How CBD Oil (cannabidiol) Works To Treat ADD and ADHD
It has been shown that CBD oil (cannabidiol) has potential to treat issues related to anxiety, learning, motivation, attention etc. In this article, we will look at full-spectrum CBD (cannabidiol) oil in relation to treating ADD/ADHD symptoms.
Trying to Understand Attention Deficit Disorder – ADD/ADHD
How wild is your imagination?…
Imagine you have a huge filing cabinet full of files inside. However, instead of the information being arranged in alphabetical or chronological order, every hour, someone comes in and arranges them in the order they feel is right at the time. How would you keep up?
Or consider one of those festival jugglers who are trained to juggle all kinds of items like balls, knives, hats, fire, swords, you name it. Then it gets better, he gets onto a unicycle and the items are thrown at him one by one, as he continues juggling. This must take years to practice, but still, you will notice a bead of sweat streaming down the brows of even the most professional jugglers, in just a few minutes. More so, even the best of them drop some of the items and must stop the show as his/her concentration diminishes.
|…with adult ADHD, it’s like juggling on a unicycle; not only are you juggling|
multiple random items, you are missing a stable platform to support you as well.
Juggling on a unicycle
Life is like juggling, but even worse, between work projects, home activities, schoolwork, chores, personal life, and so on, the juggling act never stops in real life. Now, normal people’s lives can be equated to juggling on a stage. On the contrary, with adult ADHD, it’s like juggling on a unicycle; not only are you juggling multiple random items, you are missing a stable platform to support you as well. It does not end there, the items are way more than normal, painted with super-shiny colors, and they are all coming at the same time, making it impossible to concentrate on some without dropping the others. As such, it takes much more concentration to keep juggling.
The above illustrations are weak attempts to describe what it feels like to live with ADHD, based on the descriptions provided by people diagnosed with the condition. It is unfortunate because, in real life, the metaphorical unicycle is invisible, meaning normal people don’t give people with ADHD the credit for the higher level of juggling act they have to contend with. Instead, most people focus on the number of dropped balls.
Proper medication is like adding training wheels to the unicycle, which reduces the efforts needed to keep up with the delicate balancing act.
|Proper medication is like adding training wheels to the unicycle, which reduces the efforts needed to keep up with the delicate balancing act.|
Interestingly, these random associations and bouts of thoughts associated with ADHD can lead to high creativity levels and what many have termed as ‘hyper-focus’. Also, there are some aspects of what many adults with ADHD would term as part of their personality that is heavily tied to the disease and most people would not want to change that, just to manage it.
What is ADD/ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is an executive functioning disorder of the brain that affects both adults and children. It is characterized by difficulty in focusing, impulsiveness/hyperactivity, low tolerance to frustration, disorganization and other symptoms that are chronic enough to interfere with daily life.
Before 1987, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) was exclusively known as Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Even though sometimes the terms are used interchangeably due to their similarity, they are not the same thing. ADD and ADHD refers to two kinds of mental health conditions that impact the ability to learn and stay attentive. The major difference between the two conditions is that ADHD patients portray hyperactivity while ADD patients have the ability to stay calm and peaceful. For the sake of keeping things simple, we will treat the two conditions interchangeably unless specified otherwise.
Patients suffering from ADHD are normally diagnosed with the condition during childhood, between the ages of five and seven where they start manifesting cognitive difficulties. Research now shows that ADHD affects boys and girls differently, with boys more susceptible to the condition. ADD/ADHD usually occur together with other mental conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, chronic depression, and other anxiety disorders. Combined with its complexity, therefore, both ADD and ADHD can be easily misdiagnosed.
Common Symptoms of ADD/ADHD
People affected with ADD/ADHD normally portray certain behavioral symptoms such as;
- Acute restlessness/anxiety
- Talking constantly
- Mood swings
- Lack of focus when handling quiet tasks
- Poor organization skills
- Difficulty in reading social cues
- Being easily distracted, forgetful or bored
Diagnosis and Prevalence
Signs of ADHD may manifest as early as when a child is 3 years old. Nonetheless, most children are diagnosed with the condition by the time they start elementary school. Symptoms of ADHD are often mistaken as disciplinary problems or go unheeded if the child is withdrawn or introverted, hence leading to late diagnosis.
|In the United States alone, 18% of the population is |
living with some kind of anxiety-related disorder.
In the United States alone, 18% of the population is living with some kind of anxiety-related disorder. These people know how hurtful it can be not being able to concentrate and being pushed to finish “simple tasks.”
