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CBD for ADHD: Does it Work? Research, Side Effects & Considerations

Posted by Lewis Olden on
CBD for ADHD: Does it Work? Research, Side Effects & Considerations

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and is one of the most prominent mental health disorders that affect children and young adults. That said, it is not just limited to young, as many adults are also affected by ADHD.

The symptoms of ADHD vary, but the three most common are impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity. Impulsivity relates to impulsive actions that occur without prior thought. Inattention is fairly self-explanatory and relates to the inability to maintain focus. Finally, hyperactivity is the manifestation of inappropriately excessive movements in unsuitable settings. 

In terms of prevalence, the statistics highlight its prominence. There are an estimated 8.4% of children who struggle with ADHD and 2.5% of adults. That means that almost 1 in 10 children are affected by ADHD. Furthermore, the disorder is far more common among boys than it is girls.

What is CBD?

CBD is one of over 150 cannabinoids that are found within the cannabis plant and is one of the primary active compounds. CBD does not have any psychological effects and doesn’t cause the user to get ‘high’. It is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that causes those who use cannabis to get high. CBD is known to assist with certain mental health conditions, inflammation and sleeping disorders. However, it remains unclear whether CBD can have a positive impact on those who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

 

Existing Research on Cannabis and ADHD

There has yet to be much research conducted into the potential of CBD as a treatment for ADHD. The majority of what has been proven to date pertains to cannabis as a whole rather than CBD in isolation. That said, there are a handful of studies that have declared promising results. 

Cannabis use and ADHD are independently associated with reduced attention, inhibition and general functions. Many researchers have the hypothesis that cannabis use can actually worsen ADHD symptoms, however there is not yet any data or evidence to support or contradict this. Cannacares have collated the most useful studies related to cannabis and ADHD for your perusal:

  • A small study conducted in 2017, assessed 30 individuals with ADHD after providing them with a trial CBD spray. Following this CBD intake, the participants were tested for IQ performance amongst a host of other standardised tests that are designed to assess symptoms of ADHD. Minor improvements were noted in relation to symptom reduction and cognitive function. Explicit concerns were raised by the researchers themselves that participants failed to follow guidelines pertaining to the abstention of alcohol and other medication. Hence, the results were ultimately deemed inconclusive.
  • Barchel et al published an interesting study in the ‘Frontiers in Pharmacology’ journal. This analysed the impact of administering CBD oil to children and young adults diagnosed with ADHD. 53 children, ranging between 4-22 in age, were provided with oral CBD across a 66-day period. The results were promising. Symptoms of hyperactivity reduced in 68% of children, were unchanged in 29% and increased in 3%. Self-injury lessened in 68% of the participants, although 9% reported increases in this regard. Anxiety was reduced in 47% of the children but increased in 24%.
  • Another article published in the same journal a year later, in 2019, looked into the effects of CBD in mice. The participating mice had ineffective AMPA receptors, which simply put, validates comparisons for hyperactivity disorders such as ADHD. The results showed that CBD interacted with the hippocampus (an area of the brain responsible for spatial learning and adaptation) which consequently reduced levels of hyperactivity when the mice were introduced to a new environment.
  • The bimonthly, peer-reviewed ‘Global Drugs and Therapeutics’ journal contained a 2017 review of the potential of CBD in treating ADHD symptoms. The researchers declared that CBD could help those struggling with ADHD in a variety of ways. CBD may protect against hippocampal cell death, improve cognition and normalise social deficits. The researchers also note the myriad human and animal studies that suggest CBD may be an effective reliver of anxiety.
  • Cannabis use among young adults has been a constant source of concern for many. A notable study conducted in 2013 explored this very topic in relation to under 16s diagnosed with ADHD smoking marijuana. The participants were assessed in relation to working memory, decision-making, recall and verbal memory, ultimately registering low scores across the board.
  • A study that took place in 2016 explored the relationship between ADHD, depression and cannabis use in young adults. The researchers established that some young people used cannabis to cope with depression. However, the overall impact on the participant’s symptoms was not clear.
  • One study take was conducted in 2013 into the relationship between ADHD subtypes and cannabis use. The results delivered interesting data and after collecting data from 2,811 existing cannabis users, the researchers found that people who used cannabis on a daily basis self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity when not using cannabis.

There is a tremendous amount of research that needs to be carried out to truly understand the impact that cannabis has on those who live with ADHD.

 

How CBD Works for ADHD

When CBD is consumed, the compound engages with two receptors in the human body. These receptors are known as cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 receptors have a direct impact on specific parts of the body.

CB1 receptors are more abundant in the brain and there are direct links with epilepsy. CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system, and it is connected to pain and inflammation. The increase in activity of naturally occurring cannabinoids can lead to a decrease in anxiety and reduced hyperactivity.

While hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention are the most discussed symptoms of ADHD, depression and anxiety are also fairly common. These are disorders that have been extensively researched in relation to CBD, especially compared with other therapeutic uses.

Depression

While the majority of research into CBD and depression has been conducted on animals, there are still a fair number of human studies that have delivered promising results.

