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Should You Replace Your Traditional ADD/ADHD Medication with CBD?

Written by: Dr. Diana Rangaves, Google Scholar, holds a Doctorate from the University of California, specializes in pharmacotherapy management, and founded ClinicalConsultantServices.com and DianaRangaves.com

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CBD, scientifically known as cannabidiol, is the second-most prominent natural compound found in the cannabis plant. Because CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not make users feel “high,” scientists are actively researching its potential to treat many health issues. Both attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) are on the list of health conditions that CBD could treat.

The fact that CBD is not intoxicating would make it an especially valuable treatment option for children who have ADD or ADHD. While researchers have not yet come up with conclusive evidence for whether or not using CBD oil is safe for treating ADD and ADHD, what they have found so far is worthy of consideration.

The Role of the Brain’s Neurotransmitters in ADD/ADHD

The human brain has several neurotransmitters. Their job is to transmit messages across the brain. Often, deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters can cause mood-related conditions, including ADD/ADHD.

Specifically, ADD/ADHD has been associated with norepinephrine deficiency as well as dopamine deficiency. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter responsible for bringing up a person’s heart rate and keeping blood pumping out from the heart. Additionally, it works within certain bodily processes to give us energy and make us attentive. Norepinephrine may also play a role in mood and the ability to concentrate.

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that has a role in movement control and emotional responses. Humans’ physical and mental well-being depends on us having the right amount of dopamine in our brains.

What Exactly Are ADHD and ADD?

ADHD is a chronic condition based in the brain that causes difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Usually, it begins during childhood. As such, symptoms tend to include trouble paying attention and keeping focus and hyperactivity, though there are plenty of other symptoms that are less direct. These include aggressive behavior, making impulsive decisions, fidgeting, irritability, short attention span, forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, anxiety, mood swings, boredom, and depression.

ADD is considered a type of ADHD. The difference is that it does not include hyperactivity or aggression. Some doctors refer to it as ADHD, inattentive type. The symptoms are the same, minus the ones related to hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and aggression.

The cause of ADD/ADHD is still unknown. Experts hypothesize that genetics, environmental, and central nervous system issues during key parts of development could be at the root of these conditions.

ADHD vs. ADD

How CBD Fits into the Picture

CBD is one of over 100 naturally occurring cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. When CBD enters the body, it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to elicit a physical response. The ECS is involved in many bodily functions to helps maintain homeostasis.

Science has now connected the ECS not working properly to almost every health condition or disease. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that getting the ECS functioning how it should may have great therapeutic benefits. Research has indicated that CBD helps to modulate the ECS, targeting over 65 parts of the body.

As mentioned, ADD/ADHD is associated with lower levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. While CBD does not directly impact the levels of those neurotransmitters, it may indirectly influence raising their levels.

All of this is important because it means CBD could help treat ADD/ADHD. Thankfully, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp in the US. That means CBD made from hemp is now legal in all 50 states.

Treating ADD/ADHD

The FDA has approved many medications for treating ADD/ADHD. Most belong to one of two categories: stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulants, typically either a form of amphetamine or methylphenidate, can help ADD/ADHD patients to concentrate and ignore distractions. Non-stimulant medications are another option. Usually, they are used when the patient (or their parents) wants to avoid stimulant use, the stimulants didn’t work, or the side effects were overly unpleasant. Non-stimulant drugs can help improve concentration and control impulsive behavior.

Unfortunately, both stimulant and non-stimulant drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD can have some pretty dangerous side effects. Both amphetamine and methylphenidate are strong, potentially habit-forming stimulants. Other side effects can include weight loss, trouble sleeping, and irritability. What’s more, stimulants have been linked to stroke, heart attack, and even sudden death with certain pre-existing conditions.

In general, the non-stimulant drugs used to treat ADD/ADHD are not as effective as their stimulant counterparts. They also tend to take longer to begin working. The serious side effects of many non-stimulant drugs include suicidal thoughts and suicide.

