may help people to stay calm and avoid potentially dangerous impulsive behaviors.
Should You Try CBD for ADHD?
When considering whether to try CBD for ADHD, it is important to differentiate between pure CBD products and those made with cannabis, particularly if you will be using it for your child.
Research has shown that children who use cannabis (which contains THC as well as CBD) before the age of 16 years may have a higher risk of cognitive impairment.
Other research also shows that children with ADHD are about 1.5 times more likely to meet the criteria for cannabis use disorder.
It’s best to talk with your doctor first. Then if you decide to try it, be sure the product you’re getting is pure CBD without any THC in it.
It’s also best to use the oil rather than consumable CBD products, as then you know exactly how much your child is getting. There is no universally accepted recommended dosage for CBD, so always start with the lowest possible dose to manage symptoms. Remember that because of their lower body weight, children typically need less to experience the same effects.
Most adults with ADHD can feel safe trying pure CBD for their symptoms, as the oil is considered generally safe for use.