Scientific evidence for cbd oil adhd
Karen Sampson Hoffman
YOU’VE SEEN THE POP-UP ADS or you’ve heard a friend talk about CBD oil as an alternative treatment for ADHD. Every online community and social media platform seems to have someone praising the compound or offering to sell it. But what is it, and does it really have any proven benefits for managing ADHD symptoms?
Cannabidiol oil, most often referred to as CBD oil, is a product of the marijuana plant. The plant family is called cannabis, and cannabis products can include CBD oil along with smoked, vaped, or eaten products. CBD oil is just one of more than 85 compounds in cannabis and is regarded by some enthusiasts as having medicinal benefits.
It is not THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound in cannabis that creates euphoria and delivers the “high” of marijuana use. CBD oil is not supposed to contain any THC, meaning the oil needs to be highly refined to make it suitable for use, and therefore is not a natural product. One reoccurring concern, however, is that some products on the market can have trace amounts of THC present, making them unsuitable for use by children and teens and by any adult concerned about possible addiction.
So what about CBD oil as an alternative approach for ADHD symptom management? Some claim that CBD oil, a cannabis product, can be used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. There is limited research showing an improvement for some people who have epilepsy and some people who experience anxiety who use CBD oil, so it is thought to also have benefits for people with ADHD.
What the research says
Researching CBD oil specifically for ADHD is relatively new. Some research has been conducted on smoked and ingested marijuana for ADHD, and the findings in general either do not indicate a benefit or are inconclusive. For both epilepsy and anxiety, there is more research that shows promise. A new medication made from cannabis for seizures caused by Lennox- Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome was approved by an advisory committee for the FDA, but does not have FDA approval.
. This was a very small sample study of thirty people with ADHD who received a trial cannabinoid/CBD medication. The participants were evaluated for symptom levels and IQ performance on standardized tests. There was insignificant improvement on cognitive function and symptom reduction, and nominal improvement on impulsivity and hyperactivity. The researchers expressed concern that the participants did not follow instructions to avoid all other medications or alcohol use that could have affected the study results. The research authors stated that their results were inconclusive. . This study showed poor cognitive function outcome for young adults who began using cannabis before the age of sixteen, including young people with an ADHD diagnosis. When evaluated for working memory, verbal memory, decision-making and recall, these young users had poor performance on all points. They made more mistakes when asked to complete questions or tasks. Most concerning, the authors write, “Individuals who initiate use of cannabis before age sixteen may be at higher risk for developing persistent neuropsychological deficits because their brain is still developing, especially the prefrontal cortex which is associated with several executive functions including planning, verbal fluency, complex problem-solving, and impulse control, each with its own developmental trajectory.”
- Adverse Health effects of Marijuana Use. A review article for The New England Journal of Medicine by National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, and her colleagues, details the known health effects of marijuana use. THC is a concern for health, as are other components of the plant. Adverse effects include decreased cognitive abilities and exacerbated co-occurring mental health disorders and substance abuse. Dr. Volkow lists several health conditions that might be able to be treated by cannabis products, including chronic pain and inflammation, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. She does not include ADHD as a health concern that can be treated by cannabis products. In fact, she writes, “[H]eavy use of marijuana results in impairments in memory and attention that persist and worsen with increasing years of regular use.”
Not a natural product
Some advocates for CBD oil claim that its effects on the body are gentler and more effective than medications for ADHD because it is a natural product, made from a plant.
The cannabis plant has been selectively grown for generations, and grown in specific conditions, to maximize its different aspects. Industrial hemp is grown for its fibers, which are used for rope and different types of cloth. Another type of industrial hemp is grown specifically for its seeds, which are then used in some foods and in products contain hemp oil.
Contrary to some marketing claims, CBD oil is not made from industrial hemp plants. Hemp for fiber is harvested before the plant is mature, ensuring stronger fibers, and once a plant begins to form seeds, it stops producing cannabinoids to focus its energy into seed production.
Industrial hemp, because of these needs, cannot produce cannabidiol oil in sufficient amounts for commercial use. Instead it is often extracted from phytocannabinoid-rich hemp, which has ideally had THC bred out of it. This plant retains many of the characteristic of the marijuana plant. This plant is a recently developed variant of the cannabis family and only goes back to the 1990s. To the untrained observer, it resembles the marijuana plant.
CBD oil can be made from either PCR hemp or from the marijuana plant because of the similarity between the two variants. In the manufacturing process, the plant is broken into pieces and a chemical solvent, a grain or wood alcohol, petroleum, or naphtha, is used to extract the compounds in the plant. The whole material is decanted and the liquid is mechanically separated, drawing off the oils and resins. The solvent is then reused. There is also a process using carbon dioxide that bursts the plant cells and captures the oils and resins from through a series of filtering chambers. Other extraction methods use heated oils that “cook” both the oil and plant.
