CBD may be able to assist with some of the symptoms of ADHD in many people. It helps users to find calm, mental balance, improved mood and better focus in many instances. Cannabinoids like CBD have neurological effects. They interact with cannabinoids in the brain known as CB1 receptors, helping lower neuroinflammation, normalize neurotransmitter levels and offering neuroprotective effects. They also help users lower stress and find mental calm for better focus. CBD is already being used medically for its capacity in protecting neurons from excessive activity to help treat problems like epilepsy. More research is being targeted now at its properties in modulating other brain receptors such as the serotonin, vanilloid and opioid receptors. Let’s explore how these effects may translate into enhanced focus capacity and lower ADHD symptoms.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurological disorder characterized by challenges in focusing, issues with compulsive behaviour, impulsivity and hyperactivity. It usually starts in childhood but even can occur among adults. Some of the symptoms of this disorder include short attention span, forgetfulness, problems organizing, fidgeting, excessive movement and issues with self-control or discipline. These issues can heavily impact those affected and reduce their quality of life, making normal functioning difficult. They can reduce academic or professional performance, plus make it difficult to organise and stick to tasks. ADHD problems can even damage relationships and cause social issues because of poor executive function. ADHD has a range of comorbidities such as an increased risk of mental illness including depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Link Between ADHD and Stress
While stress and anxiety are separate issues from ADHD, they can act as triggers or worsen symptoms. Studies are showing a strong correlation between chronic stress and worsening symptoms of ADHD. Stress and ADHD both occur in the prefrontal cortex and can cause feedback loops with each other. Becoming more stressed or anxious leads to worsening executive function and ADHD symptoms for many people. Chronic stress in particular can acutely exacerbate ADHD by causing prolonged disrupted mental states. Many feel they lose control when stressed and can’t seem to function normally. The Journal of Attention Disorders commented that stress was directly linked to ADHD symptoms. It found long-term stress impairs cognitive function similar to ADHD and the two can compound one another, amplifying these negative performance effects.
What is CBD?
The cannabis plant naturally produces a range of bioactive, therapeutic compounds known as cannabinoids. There are more than a hundred unique cannabinoids and some of them have health effects and benefits. One of the most useful is cannabidiol or CBD. It is possibly the most researched and popular cannabinoid because of its powerful health effects. Some of these effects include being anxiolytic or anxiety-reducing, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and improving mood. It does not get you ‘high’ or cause euphoria despite being derived from cannabis. This is an effect associated with the cannabinoid THC, a separate compound that has differing properties.
It is important to distinguish these cannabinoids. THC is psychoactive which means it has risks associated with using it. It can cause or exacerbate some mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and psychosis. Despite this, it is still therapeutic for many purposes such as relieving pain, alleviating nausea and helping with aiding with sleep. Most CBD products in Australia are produced from industrial hemp, a breed of plant which is purposely grown to contain very little THC. These plants are regulated to contain 0.3% THC or less, meaning only very minor trace levels of the cannabinoid are contained in extracts produced from them.
CBD acts in the body through the endocannabinoid system, which consists of some enzymes, receptors and signalling molecules. It is a regulatory system that influences other bodily functions like sleep, immunity, stress response, mood and appetite. Importantly, it also serves a vital role in promoting homeostasis and normalising the balance of hormones. When consumed it causes the body to produce endocannabinoids which are anti-inflammatory, stress relieving and help with immunity. Endocannabinoids like anandamide are responsible for most of CBD’s potent health benefits.
Does CBD Work for ADHD?
There are limited clinical studies of the application of CBD in treating ADHD. Although it is in use to treat some neurological conditions like epilepsy and anxiety, wider usage in treating attention deficit disorder has not been evident. Despite this, there is promise it does have some capacity to assist with better focus and lowered stress. Many users with ADHD report that CBD can help in providing calmness, focus and improved mental clarity. It has some important effects that mean it likely can aid in supporting individuals who have ADHD.
One study from 2017 used a randomized placebo-controlled trial of cannabinoid medication in treating ADHD and symptoms in 30 adults. The trial found a combination of CBD and THC was somewhat effective in reducing hyperactivity, muscle spasms and reduced ADHD symptoms. It also aided with normalizing cognitive conditions such as lowering inattention and supporting focus. The researchers noted the study wasn’t conclusive and required further trials to corroborate the findings. But while not final, it represents a firm step in a positive direction towards linking cannabinoids like CBD to better mental control and attention.
In a separate meta-analysis which explored over 80 research papers on the neurological effects of CBD, there was little evidence cited supporting the properties of CBD as a direct solution for attention deficit issues. While CBD has been clinically proven to treat issues like epilepsy, its efficacy in helping with focus and hyperactivity has not been scientifically confirmed. Most studies on CBD were also conducted using formulations which combined it with THC. This muddies the water in separating the true clinical effects of CBD versus other cannabinoids. The role of CBD in helping with ADHD may instead be in promoting a more normalized mental state, lowering general neuroinflammation, helping with stress and mitigating comorbidities. In turn, these effects can help those affected by the disorder manage their condition more easily.
Another randomized, placebo-controlled experiment looked at the efficacy of ADHD in treating young adults who had an ADHD diagnosis. The subjects all had moderate to severe symptoms including poor working memory, issues with executive function, impulsivity and inability to focus. In this study, the test subjects were given a set of tasks and questions to complete to gauge their response to cannabinoid treatment. They were given a formulation of CBD and THC and dosed several times daily over several weeks before being asked to take their test again. Researchers concluded that the effects of their medication reduced their test scores and ability as opposed to improving it. They also noted psychological risks due to the presence of THC and its psychoactivity, creating the potential for mental harm.
