Natural Remedies for ADHD

CBD Oil for ADHD? Despite Scarce Research, Patients Are Trying It

Early research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may help patients with epilepsy. It is also believed to relieve pain, anxiety, mood disorders, and even acne. But what about ADHD or ADD? So far, research linking CBD oil to ADHD symptom relief does not exist. That isn’t stopping patients from trying it.

Cannabis plant. CBD for treating ADHD?

UPDATE: On November 25, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a revised consumer update regarding safety concerns about cannabidiol (CBD) products. Due to limited research data, the FDA is unable to declare CBD products safe, according to the updated statement. The FDA warns that CBD can cause liver damage, increased drowsiness, and a number of other side effects. The impact of daily CBD use over a sustained period of time is unknown. Likewise, the FDA says there is insufficient research on the effect of CBD on the developing brain, on fetuses, and on the male reproductive system. The FDA has approved only one CBD product, which treats two rare forms of epilepsy. In late November, it issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD.

These days, it’s tough to find an online community or social media group not singing the praises of cannabidiol (CBD) oil. This helps to explain why so many people are exploring its benefits for diseases and disorders ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons to PTSD and, yes, attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Though research suggests that CBD oil may benefit patients with epilepsy and other disorders, any such claims around ADHD are only that: claims.

What Is CBD? Does It Help ADHD?

CBD is a product of the marijuana (cannabis) plant with the high-inducing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) compound removed, which means it is not psychoactive. CBD — often in the form of an oil, a tincture, or an edible — has been rumored to reduce anxiety, a common symptom among those diagnosed with ADHD symptoms. No one, though — not even the drug’s most hardcore advocates — claims CBD is a treatment for ADHD.

According to Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at SUNY-Albany and an advisory-board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), there is “no published data, let alone randomized clinical trials, [that] support the use of CBD for ADHD.”

Even so, word of CBD’s potential benefits — proven or otherwise — are often enough to compel some patients with ADHD to experiment. Dr. John Mitchell of the Duke University ADHD Program says that one of his patients, an adult woman with ADHD, tried CBD. Twice. On her own. Without his approval or supervision.

“I bought one vial for $50 that contained 30 gel tablets, and I took all of them over a few weeks,” says Mitchell’s patient, who preferred to remain anonymous. “I’d never tried CBD or any type of cannabis before, and I felt no changes. But I didn’t have any adverse effects, either.”

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Anecdotally, this outcome appears common for half of those trying CBD on their own — regardless of the quantity, quality, or type used. The other half claim some positives with regard to CBD and ADHD: “I was able to relax” or “I felt less manic” are common refrains. The problem, as Dr. Mitchell and the broader community of ADHD and CBD researchers point out, is a dearth of studies around CBD. No single research team has yet studied the possible effects — good or bad — of CBD oil for ADHD symptoms specifically.

“There are anecdotes that CBD may help with ADHD,” says Dr. Robert Carson, an assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University who co-authored a 2018 study on the efficacy of CBD on epilepsy, “but this is true for many other symptoms or diseases. Thus, there may be patients whose ADHD symptoms improve after adding CBD, but we cannot generalize that anecdote more broadly. Secondly, the cases we’re most likely to hear about are the one where somebody had a great response — not the 10 who did not.”

“I am not aware of any scientific or clinical data that would speak to the safety or efficacy of using CBD in the treatment of ADHD,” says Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., a member of John Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit. “There is no scientific basis from which CBD should be recommended for use as a treatment for ADHD, nor is there any data that could speak to which product or dose would be appropriate.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends treating ADHD in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 with FDA-approved medications, plus parent training in behavior modification and behavioral classroom interventions. Likewise, research confirms that “stimulant medications are most effective, and combined medication and psychosocial treatment is the most beneficial treatment option for most adult patients with ADHD.” All ADHD treatment decisions should be made in consultation and coordination with a licensed medical provider.

Is CBD Legal? Is It Safe?

To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form; 10 other states and Washington, D.C., have adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Even so, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers CBD, like all cannabinoids, a schedule 1 drug — making it as illegal as heroin and ecstasy. Despite this, one cannabis industry expert predicts that CBD products alone will comprise a nearly $3 billion market by 2021.

