Are you wondering whether CBD can help relieve the symptoms of ADHD?
Well, it seems like it might.
After all, CBD can help improve focus, regulate mood, reduce anxiety, and much more.
In this article, I’ll take an in-depth look at CBD, how it works, and how this relates to the difficulties associated with ADHD.
Keep reading to learn more.
Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADD/ADHD was first described in 1902.
For a long time, the conversation surrounding this condition focused on behavioral problems, especially in children.
A lot of the symptoms of the condition, for example, focused on kids who couldn’t sit still, stay focused, or behave in a way they were expected to.
Today, we know that ADHD is much more complicated.
In fact, for many people, ADHD may not necessarily cause behavioral problems.
“We’ve realized that this is not so much a behavior problem but far more a problem with the brain’s management system,” says Thomas Brown, Associate Director at the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders.
According to Professor Brown, one of the main thing people with ADHD complain about is problems concentrating and “staying tuned.”
“It’s similar in a way to the problem you have with a cell phone where you’re in an area where you don’t have good reception; you can get part of it and then the message keeps fading in and out,” says Professor Brown.
Another major complaint from people with ADHD is that they feel they are very easily distracted.
Obviously, the world we live in is full of distractions.
If you think back to your school years, for example, you probably don’t have to think very hard to realize how many possible distractions there were to capture your attention and keep you from focusing on the task at hand.
People without ADHD can normally overcome these distractions and push them aside so they can focus on what they need to get done.
People with ADHD, on the other hand, struggle to do that.
Some sources suggest that this is because people with ADHD experience a sort of overload of information in the brain.
However, Professor Brown traces it back to a problem with the brain’s ability to cut out the noise from potential distractions and focus on what needs to get done.
What’s interesting, however, is that many patients with ADHD have specific tasks that they can focus on without any problems.
For some people, it may be sports, arts, or a particular subject or task at which they really excel.
Most of the time, these are tasks that the patient is really interested in or passionate about.
Then, when it comes to something less interesting, people with ADHD aren’t able to stay focused and productive at all.
People with ADHD also tend to have problems with organization.
This can include something as simple as packing a bag or organizing a desk, but can also affect a person’s ability to organize tasks and priorities, be it at work, school, or any other aspect of their life.
For other patients, these organizational difficulties may affect their ability to organize their thoughts when writing or speaking.
Another really common aspect of ADHD is sleep problems.
Many people with ADHD, for example, have trouble getting to sleep because they just can’t “turn off” their brain.
Once they finally get to sleep, people with ADHD often find they have problems getting up in the morning and getting wherever they need to go on time.
Some other common problems people with ADHD struggle with include:
- Difficulty regulating their emotions and response to stress
- Short-term memory difficulty
- Impulsive behavior
- Anxiety and worry
- Difficulty moderating their actions, and seemingly acting without thinking
Now, you may be thinking that all of these problems seem pretty basic.
After all, everybody has problems concentrating or staying organized every now and then, especially if they are doing something they aren’t particularly interested in.
And it’s true; many of the problems I’ve described aren’t unique to ADHD.
However, people with ADHD struggle to deal with these issues much more than people who don’t have ADHD.
“All of the characteristics of ADHD… are things everybody has trouble with sometimes. It’s just that people with ADHD have a lot more trouble,” says Professor Brown.
Remember that the list of symptoms I have described above is designed to give you a basic overview of ADHD and some of its key symptoms.
Every person’s experience with ADHD is unique, and there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosing and dealing with this disorder.
What causes ADHD?
There’s still a lot we do not know about ADHD.
Research shows that it seems to be mainly an inherited condition.
Roughly 25% of people diagnosed with ADHD have a parent who also has the condition.
The remaining 75% of patients usually have another family member (like a grandparent, sibling, or cousin) who also suffers from ADHD.
But what exactly is going on in the brain of people with ADHD that causes the difficulties I described earlier?
Well, researchers don’t know exactly.
Other research also shows that the brains of kids with ADHD are delayed by a few years in their development.
Research also shows that people with ADHD suffer from lower levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Now, Professor Brown explains that this isn’t because the ADHD brain produces less of these chemicals.
Instead, it doesn’t seem to use and release them effectively, which ultimately contributes to the difficulties I mentioned earlier.
CBD and ADHD: What Does the Science Say?
Unfortunately, there has been very little clinical research into the effects of cannabinoids on patients with attention deficit disorders.
Instead, most of the information available on cannabinoids and ADD/ADHD is based on anecdotal evidence from patients who self-medicate.
Now, the medical community tends to disregard anecdotal evidence as extremely limited.
And there are some solid reasons for this.
After all, a patient’s account of the effects of a drug obviously can’t tell us as much as a placebo-controlled, double-blind study can.
But that doesn’t mean that we should disregard anecdotal evidence altogether.