Giving children such strong medications is not always ideal for parents. For that matter, not all adults are comfortable taking these kinds of strong medications either. However, finding a treatment that helps is important. That’s why some have turned to CBD. 

ADD/ADHD medication

The Science Behind Treating ADD/ADHD with CBD

A 2018 study that included 53 children and young adults saw positive results using CBD for self-injury, rage, hyperactivity, and anxiety. The study looked into how CBD could help to treat common co-morbid symptoms of those with an autism spectrum disorder. While the study did not directly research patients with ADD/ADHD, the results are still promising considering the specific symptoms it improved.

Another study from 2019 looked into CBD’s effects on mice. The mice were deficient in a receptor that made them an appropriate model for hyperactivity disorders (like ADD/ADHD). The data from the study suggests that CBD could alleviate hyperactivity by dampening hyper-excitable brain circuitries.

One small 2017 study evaluated the use of CBD-based medicine Sativex on 30 adults with ADHD. Note that Sativex includes both CBD and THC. Data from the study showed improvement in hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention without cognitive impairments.

None of these studies provides definitive evidence for the use of CBD to treat ADD/ADHD. Further studies are needed to fully understand how CBD works concerning ADD/ADHD symptoms and if it is safe for children and/or adults with these conditions.

CBD for ADD/ADHD in Children and Adults

Definitive evidence aside, many parents are sick of using potentially dangerous medications to treat their children’s ADD/ADHD. Plenty of adults with ADD/ADHD feel the same. So, they have turned to CBD as an alternative medicine. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some patients see enough improvement through CBD to treat ADD/ADHD symptoms that they keep using it.

In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug that treats rare forms of childhood epilepsy. An approved CBD-based medicine for children is truly saying something. Still, CBD research remains in its infancy, particularly about long-term effects. In the end, the individual has to decide whether or not CBD is the right choice for them.

To be safe, if choosing CBD to manage ADD/ADHD symptoms, talk to your doctor about it first. They may provide guidance, help to deal with side effects, or identify potential drug interactions. Most CBD research has found that most side effects are mild and minor, though it’s still good to keep an eye out for them. The common ones include lethargy, diarrhea, and decreased appetite.

Regarding CBD dosage, start low and gradually increase until finding the appropriate dose. A very low dose is around 5 mg of CBD, so that is probably a good place to start for children. For adults, depending on weight, it will likely be a bit higher. 

children with ADHD

Best CBD Products for Children and Adults

CBD products made from pure CBD are a great option for children because they are 100 percent free of THC. Pure CBD is called CBD isolate. Broad-spectrum CBD includes other parts of the cannabis plant but specifically excludes THC. CBD edibles, such as gummies or chocolates, CBD oil extract, and CBD capsules, should show on the packaging if they are made from CBD isolate or broad-spectrum CBD.

Note that full-spectrum CBD products contain trace amounts of THC, so they should not be given to children. Adults can decide if they prefer CBD isolate, broad-spectrum CBD, or full-spectrum CBD based on their preferences.

CBD capsules and edibles are the most convenient way to take CBD. The dose per edible or pill should be clear on the packaging. With CBD oil, many products include a dropper with measurements on it, but depending on the oil’s strength, you’ll have to figure out the milligrams of CBD per milliliter. This makes it less convenient.

On the other hand, CBD oil is generally more affordable than edibles. There are several ways to take it. You can drop the desired dose directly onto the tongue and swallow. You can drop the desired dose into any beverage or on top of food. Also, you can take it sublingually, which means dropping it under the tongue. Sublingual consumption provides faster-acting effects.

Final Thoughts

CBD is not yet a conventional treatment for ADD/ADHD, but many people use it to manage their symptoms anyway. The anecdotal evidence and research available are enough for many people, particularly for those who have found traditional treatments to have failed them. If you’re interested in trying CBD, it’s always best and safest to talk to your doctor beforehand.

Medical Disclaimer

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that we inform you that the efficacy of CBD oil products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research as a treatment for any medical condition. The information in this document is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.