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With all that profit on the horizon, why so few studies? At least partially to blame is the legality of CBD; it’s difficult to attain a federal grant to study a federally illegal drug. Politics also come into play, as do lingering public perceptions of cannabis as a gateway drug that may lead to serious mental disorders, lethargy, or both.

Nevertheless, Dr. Mitchell feels that “The perception that [CBD] can have a negative effect has gone down because it’s becoming more available.”

This is not a perception shared by all of Dr. Mitchell’s peers, who note professional resentment and stigma regarding funding for cannabis research. “There’s a lot of political opposition coming from the business and scientific communities,” asserts Dr. Jacob Vigil, director of the University of New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Research Fund. “It’s still highly stigmatized, and we need more studies.”

The studies done on CBD and ADHD to date amount to… practically nothing. One 2011 study showed that, among a group of 24 people with social anxiety disorder, the half who’d taken CBD were able to speak in front of a large audience. In 2015, researchers in Germany examined the relationship between cannabis (CBD and THC) and ADD in 30 patients, all of whom said they experienced better sleep, better concentration, and reduced impulsivity while using the cannabis products. Finally, a 2017 study looking at CBD oil and ADHD in adults found that the oil improved some symptoms, but that more studies were needed to confirm its findings.

The Dangers of Experimenting with CBD for ADHD

The Netherlands’ self-professed “cannabis myth buster,” Arno Hazekamp stated in a recent paper, “While new CBD products keep entering the market virtually unchecked, effective regulatory control of these products has stayed far behind. As a result, unknown risks about long-term effects remain unaddressed, especially in vulnerable groups such as children.”

“During [a person’s] development, I worry about cannabinoids, both CBD and THC,” says UCLA’s Evans. “There are adenosine receptors (and CB2 receptors) on the microglia that are critical for brain development, and CBD inhibits adenosine uptake. This may be a beneficial factor for epilepsy and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, but who knows for ADHD.”

And while CBD may potentially benefit some patients with ADHD, “One is doing an experiment on oneself by taking CBD for ADHD,” Evans adds. “CBD is anti-inflammatory and I’m not sure there is good evidence mechanistically that for ADHD it might be helpful.”

It’s also unknown how CBD may interact with other medications. “CBD in any form is a drug, and thus has a potential for side effects or interactions with other drugs, specifically those metabolized through the liver [CBD is metabolized by the same enzyme in the liver that metabolizes many other medicines and supplements],” Carson says. “And with other ADHD medications that have sedating qualities, such as guanfacine or clonidine, there may be additive effects that may not be beneficial.”

Also potentially harmful is the non-standard and wildly fluctuating amount of CBD in most CBD products, even those labeled as “pure CBD oil.” Some such products may also contain other ingredients — pesticides, additives, herbs, and even THC. “CBD alone has multiple actions on the cells in the brain and we don’t know which ones are clearly responsible for its known benefits,” Carson says. “It gets more complicated when we have less purified products that also include THC and CBDV [cannabidivarin].”

Dangers may also exist in the method of delivery. CBD is packaged and consumed in oils, tinctures, or edibles — each one absorbed differently by a person’s body. “The labeling in this industry,” says Vigil of UNM, “is horrific.”

‘Natural’ Doesn’t Necessarily Mean ‘Safe’

Once CBD enters the body, no one yet knows how it works. Its long-term effects are a mystery. Exactly how does CBD work — in the brain and over many years? As Dr. Carson bluntly puts it: “We don’t know and we don’t know.”

None of this will stop some people from self-medicating with CBD or trying it on their children. “Apparently there are products offering about 30mg of CBD per dose,” Earleywine says. “I rarely see published work with humans that shows much of an effect below 300mg, which… would get quite expensive… So it’s probably a waste of time and money.”

“The bottom line,” Evans says, “is that there is a dearth of research on all cannabinoid actions — because of its schedule 1 classification — and no clear scientific evidence I can find to endorse or not endorse CBD use for ADHD.”