Below I’ll take a look at the limited information on cannabinoids and ADD/ADHD available at the moment:
Is the Endocannabinoid System a Reasonable Target for ADHD Treatment?
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve heard of the endocannabinoid system (or ECS).
The ECS is a communication system made up of cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids that activate them.
Up until now, researchers have identified 2 main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) and 2 endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG).
Anandamide has a higher affinity for CB1 receptors which are found in high concentrations throughout the brain, although they’re also present in the spine, thyroid, the digestive tract, and inside fat, muscle, and liver cells.
2-AG, on the other hand, has a higher affinity for CB2 receptors, which are also found throughout the body but tend to be present in higher numbers inside immune cells, throughout the GI tract, and in specific parts of the nervous system.
Our body produces both anandamide and 2-AG on demand.
Phytocannabinoids stimulate the endocannabinoid system by either binding directly to cannabinoid receptors or by activating other secondary molecular pathways that eventually activate the system in a less direct manner.
THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, for example, binds directly to CB1 receptors.
CBD, on the other hand, has low affinity to both cannabinoid receptors, and instead works by stimulating various different molecular pathways.
CBD can, for example, stimulate the ECS by increasing anandamide levels.
In fact, recent research into CBD shows that the compound can act on over 60 different molecular targets.
But how does all of this relate back to ADHD?
Well, the endocannabinoid system has been shown to mediate a wide variety of bodily process, many of which are altered in people with ADHD.
So far, research has shown us that the ECS is involved in managing:
- Pain and inflammation
- Immune response
- Hunger and metabolism
- Mood, emotion, and stress response
- Alertness and energy levels
- Memory and cognitive function
In fact, research suggests that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in maintaining homeostasis, a state of equilibrium that allows the body to function at it’s best.
When it comes to ADD/ADHD, what’s most interesting to us is the effect that cannabinoids can have on focus, attention, energy levels, memory, and cognitive function.
Can CBD Improve Focus?
Cannabis users aren’t really made out to be role models for concentration and productivity.
At least, that’s what we’ve been told to believe.
For centuries, cannabis users have been stigmatized as lazy, chilled-out stoners that have enough trouble getting off the couch let alone getting anything productive done.
But, thanks to new research into cannabis and its compounds, we’re starting to realize that this depiction isn’t necessarily accurate.
Many cannabis users report that the right cannabis strain or derivative can help them stay focused and motivated.
CBD, for example, has been shown to help people stay focused and alert.
In an article for Medium, for example, Lisa Buyer, CEO of The Buyer Group and Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida, talked about her first experience with CBD.
“My brain started feeling less foggy and less anxious… Focus, calm and purpose joined the conversation and within 10–15 minutes my physical and mental attitude was zapped with a new state of clear and present consciousness,” writes Buyer.
The science behind how CBD can have this kind of alerting effect is very interesting.
After all, CBD is most commonly promoted for it’s calming and relaxing effects.
In fact, research shows that CBD can help people with sleep issues get to sleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
However, research published in the journal Current Neuropharmacology showed that CBD can also be “wake-promoting” and produce alerting effects.
The study suggested these discrepancies are likely caused by changes in the route of administration, dosage, as well as the individual reactions of the subjects.
In my experience with CBD, I’ve definitely noticed that it can both produce alertness or make me feel relaxed and sleepy.
I find that using smaller doses of CBD in the morning helps me stay calm and focused throughout the day, for example.
The same happens when I used small doses of CBD before a workout; I find it helps me get “in the zone” and stay focused on my routine from beginning to end.
At night, however, I find that slightly larger doses of CBD can help me get to sleep faster.
Now, this is far from enough to warrant CBD as a treatment option for ADHD.
Nonetheless, it definitely has potential.
However, we really need more research into cannabinoids and how they affect patients with ADHD.
CBD Can Help Regulate Mood, Sleep, and Reduce Anxiety
Besides potentially helping boost focus, CBD has been shown to have a wide variety of other benefits that could address some of the problems ADHD patients deal with on a daily basis.
We know, for example, that CBD is very good at relieving anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier, it can also help improve sleep by helping people get to sleep faster, stay asleep for longer, and wake up feeling refreshed.
Plus, the endocannabinoid system also plays a key role in regulating mood and stress response.
Combine all of these factors and, at least from a theoretical perspective, CBD looks like it could be a comprehensive treatment option for people with ADHD.
All of this comes down to the fact that the endocannabinoid system is involved in managing many of the areas that ADHD patients struggle with.
Best of all, it could do so without the harsh side effects that accompany standard ADHD medications such as stimulants, antihypertensive drugs, and cognitive enhancers.
Unfortunately, however, it’s hard to come to a concrete conclusion with such little evidence.
To learn more about the potential benefits of CBD, check out my benefits guide here.