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CBD: Cannabis for ADHD - Bringing Science to Scattered Minds

An attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis has been connected to cannabis abuse, so suggesting cannabis use to treat impulsivity or a lack of attention and focus associated with ADHD...

An attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis has been connected to cannabis abuse, so suggesting cannabis use to treat impulsivity or a lack of attention and focus associated with ADHD has been controversial. This is largely due to the potential adverse effects of THC on a developing brain already struggling from alterations caused by the disorder. In saying that, discussions online on self-medicating with cannabis for symptoms of ADHD sparked the publication of an academic paper examining this phenomenon and recommending that more formal study of cannabis and ADHD is in fact, warranted. [1] 

People are regularly reporting that narrow oral doses of high-THC cannabis products or inhaled sativa varieties appear to improve focus, assisting with the common distractibility accompanying the disorder. The use of cannabis to assist with ADHD in younger people remains controversial, due to the potential for neurological impairment associated with THC use. For more information, see our article covering cannabis and CBD for Adolescents

ADHD is classified into three subtypes: combined type, predominantly inattentive type, and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type. The term “attention deficit disorder” (ADD) is regularly used to encompass all types of ADHD. The most common core features of ADHD are hyperactivity, distractibility, and poor impulse control. Although these characteristics are often discovered together, each case varies, with more than one-third of patients exhibiting no hyperactivity. 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Prior to making changes to your treatment plan, or using medical marijuana for health conditions, always consult with a licenced medical professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.

Does Cannabis Work for ADHD

From one standpoint, cannabis seems to be moderately effective in treating ADHD, [2] although it may be less successful overall than some prescription medications. Some people report that cannabis can also help reduce the “jitters” and resulting fatigue of prescription stimulants used for ADHD. As dosage protocols develop for particular strains that are designed around various cannabinoid and terpene profiles, the effectiveness of cannabis for ADHD may become more improved. Some physicians assert that the use of high-THC cannabis makes the treatment of ADHD with conventional prescription medications near impossible. [3] One small study conducted in England noted success in treating ADHD symptoms with nabiximols (Sativex), an oral spray containing nearly equal ratios of CBD to THC. [4] Although, this opinion doesn’t seem to be shared across the whole medical community. As more science reveals how the endocannabinoid system plays a part in ADHD, and how it regulates neurotransmitter release within the brain, perhaps additional optimal cannabinoid medicinal approaches will appear.

Historically speaking, using cannabis to treat ADHD symptoms has only emerged in the past fifteen years as an alternative/adjunct to treatment with prescription stimulants and antidepressants.

cbd cannabis for adhd

What Causes ADHD

Studies scanning the brains of those with ADHD have found abnormalities in gray matter along with the connectivity in many neural networks within the brain. There is also evidence for white matter pathology and disrupted anatomical connectivity. [5] 

Studies have shown that a dysfunction in the dopamine neurotransmitter system could be the underlying mechanism of the ADHD family of conditions. [6] Dopamine receptors interact extensively with the endocannabinoid receptors in parts of the brain, including the striatum. There is also a profusion of cannabinoid receptors located within the limbic system of the brain, specifically the amygdala and hippocampus that are strongly linked with attention deficit. CB1 receptors are significant in ADHD and are a therapeutic target of increasing interest. Running counter to the assumption that cannabis use is contraindicated in ADHD is recent brain-scanning research, published in 2016, which examined a group of 21 to 25-year-old cannabis users with nonusers with and without ADHD. This study was conducted at six different neuroimaging facilities across the United States. The study showed that, contrary to researchers’ expectations, cannabis use did not exacerbate the ADHD-related alterations in the functional connectivity of the nine brain networks examined. [7]

Cannabinoid medicines are likely to be developed to target the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of ADHD and related disorders. The relation of the endocannabinoid plasma levels in ADHD patients has led to the suggestion that these levels may be enhanced through aerobic exercise. [8] 

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is now considered to be the most important system of physiology inside the human body, due to the fact that it is responsible for bringing order and balance to every other major system in the body, from the reproductive, to the lymphatic and circulatory. If the ECS becomes dysfunctional and out of order, every other major system begins to buckle under the pressure, eventually falling into complete states of disarray, leading to chronic states of illness and disease. It is paramount, that every person on the planet support and nourish their ECS with cannabinoids; from hemp (the virtually zero-THC version of cannabis), or various strains of cannabis, whether they be CBD or otherwise, pending the state of the individual at the time and what is needed. For more information, read The Endocannabinoid System Explained.