Perhaps because researchers have documented no negative links between CBD and ADHD, some “patients go through trial and error with CBD,” Vigil says. “First they go on the Internet, where they start with an isolate CBD. Then they try the vanilla products — only to find they get more benefits when they add THC.

“They do that because cannabis is so variable that patients are forced to experiment. Also because clinical trials can’t really tell you anything about the decisions that patients actually make in the real world. And finally because there’s not going to be a uniform solution for everybody.”

“Families need to think very hard about potential risks versus benefits for treating other disorders, including ADHD,” Carson advises. “So please discuss what you are thinking about doing with your child’s physician. In the absence of good data, a dose of 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day is where most patients start when using CBD for epilepsy — and this seems to be well tolerated. But if the side effects from any medication are worse than the problem was to begin with, that patient might be on too much.

“I like to remind families,” Carson adds, “that just because something is natural does not mean it is safe.”

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12 Comments & Reviews

  1. From personal experience, No. In my country (NZ) there are no legal means of obtaining or using any form of Cannabis. When you consider that stimulants are a known and effective means for minimizing symptoms of ADHD, it’s hard to imagine anyone would benefit long term from this powerful de-motivator. In my case it could temporarily hit pause on an overactive brain, but thinking clearly and/or holding a conversation is very difficult. Before being diagnosed with inattentive ADHD as an adult I used marijuana regularly in a recreational setting but now realize it was a coping mechanism that offered short-term relief from SOME symptoms, but exacerbated others. Depression and Anxiety are something to be very aware of if trying this form of self-medication and in the case of a friend who was unaware of a pre-existing psychotic disorder, Cannabis was the straw that broke the camels back. I personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for ADHD, and certainly not oil! I’m curious to hear from people in the US states where access to Marijuana via dispensaries provides a wide variety of strains of differing strengths and types of high.

    1. I’ve been on stimulants for adhd for over 15 years. Through puberty, most of my brains development. It can no longer function properly without it. I just thought I’d add that in. To paraphrase, just because doctors prescribe something, doesn’t mean it’s safe 🙂 I’ve been on bezos for anxiety for so long and now was told I’m on too many and have to lower then. That they cause memory loss and that studies show going off all your anxiety medicine lowers your anxiety. After two years of struggling with the addiction it’s caused. Because you become fully addicted you anxiety medicines (benzodiazepines) and stimulant. If you’ve ever developed a tolerance and needed to raise your dosage, welcome to being a legal junkie.
      CBD helps my anxiety tremendously. I’m not sure about my adhd. For the record, cannabis can be whatever you want it to be. I think it’s a preferably coping method to alcohol or self harm and sometimes that’s the only type of options available to people,or at least all they can see. But the medicinal thing isn’t fake. It has to do with the strain. It’s not even legal in my state, but I can generally get some kind of selection. An indica helps my anxiety better than anything else hands down. And during a recent months long depression I scraped my bowl and smoked some resin and was able to get out of bed. It can work miracles for some people similar to how I’m sure lithium helps some people, but to me it’s just a metal that nearly ruined my life.
      When you’re high you tend to zone in on something if you have any kind of head high. Idk how many times I’ve heard of people getting high and cleaning. I’ve been learning how to focus that attention to studying programming. The sativa part of a hybrid keeps you very focused. So yes, yes cannabis can help with add/adhd. I’m not certain about cbd. I’m on far too many medicines to tell all its minute affects. But a reduction in anxiety and pain will help one focus on something else.
      I’m not sure how oil makes this any worse. Of the methods to use cbd, vaping allows is to enter the body quickest but I’m is far too difficult to measure as your only way to use it. Gel caps are the most accurate. It’s the best way to have consistency. Tinctures are a little less accurate, but you aren’t constrained by the gel cap dosage. That leads to multiple advantages including saving money.
      Sorry for the long comment but I don’t think cannabis isn’t experienced quite the same in other countries nor do they have the same experience with prescription medicine (big pharma has such a massive impact on our lives)
      Take care everyone

    2. And while CBD may potentially benefit some patients with ADHD, “One is doing an experiment on oneself by taking CBD for ADHD,” Evans adds. “CBD is anti-inflammatory and I’m not sure there is good evidence mechanistically that for ADHD it might be helpful.”