The oils and resins are then further refined to separate the CBD from other compounds; this could be a combined mechanical and chemical process. It must also be tested to make sure all THC has been removed, especially when the marijuana plant is used rather than PCR hemp.
The entire process relies on heavily refining the product to make it suitable for human consumption. And the more “pure” the product, the greater the amount of refining it must go through. So while synthesized from a plant, it must go through multiple mechanical and chemical processes to become usable and has very little resemblance to the plant it started from. The more “pure” the CBD product, the less natural it is–the final product does not exist in a natural form. You cannot chew on a leaf of a cannabis plant and receive any benefits from CBD oil.
Thoughts from an expert
John Mitchell, PhD, has heard all about ADHD and cannabis product use. He is a researcher and assistant professor at the Duke ADHD Program. He’s not surprised by the current interest in CBD oil for ADHD symptoms and is not impressed by arguments in its favor.
“There is some efficacy in childhood epilepsy,” he points out, “but when you look at the literature for anything else, especially psychiatric disorders, there’s not strong support to say yes, this should be a go-to treatment, especially for ADHD.”
He says the interest stems from people’s desire to have more choices in treating medical conditions and in the changing perceptions on marijuana use. He points to several states that have made medical marijuana legal and a few states that are considering legalizing recreational marijuana use.
“This interest in CBD is coming out more broadly in these perceptions of lack of harmfulness and the changing perceptions of marijuana use in general,” says Dr. Mitchell. “For a lot of different disorders—PTSD, ASD, some addictions—[some people] are interested because it might have therapeutic effects when you isolate the CBD. But those studies are preliminary. When you look at the published literature on CBD there’s nothing—it’s limited to one study.”
He reminds anyone interested in CBD oil or cannabis products that there have not been the studies showing effectiveness or safety for these products when it comes to ADHD management.
“When parents or adults look into CBD oil for someone with ADHD, it’s not just that there’s a lack of evidence out there right now,” he says. “There have been no treatment studies. There are no randomized trials that show it works. And there are other treatment options available for kids and adults with ADHD. These are unregulated products. If these are not well-regulated products, how do we know that we’re really getting what’s being advertised?”
“When parents or adults look into CBD oil for someone with ADHD, it’s not just that there’s a lack of evidence out there right now,” says researcher John Mitchell, PhD, from the Duke ADHD Program. “There have been no treatment studies. There are no randomized trials that show it works. And there are other treatment options available for kids and adults with ADHD. These are unregulated products. If these are not well-regulated products, how do we know that we’re really getting what’s being advertised?”
What about the question of CBD oil being a more natural option than a medication? It comes from a plant, after all.
“Natural doesn’t necessary means it’s less harmful,” says Dr. Mitchell. “If I were a parent, I would want it to be pure. Which means it’s actually less natural, because it has to be refined.”
Other considerations, he says, include how well-refined a CBD oil might be—are the THC and other potentially harmful components fully removed—and the fact that there are no longer-term studies on CBD oil use for children or adults. He adds that there are well-researched and effective non-medication treatment options, such as parent training and lifestyle adjustments, that are shown to be effective in managing ADHD symptoms.
There is also the question of CBD oil becoming a “gateway” to marijuana use by a young person. Dr. Mitchell says a young adult who took CBD oil as a child might not see the difference between it and marijuana use for symptoms management. Marijuana use has well-researched effects on physical and mental health and can make ADHD symptoms worse, he says.
“The literature shows there are harmful effects,” says Dr. Mitchell. “There are impacts on cognitive ability, motivation. Especially for those who are younger and smoking more, there is an impact on IQ.”
Leaping beyond the data
The research on CBD oil and other cannabis products as a possible intervention for ADHD does not show effectiveness for managing symptoms, and actually shows increased mental and physical health risks. There haven’t been any studies on the use of CBD oil in children; neither have there been studies on long-term effects. So while some people are using it and have shared their results publicly, researchers and medical professionals have not found evidence that it is an effective treatment for ADHD. The research does not show that CBD oil works for ADHD management.
“We don’t want to misrepresent things, and with CBD oil, it is getting misrepresented,” says Dr. Mitchell. “When people say this works for ADHD, this is going way beyond the data. That’s too big of a leap.”
Can CBD Help With ADHD? Everything You Need to Know
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who has covered health topics for more than 10 years. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Keri Peterson, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and has her own private practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She holds appointments at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopment conditions among children, affecting an estimated 11% of U.S. children. The condition is characterized by having trouble sitting still, an inability to focus, forgetfulness, and disorganization.
Adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD, and about 75% of kids with ADHD will continue to have ADHD symptoms as adults.