Dr Gabor Mate, renowned author and speaker on childhood trauma and stress relating to ADHD, addiction, and what is important in the healthy development of children, in his book Scattered: How ADHD Originates & What You Can Do About It, that “For a person with ADD, tuning out is an automatic brain activity that originated during the period of rapid brain development in infancy when there was emotional hurt combined with helplessness. At one time or another, every infant or young child feels frustration and psychological pain. Episodic experiences of a distressing nature do not induce dissociation, but chronic distress does—the distress of the sensitive infant with unsatisfied attunement needs, for example. The infant has to dissociate chronic emotional pain from consciousness for two reasons. First, it is too overwhelming for his fragile nervous system. He simply cannot exist in what we might call a state of chronic negative arousal, with adrenaline and other stress hormones pumping through his veins all the time. It is physiologically too toxic. He has to block it out. Second, if the parent’s anxiety is the source of the infant’s distress, the infant unconsciously senses that fully expressing his own emotional turmoil will only heighten that anxiety. His distress would then be aggravated—a vicious cycle he can escape by tuning out.”

“Tuning out” as described by Dr Mate’ is an inbuilt response to stress in the infant and child that creates a necessary “deficit” in attention as a protective mechanism. It is important to note then, that long term chronic stress overwhelms the endocannabinoid system, which can lead to a downward spiral into a state of chronic disorder. It is no wonder then, that science has evidence linking adverse childhood experiences to chronic illness and disease later in life. [10] Not only that, but breast milk contains endocannabinoids that support the endocannabinoid system and help it to not only develop, but to protect it from stress and harm; in the same way other compounds found in breast milk help support the immune system, microbiome gut health, neurological development and much more - many of which, are not found in formula.

Treatment for ADHD

When using cannabidiol (CBD) products, generally, the benefits are greatest with micro doses under 2.5 mg of THC or a combination of THC and CBD or relatively low-myrcene-content cannabis strains can be used to encourage hyperfocus for up to 90 minutes. Often momentum created from 90 minutes of task focus can preclude the need for further cannabis doses. It must be noted that high-CBD oil products with a 20:1 ratio appear to be the most advantageous when it comes to treating mental disorders, whether ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, and so on.

cbd for adhd

How To Use Cannabis for ADHD

Oral cannabis products work well in the form of tinctures, sprays, or edibles for assisting with ADHD symptoms due to the fact they are relatively fast in their absorption. Taken sublingually, under the tongue, cannabinoids absorb into the bloodstream within 15-30 minutes. If consumed as an edible or through the digestive system, the medication can take 30-60 minutes to take effect. Sometimes, consuming cannabis as an edible can be too sedating for some people.

Smoked cannabis products can be the easiest to titrate low doses, whereas with vaporized cannabis, although effective, care and caution should be taken in order to control the dose and avoid overmedication.

Best Strains for ADHD

High-THC sativa varieties of cannabis that are higher in the terpenes pinene and/or beta-caryophyllene without appreciable amounts of myrcene, are suggested. If hyperactivity is more of an issue, low doses of myrcene- and linalool-dominant strains may be of medicinal value for their calming effects. Low doses of Type II CBD:THC strains are highly recommended. High-CBD strains may also be of great interest for their ability to help concentration and to “clear the mind.” Strains such as Blue Dream, Cookies, or Neville’s Haze at low doses seem to be some of the more effective varieties for treating the symptoms of ADHD. For more information, read our Ultimate Guide to Terpenes.

A 2020 study also discovered that larger doses of medicinal cannabis was associated with a decrease in the use of ADHD medication. [9] The products that contained a larger dose of CBD were associated with lower ADHD scores.

Are CBD gummies good for ADHD?

Are CBD gummies, edibles or other oral products of value in treating symptoms of ADHD? The research seems to show that full spectrum or high-CBD cannabis products can potentially bring a reduction to hyperactivity and improve focus and concentration in both children and adults. Patients with ADHD who use CBD promote its effectiveness and lack of side-effects.

Is it OK to give CBD to a child?

CBD is relatively safe itself, however it may potentially interact with other medications that a child is taking, due to CBD also being metabolized in the liver. If it’s utilized for sleeping issues, it may help in the short term, but it could worsen sleep problems if the medication is stopped due to a tolerance being developed.

Does CBD help focus?

CBD has been shown to help bring relief to anxiety and fidgeting, but also assists with improving concentration and focus. Cannabidiol is generally well suited for mental health function.

For more information, see our other article on the effects of medicinal cannabis for ADHD.

And our article on cannabis for focus and concentration.

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