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions with regard to ADHD, leading people without the condition to often lack the empathy needed to understand those who struggle with its symptoms. Consequently, you will find many children suffering from ADD/ADHD being labeled as lazy, undisciplined or unmotivated, while adults may be blamed for being irresponsible or incompetent for struggling to keep concentration or when they show more emotion than the people around them. Quite the opposite though, most people with ADHD are actually very intelligent, it’s just that they must keep up with many more distractions compared to a normal person. As Dr. Ed Hallowell describes in his best-selling book, Driven to Distraction – Getting The Most Out Of Life With Attention Deficit Disorder, “Having ADD is like having a rocket ship brain but with bicycle brakes.”
|“Having ADD is like having a rocket ship brain but with bicycle brakes.”|
What Causes ADD/ADHD?
The medical community has still been unable to pin-point the exact cause of ADHD. It is thought that it develops because of a mixture of genetic, environmental and even viral and bacterial factors which lead to chemical and structural differences in the brain. Researchers have found specific genes in people suffering from ADHD. The chemical and structural changes mentioned above affect the way the brain sends its signals, especially in the parts of the brain associated with attention, reward and consequences.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and performed on twins, they found a 75% chance that ADD is genetic in nature. Primarily, scientists have established that most of the genes associated with ADD are also involved with the dopaminergic signaling system. This system is controlled partially by compounds found in the endocannabinoid system, for example, anandamide. Trauma and infection to the brain at an early age have also been shown to have an impact on ADD based on a different study.
|Patients suffering from ADD have been observed to have |
low dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex of their brains.
Patients suffering from ADD have been observed to have low dopamine levels in their prefrontal cortex of their brains. Dopamine is an organic chemical responsible for thought processes such as memory and attention. Dopamine transmits signals between the neurons/nerve cells in the brain. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which medical experts use as a standard for diagnosis, ADD is identified when an individual shows trouble with various mental functions such as being overly inattentive or being hyperactive.
Nonetheless, since describing attention itself is already giving us enough trouble, ADHD is often over or under-diagnosed since it can be interpreted differently by different physicians. Also, girls show different symptoms from boys, making it more complex. Scientists have made some considerable progress, however, trying to figure out what causes the condition and how to cure it. For instance, we already know that dopamine is used for most cognitive functions while another chemical compound, norepinephrine, modulates alertness.
Research has also shown that a good number of patients suffering from ADHD have thinner brain tissue in specific areas associated with spontaneity/impulsivity. As the research goes on, medical experts are also still considering whether ADD is one condition or multiple ones that manifest in tandem. Some suggest that ADD is caused by different factors and hence, should be approached using numerous solutions as well.
Recently, there have been new developments with regards to the alternatives patients might opt for, to control this condition that can impact regular life heavily. In the section below, we will look specifically at how CBD (cannabidiol) oil shows promise as an all-natural solution to many of the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Currently, further research is undergoing to understand more about how hemp-derived cannabidiol and other components in the cannabis plant, such as terpenes, are able to improve the symptoms of patients with various mental health conditions. Research has shown cannabidiol as an effective treatment for many issues related to anxiety, depression, motivation, attention and many more as you can find out on this page.
Current Treatments for ADD/ADHD
If left untreated, ADD can begin to cause serious issues with school work, social scenes and at the workplace. People living with ADD are often frustrated and understand the real difficulties of living with the condition. Treatment for ADHD is normally a combination of behavioral and medical therapy. Through behavioral modification therapies, many patients suffering from ADHD have learned to stay alert, learn coping mechanisms to anxiety and re-direct their line of thinking to positive thought and outcomes. As a result, learned behaviors can help patients with ADHD to overcome some of the challenges brought on by the condition and live a normal life without medication.
The drugs that are being currently used to treat ADD help manage the symptoms, but do not cure the disorder. It gets worse, available treatments may work in some patients, while not in others, hence pushing them to seek for other alternatives. Furthermore, they come with multiple negative side effects that sometimes defeat the whole purpose of taking the drugs in the first place.
That being said, sometimes there is no option but to go for some kind of medication, especially for children who may have a hard time grasping various behavior modification concepts. The big issue is that conventional ADHD medicine have been a source of controversy since they are stimulant-based and come with a myriad of adverse effects, not to mention substance abuse. Due to the complexity involved in diagnosing ADHD and the potential for abuse, ADHD have, therefore, been often over-diagnosed in the past, elevating the social status of these disorders as a symbol of a nation involved intimately with pharmaceutical companies.