These days, more ADHD patients and parents of children with the condition are curious about whether cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive extract of the cannabis plant, can be beneficial in managing ADHD symptoms.
CBD has shown promise for treating some health experts, and many experts believe its calming effects could help those with ADHD. However, research is still emerging and caution should be used.
This article will review the potential benefits of CBD for ADHD, the side effects, and how to source the best CBD products.
Vanessa Nunes /iStock/ Getty Images Plus
Using CBD for ADHD Symptoms
The federal prohibition on all cannabis products, including hemp, prior to 2018 has limited research on CBD and ADHD. However, there are some studies about the effects of CBD or cannabis on ADHD symptoms. Here’s what they’ve found:
- A 2020 scientific review gave a grade B, or moderate, recommendation supporting CBD for ADHD treatment.
- A small 2020 study of 112 adult medical cannabis patients with ADHD found that those who took a higher dose of CBD took fewer other ADHD medications.
- A small 2017 study involving 30 individuals found that those who used a CBD nasal spray had a small reduction in hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. However, the improvement was not big enough for researchers to definitely say that CBD spray was more effective than a placebo. The researchers called for further investigation.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one prescription CBD medication, which is used to treat epilepsy. Research is ongoing for CBD formulate to treat other conditions.
Benefits of CBD
Unlike THC, which acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain, CBD acts on opioid and glycine receptors. These receptors regulate pain and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps us feel good. Unsurprisingly, then, research has shown that CBD can have lots of benefits. These include:
- Reducing inflammation
- Regulating the immune system
- Reducing pain
- Providing antipsychotic effects
- Reducing seizures
- Reducing anxiety
CBD products sometimes claim many additional benefits. However, those listed above have been scientifically proven, while other benefits are often anecdotal or overstated.
Potential Side Effects of CBD
A perk of CBD is that it has very few side effects. CBD does not have any psychoactive effects and it doesn’t have any risk of addiction or abuse. A 2020 scientific review of 22 research studies found no reports of serious adverse side effects.
However, some people who take CBD will experience minor side effects including:
- Changes to appetite
- Stomach pain or nausea
Things to Consider Before Using CBD
Although many CBD products make claims about treating ADHD, there is no definitive research that shows CDB will help most people with ADHD. It’s best to keep your expectations realistic and remember that even if CBD worked well for someone you know, it will not necessarily improve symptoms for you or your child, and it is not a replacement for treatments recommended by your healthcare team.
You should also consider the legality. It’s important to only use a CBD product that contains less than 0.3% THC, in order to comply with federal law. If you are considering CBD for a child, consult laws in your state and consider using an isolate that contains no THC, which is illegal for people under 21 even in states that have legalized cannabis. Be sure to purchase your CBD products from a reputable dispensary or drugstore so that you know exactly what’s in them.
How to Use CBD
There are no guidelines on how to use CBD for ADHD. CBD oil is widely available and is usually consumed by placing a few drops under the tongue or stirring into coffee or tea. There are also many CBD products available, ranging from supplements to gummies to packaged drinks.
There is also no known dosage for treating ADHD. Many people find they need to experiment to find the right daily dose to manage their symptoms.
If you’re curious about using CBD to treat ADHD, you should talk with your healthcare provider. Although CBD is generally considered safe, it is still a chemical compound that can interact with other supplements or medications.
Remember that CBD oils are mostly unregulated, so there’s also no guarantee that a product is safe, effective, or what it claims to be on its packaging. Your healthcare provider should be able to offer dosage and product recommendations that work with your individualized treatment plan.
CBD shows some promise for helping to manage ADHD symptoms. However, the research is limited and more research needs to be done to confirm effectiveness, dosage, and safety. CBD is generally considered safe and has few if any side effects. If you are considering trying CBD, talk with your healthcare provider and seek out a quality product for the best results.
A Word From Verywell
The symptoms of ADHD can have a big impact on your life, so it’s normal to look for alternative treatments to supplement your medical treatment plan or manage minor symptoms.
While early research on CBD for ADHD is promising, there are no definitive conclusions yet. If you want to try CBD for ADHD, talk with a trusted healthcare professional. They’ll be able to answer your questions without judgment and craft a treatment plan that is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
CBD is generally considered very safe. It has no psychoactive properties and is not addictive. Some people experience minor side effects like an upset stomach or drowsiness.
The FDA has approved one prescription CBD medication for treating epilepsy in children. Outside of that, CBD is considered generally safe, but you should consult your healthcare provider and laws in your state before giving CBD to children.
CBD is legal at the federal level as long as it is in a form that contains less than 0.3% THC, the other active ingredient in marijuana. The legality of CBD at the state level varies, so be sure to look at laws in your state.