Can I take CBD for ADD/ADHD?

Can you take CBD for ADD/ADHD and will it help?

CBD has become the go-to supplement for many who suffer from ADD/ADHD. Often diagnosed in childhood, ADD/ADHD are common neurodevelopmental disorders that can last into adulthood. Children with either disorder typically have difficulty in school because of their inherent inability to focus on the task at hand. They are also physically restless and can act impulsively.

Understanding ADD/ADHD

For adults and children with ADD/ADHD, ordering thought processes and completing tasks is very similar to dealing with a continually evolving filing system. The concentration required to make sense of it all is just not there.

While it’s common to think of ADD and ADHD as the same thing, they are actually two different types of executive function deficits. Executive function is one of the brain’s many talents. It allows us to organize, manage, and prioritize life’s daily tasks.

ADD/ADHD patients’ ability to maximize their executive function is missing. Beyond their inability to focus and their impulsiveness, ADD/ADHD sufferers often have a low tolerance for frustration and disorganization—the very tools required for focus.

The primary difference between ADD and ADHD is that people with ADHD are hyperactive and have an attention deficit. ADD patients are better able to remain calm, if not focused.

If there is a plus to the lack of focus, it’s that new ideas are always cropping up. That can be important for creativity. Many people with ADD/ADHD also consider it part of their personality. They only want to harness the disorders, not eliminate them altogether.

Common ADD/ADHD symptoms that CBD can help

  • Acute restlessness, hyperactivity, and fidgeting
  • Anxiety and mood swings
  • Constant talking
  • Inability to focus on quiet work
  • Poor executive function skills
  • Difficulty with social cues
  • Easily distracted, bored, or forgetful
  • Impulsivity

What the research says about CBD for ADD/ADHD

Researchers have barely begun to study the effects of CBD on ADD/ADHD. Much of what’s known is about cannabis and ADD/ADHD, whether smoked or as an edible, and not CBD alone.

Adults with ADHD who have reported self-medicating with cannabis generally found cannabis to be an improvement over conventional medications. While such anecdotal evidence does not approach the clinical objectivity associated with clinical research required to support reproducible outcomes, it does suggest further study holds promise.

To date, the studies into CBD for ADD/ADHD show promise. CBD helps to improved sleep quality and reduce anxiety, both of which are problematic symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

CBD helps people with ADD/ADHD increase their focus, increasing their ability to complete tasks more easily. CBD helps activate the adenosine receptors in the brain. In turn, adenosine helps with the anxiety and stress that come with the frustrations arising from an inability to focus on the tasks at hand.

Adenosine also has sleep-promoting properties. Adenosine’s calming effects help to mitigate hyperactivity and distraction, as well as improve sleep quality.

  • A 2011 CBD study found that those who took CBD had reduced anxiety, a symptom of ADD/ADHD.
  • A 2017 study examining CBD for ADHD in adults found that some symptoms improved. However, the findings haven’t been confirmed with other studies.
  • A 2012 paper reported that mice that experienced “reduced social investigative behavior, hyperactivity, [and] reduced attention span,” normalized their behaviors after being treated with CBD.
  • A randomized and controlled trial examining the use of cannabinoids for ADHD studied 30 people with ADHD. Before administering CBD, researchers administered standardized IQ performance evaluations and appraised and noted symptom levels. Possibly flawed by participants’ failure to avoid other medications and alcohol, the authors reported their findings as inconclusive.

Traditional ADD/ADHD treatments and their side effects

Generally speaking, ADD/ADHD medications fall into one of two classes: non-stimulants and stimulants.

Although it seems counterintuitive, stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medication. Drugs such as Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin are the most widely used stimulant drugs. These are also fast-acting. Seventy to 80% of U.S. children are taking one of these medications for ADD/ADHD. As a result, see a reduction in the severity of their symptoms.

The drawback is, of course, the side effects from these medications. However, stimulant medications aren’t without side effects. These include:

  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • mood swings

Non-stimulant medications like Strattera (atomoxetine) belong to a class known as selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Atomoxetine is not as likely to be abused as the stimulant class of ADD/ADHD of drugs. It’s also less likely to have side effects, but they do happen, including:

  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • headache
  • mood changes
  • nausea, upset stomach, and dizziness
  • fatigue

Both classes of these drugs require a prescription.

Side effects of CBD

Despite its detractors, CBD research has shown it is well-tolerated, even at doses as high as 1,500 mg daily. Depending on how it’s taken, sublingually or as an edible, it may take as little as 20 minutes or up to 2 hours before CBD takes effect.

CBD is non-addictive, but it does have a few mild side effects:

  • nausea or upset stomach
  • drowsiness
  • weight or appetite changes
  • diarrhea
  • interaction with supplements and prescription medications

Researchers believe there are generally 2 causes for the side effects.

The first may be related to CBD’s carrier oil. Unrefined medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil is commonly used to deliver CBD extract. It is considered one of the best carrier oils available. Other oils include hemp seed oil (which, of itself, does not contain CBD), grapeseed oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil, among others.

If CBD users experience carrier oil-related side effects, it can help to try a different carrier oil.

Side effects can also be attributed to taking too much CBD too quickly. Typically, the recommendation is to start with a low dose of 25 mg twice a day. After a week, increase each of the daily doses by 5 mg. Continue increasing the dose weekly until reaching an effective level of relief.

In the case of potential drug interactions, do consult your medical professional before beginning a CBD regimen.

While there have been no science-based studies of CBD’s effect on ADD/ADHD, there has been continuing research into CBD’s impact on some of its anxiety-related symptoms and sleep quality. The promise for  CBD for ADD/ADHD symptoms certainly warrants further investigation into CBD’s role in treating ADD/ADHD.

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Andrew Mattison

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