ADHD has a range of comorbidities. These are other detrimental neurological or neurodegenerative conditions it can exacerbate. It can worsen a range of disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders, learning issues, epilepsy and chronic stress. Studies have linked epilepsy and ADHD closely, showing they occur together at a high rate in children and impair performance IQ. Many of these comorbidities can cause further impairment to focus and impulse control. For example, depression and anxiety can both have an impact on the ability to concentrate, and mood and worsen the effects of ADHD. Helping to mitigate and prevent these comorbidities like anxiety may be where CBD shines. It has anxiolytic effects and some antidepressant properties, making it effective in assisting with the indirect neurological issues ADHD causes. Early clinical studies are supporting these properties, which may relate to the cannabinoid’s ability to modulate the serotonin or 5-HT1A receptors. Improving serotonin production and normalizing its levels enables CBD to exhibit antidepressant properties but may also help in combating ADHD.
CBD is not a nootropic and can’t directly enhance focus capacity and alertness. The method it helps with focus is indirect, through lowering stress, helping with sleep and promoting mental calm. Enabling better mental states and greater balance within the mind mean CBD can make it easier to get into flow states and find focus readily. This is excellent for those who have ADHD or even just need to remain calm and steady for long periods. The sleep-promoting capacities of cannabinoids like CBD are also highly useful in raising daily mood, focus and attention levels. During sleep, the brain’s neurotransmitter levels are replenished and adenosine is cleared. Hormones are also better regulated and replenished from good sleep. Because CBD has been shown to help with REM sleep length which is when this replenishment occurs, it helps with focus during the day. Insomnia and bad sleep patterns are very detrimental to focus and worsen ADHD. By helping with sleep CBD can help mitigate these issues, supporting concentration.
A 2018 study linked ADHD and several other neurological conditions to neuroinflammation. The link is potentially due to the impact of neuroinflammation on dopamine production. People with ADHD fundamentally have a disorder of dopamine production or regulation. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation, action and reward pathways. It is the primary driver of executive function. Issues with this neurotransmitter such as those with ADHD cause a range of issues in impulse control and discipline. Because CBD has neuroinflammation-lowering properties, it may help in mitigating this as a contributing factor in ADHD occurrence. It assists in reducing the production and impact of inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are inflammation-causing agents and are a normal part of the cell healing process but become damaging when overproduced during chronic inflammation.
Safety and Side Effects
Negative side effects with CBD are rare and generally mild. Some examples of symptoms include dry mouth, minor nausea, upset stomach and diarrhoea. Most people won’t experience these even at high doses. Side effects are more likely to occur from poor-quality products due to incorrect dosing or contamination from THC or solvents. Always read the label of your product and adhere to its usage plus dosage guidelines. A review in 2018 from the World Health Organisation concluded CBD is a safe compound to use, non-addictive, well tolerated and effective for its therapeutic purposes. It was one of the largest clinical reviews of the clinical safety of the cannabinoid.
A key risk to be aware of when using CBD is the potential for accidentally consuming THC. As mentioned THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid from hemp. It can worsen symptoms of ADHD and impact focus, making symptoms worse. THC also stimulates and worsens many of ADHD’s comorbidities like anxiety and depression which can produce further impairment to mental state. Always ensure you avoid THC in your product when buying CBD. Check the label, lab results and confirm with your provider that the CBD oil you use doesn’t have THC in it. Many products can also be contaminated by THC if they’re poorly manufactured, contaminated or even mislabelled. The other important risk of note when using CBD for ADHD is mixing it with other medications. Never use CBD before consulting your doctor if you have existing prescriptions. It can lead to adverse interactions in some cases for particular medicines which are processed via the liver.
Using CBD for ADHD
For ADHD there isn’t a recommended method of dosing or using CBD to best alleviate symptoms. Everyone has a unique case or severity of ADHD meaning each person has to find their approach to dosing. It will take time to experiment with different products and dosage ranges to find the sweet spot that helps you boost your focus the most. Some people will find usefulness in low CBD doses daily, while others may need multiple high doses daily. Other factors like your health status, current stress levels, sleep and lifestyle will also play into how much CBD you need. It is always best to combine CBD with health improvements like regular exercise, minimizing alcohol, having a healthy diet and stress minimisation to ensure you reap the maximum benefit from it.
Many users find it more useful to target their CBD usage in obtaining better sleep and reducing stress to help with their ADHD and focus. In other words, it can help mitigate the comorbidities of ADHD better than ADHD itself. The most commonly reported use of CBD by those with ADHD is in treating sleep issues. This makes sense, as better sleep will reduce the impact and symptoms of ADHD in the long run by improving mental focus and recovery each day. During sleep, the brain refreshes itself by clearing adenosine and reducing inflammation. Most ADHD patients report that other medications like Ritalin or dextroamphetamine are more efficacious in helping with their symptoms. Adding CBD on top of prescription medication from a doctor likely adds little to no additional benefit.
Although some users will certainly find benefits from using CBD for focus and ADHD, there isn’t much clinical evidence to support this claim. Research certainly indicates CBD has neurologically positive capacities including helping with neuroinflammation, lowering stress, fighting oxidation and mitigating anxiety or depression. But its focus enhancing or nootropic qualities are not clear. It’s better suited to helping users find balance in the mind, improving sleep and aiding with better mental states to boost focus. ADHD medications are likely a better choice for most, but CBD may act as a supporting agent in helping with comorbidities like poor sleep and anxiety. Always check with your doctor before trying it and avoid any products with THC as these can worsen ADHD symptoms.