      Every time anyone takes any FDA approved medication, they too are “doing and experiment on oneself….”

      My wife has MS and within two minutes of taking 20mg of CBD, she is pain free and spasm free for at least 8 hours. She hasn’t been pain free since she was 13. MS, Four levels fused in her spine, and an artificial hip. “Experiment successful….”

    3. Cannabis use and ADHD are both independently associated with impaired attention, inhibition, and functioning. Most research is around ADHD as a risk factor for developing substance use disorder.

  2. Social anxiety, depression, and many other related symptoms are common among patients with ADHD. And, CBD is the solution to all these symptoms. There are scientific reports and studies which have confirmed its anti-anxiety, depression potential. Now, with the approval of FARM BILL 2018, it is expected that there will be a surge in CBD products for medicinal as well as recreational purposes. However, if you wish to understand its medicinal use, you must consult medical cannabis doctors.

  3. “The bottom line,” Evans says, “is that there is a dearth of research on all cannabinoid actions — because of its schedule 1 classification — and no clear scientific evidence I can find to endorse or not endorse CBD use for ADHD.”

    The dearth of research is more due to, as I see it, the pharma industry’s reluctance to invest in R&D of a product they, in all likelihood, won’t be able to patent; much less of a hindrance is the schedule 1 classification as that is likely to be changed. Gov’t funded research could benefit us all if cannabinoid derivatives proved useful, esp in cost terms, however I don’t see this happening soon given the pharma industry’s PAC money influence on congress.

    1. I have been on CBD Oil now for over a year. The results I’ve gotten are nothing short of miraculous. It literally enabled me to eliminate 7 prescribed medications and I haven’t felt this good since I was in high school. I am 36 years old and wish this stuff would’ve been available for me in high school and all thise years I struggled with focus and anxiety. It fills as though a fog has been lifted. I’m happier, no depression, calmer and can FINALLY sleep at night. So many things all just got better or Completely went away for me.

  4. I’m not sure when this article was written but CBD is no longer considered an illegal drug at the federal level. With the passing of the Farm Bill in December of 2018, CBD and hemp have been declassified as illegal and they now recognize the difference between the hemp and marijuana plant. The legality is still a little blurry when it comes to state to state laws but it is now federally legal. With all that said, CBD has MANY studies that have proven that it is very beneficial when it comes to treating anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other mood disorders which is something we all know people with ADHD struggle with. I would rather be taking something natural to assist me with those symptoms than taking something that comes with a long list of side effects and addictions. CBD is essentially side effect free from all the studies we are seeing and there is no known addiction to it. I cannot say the same for THC products but CBD does not contain THC or contains levels so low (0.3% is the legal federal level) that they do not cause the psychotropic effects that we commonly see with THC. Marijuana has anywhere from 15% to 35% THC in it. Definitely always consult your Dr of course but honestly I think CBD is a real contender for folks with ADHD and MANY other health issues. The studies are pouring in, just keep praying the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t try to crush it or drag it through the mud. We will see. Cheers.

  5. Lack of quality control and standardised doses is indeed an issue. However most of the remaining objections cited in this article amount to rank hypocrisy. All that scaremongering about not knowing how the drug works or the long term effects. What does giving a child methylphenidate for 12 years do to their brain? How about an adult taking it for decades? We don’t know for sure. Only quite recently has there even been research into what is actually different in the brain of someone who has ADHD. Why do stimulants work? I don’t mean vague notions about dopamine and norepinephrine, but the exact mechanism? We don’t exactly know, and we gave these drugs to people for decades without the faintest clue why they work. It is no wonder that doctors and researchers get called shills for the pharmaceutical companies.

  6. “I said something to my Psychiatrist yesterday about it and his response was no,no it would make things worse for those with ADD/ADHD.”

    How would he know this? It sounds more like he is either merely expressing his own prejudice or just regurgitating some propaganda he was fed in medical school. Because there simply isn’t enough research to back either benefit or making things worse.

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