Case in example, Ritalin, Adderall and Vyvanse are widely prescribed drugs with stimulants that increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the prefrontal cortex. Second and third-generation drugs such as Adderall and Vyvanse have been shown to be less tolerant with longer-lasting side effects.
As mentioned above, even though these drugs react well with some patients, in others, the drugs only act as fuel that further worsens the feelings of anxiety. These drugs also have numerous negative side effects including: insomnia, nausea, vomiting, problems with the circulatory system, stunted growth, migraines and stomachaches, decreased appetite, rebound irritability when the medicine wears off, convulsions, mood swings, irritability and even hallucinations.
|When the drugs fail, it is time to look for alternatives, |
and recent developments have presented a rather interesting one – cannabis.
The potential of CBD (cannabidiol) as a natural treatment for ADD/ADHD symptoms
When the drugs fail, it is time to look for alternatives, and recent developments have presented a rather interesting one – cannabis.
Certain compounds in the plant have been shown to have the same effects as a prescribed drug, but without the side effects. As a matter of fact, compounds in cannabis are able to treat even some of those side effects such as insomnia, nausea and vomiting caused by pharmaceutical drugs.
Supporters of medical cannabis often cite that it is a completely safe drug that has no established side effects. With more research being completed every day about the medical benefits of cannabis, it is now clear that cannabis is a valuable alternative for managing a variety of mental health conditions as well as pain.
In order to get rid of the “high” effect usually associated with cannabis, companies such as Green Flower Botanicals extract the Cannabidiol from specially cultivated cannabis hemp plants that are less than <.3% THC. They extract the main cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD) as well as minor compounds such as terpenes and other trace cannabinoids that have been shown to have positive medical effects. As a result, they end up with a full-spectrum, whole-plant CBD oil derived from hemp that is safe and non-euphoric. Relaxation without intoxication. This is a huge factor especially when it comes to administering CBD to children.
Currently in the U.S., despite the growing popularity and research of CBD as a support for many neurological and mental health functions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognize, nor has it approved CBD as a treatment or cure for any disease state. It is important to note that while the FDA does not officially recognize the many benefits of cannabidiol, interestingly enough, the US Government holds a patent on cannabidiol as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant. See patent no. 6630507
…the US Government holds a patent on cannabidiol
The endocannabinoid system and how CBD oil works to Treat ADHD
Everyone has what is known as the endocannabinoid system that has receptors everywhere in the body and brain. These receptors play a huge role in controlling some crucial processes such as memory, attention, mood, appetite and even pain. We make endocannabinoids naturally, to activate the receptors, however, other plant based cannabinoids such as CBD can also affect this system. By activating some of the receptors, you can influence how the body reacts to inflammation, pain, temperature, etc.
CBD activates anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory receptors to manage the many of the symptoms of patients with ADD. It also minimizes the activation of receptors caused by THC, hence countering its “high” effects.
Based on a study carried out in 2013 and published in the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse, a lot of patients have resorted to self-medication in order to treat the impulsiveness, hyperactivity and other symptoms caused by ADD. Another German study in 2015 also considered the effect of CBD on 28 male and 2 female ADD patients that could not respond to prescribed medication such as Ritalin. Most of the subjects showed signs of improvement especially in terms of sleep, concentration, and reduction in hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Most systematic studies investigating the use of CBD for treating ADD/ADHD have focused on managing substance abuse rather than curing these mental conditions. However, there is undeniable anecdotal as well as clinical evidence suggesting that cannabis, more specifically CBD, has neurological properties that can help treat symptoms caused by ADHD which causes many patients to self-medicate.
Every day, new evidence is trickling in, especially from animal studies, helping researchers to understand more and more of how CBD works in our brains. The huge number of patients citing improvement after using CBD have also validated its use as a significant alternative. Considering the amount of money spent to treat ADD and other mental health conditions without much result, CBD oil, especially full-spectrum CBD oil may prove to be a game-changer.
- How do I find the right dosage of CBD for ADD/AHD symptoms?
- What is CBD and how does it work?
- What is the endocannabinoid system and why it matters to your health?
The potential of CBD to treat ADD and ADHD continues to be supported by an ever-growing body of research. If you would like to read through the current research visit the ADD/ADHD research page
Dr. Dustin Sulak is a renowned integrative medicine physician based in Maine. He has helped 18,000+ patients and is nationally regarded as an expert on medical cannabis.