It is now widely accepted that low serotonin levels are linked to depression. While CBD does not necessarily boost serotonin levels of the brain, it can alter how our brain processes it.

A notable animal study conducted in 2014 found that CBD produced both anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects to the participating animals. Four years later, in 2018, a meta review of existing studies into the therapeutic potential of CBD found that it was effective in reducing stress. While not directly linked to depression, it is reasonable to conclude that reducing stress levels would have a positive effect on depression.

While existing research into CBD and depression is limited, it would appear that it offers a safer alternative to anti-depressants with side effects that are far easier to manage.

Anxiety

Depression and anxiety appear to have many links between them. Those who are diagnosed with one, are far more likely to develop the other. Primitive research appears to show promising signs in relation to treating anxiety with CBD.

A well-known 2011 study looked at the effects of CBD on people with Generalised Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). They used a placebo-controlled study to assess the efficacy of CBD in reducing symptoms of anxiety when it came to public speaking. They stated in their results that “CBD significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort in their speech performance.”

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), referenced a rat study on the therapeutic potential of CBD. She noted that the rats which were given CBD displayed fewer behavioural signs of anxiety, as well as an improvement in physiological symptoms such as heart rate. 

A recent meta-review conducted in 2020 examined eight different studies that all specifically investigated the relationship between CBD and several different forms of anxiety. This included social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and the anxiety component of posttraumatic stress syndrome.

The reviewing research team declared that CBD has shown promising signs as an alternative treatment for anxiety. That said, they acknowledged that the lack of research means they could only recommend CBD and a complementary treatment, taken concurrently with traditional medication.

 

Side Effects of Existing ADHD Treatments

The existing treatments for ADHD fall into two categories which are nonstimulants and stimulants. Stimulant ADHD medicine acts quickly and is widely used. Approximately 70% of American children with ADHD see an improvement in their symptoms after using stimulant medication. However, stimulant medications can have side effects such as:

  • Poor appetite
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia

Non-stimulant Medication can have the following side effects: 

  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Upset Stomach
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Both stimulant and non-stimulant medications are only available on prescription. You have to see a doctor and have regular appointments to continue obtaining the medication.

 

What Are the Side Effects of CBD?

CBD is widely considered to be a very safe product. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that “there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems.” 

The side effects that do occasionally occur when taking CBD are incredibly low in prevalence and are rarely severe. These potential side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Changes in weight
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mild nausea
  • Dry mouth

The main issue for users to be aware of are the potential contraindications involved with CBD, particularly when interacting with medication such as blood thinners. It is always important to talk to your doctor before both using CBD, and stopping existing medication.

If you would like to read into the subject in more detail, then please feel free to read our comprehensive guide to the side effects of CBD.

 

Can CBD Get You High?

Many people, particularly those who are less initiated in the subject area, often confuse CBD with THC. 

While there are over 100 different cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, we still do not know much about the properties of the vast majority. The two most commonly researched cannabinoids are undoubtedly cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

While these two compounds are close cousins, the effects that they both induce are wildly different. THC is the dominant psychoactive compound found within the cannabis plant and is responsible for the ‘high’ typically depicted in popular culture.

CBD on the other hand is a non-psychoactive compound, meaning that it will not get the user high. In fact, to the contrary, it can actually counteract the ‘high’ caused by THC if you are taking both simultaneously. 

 

Can You Give CBD to Children?

There have only been a few studies that have examined the use of CBD in children. This is primarily due to the nefarious reputation of cannabis and its psychoactive compound named THC.

Epidiolex is the only CBD product that has been approved by the FDA and it is a prescription drug used to treat rare and terrible forms of childhood epilepsy.

The majority of evidence to date about CBD working for children is anecdotal and there is much more research that needs to be conducted to ensure that there is definitive evidence of the efficacy of CBD as a method of treatment, once this is proven, CBD can then begin to be widely prescribed.

 

Is CBD Legal?

CBD products are now widely available. Many CBD products are derived from hemp products. In the UK, CBD products must contain less than 0.2% THC. Any trace of THC in ingestible products in the UK is now prohibited under the FSA Novel Food legislation.

At this point it would be important to refresh the three main types of CBD that every user and potential user should be aware of:

  • Full Spectrum CBD – This contains a number of different compounds including terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, cannabinoids and trace elements of THC (remember this must be under the legal 0.2% limit in the UK). Although the THC expediates the entourage effect when combined with CBD, it is not sufficient to get the user high.
  • Broad Spectrum CBD – Broad spectrum CBD is almost identical to full spectrum, containing a similar range of cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and fatty acids, but does not contain THC.
  • CBD Isolate – CBD isolate is, as it sounds, pure CBD. All other compounds have been removed.

If you would like to read more on this subject, please feel free to read our detailed guide on the different types of CBD.

 

Conclusion

All in all, there are very positive signs in relation to the treatment of ADHD with CBD. Although the number of studies explicitly linking the two are limited, there are numerous studies that have assessed the efficacy of CBD in treating particular symptoms of the disorder, including anxiety and depression.

It is important to always do your research into existing medication and how it may interact with CBD. As a result, we always recommend talking to your doctor prior to trying CBD.

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