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Introduction

Through the lens of popular culture, cannabis is rarely viewed as an agent for high mental performance and focus. Nonetheless, a huge number of patients suffering from ADD/ADHD have confessed to using cannabis for the management of their symptoms, with much success. As such, these developments have caught the eyes of researchers who have been trying to look for a correlation between cannabis, more specifically a compound called cannabidiol (CBD) and ADD/ADHD treatment. The following is a summary of CBD for ADD/ADHD studies.

What is ADD/ADHD?

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two kinds of mental health conditions that impact the ability to learn and stay attentive. The two are similar, nonetheless, ADHD patients manifest hyperactivity, whereas individuals with ADD have the ability to stay peaceful and calm. In this article, we will treat the two as the same.

People suffering from ADD/ADHD start showing cognitive problems at around the ages of 5 to 7 years. The initial signs often manifest when the child begins school and shows a lot of trouble understanding simple concepts and relating with other students.

According to research, ADD/ADHD affects men and women differently, with men more likely to be affected. ADD/ADHD typically occurs with other mental illnesses such as, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, chronic depression and other anxiety disorders.

Symptoms

Some common symptoms associated with ADD/ADHD include:

  • Acute restlessness/anxiety
  • Being easily distracted, forgetful or bored
  • Trouble paying attention to details
  • Poor organization skills
  • Impulsiveness
  • Daydreams
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood swings

Causes and Available Treatments for ADD/ADHD

There is much speculation in the medical and scientific communities with regards to the exact cause of ADD/ADHD. Nevertheless, as with many other mental illnesses, scientists agree that some factors contribute to its development.

Largely, scientists now believe that the disorder may be due to lack of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Dopamine is a neurochemical responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells in your brain. Dopamine regulates thought processes such as attention and memory.

Furthermore, on the word of a study performed on twins and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, there is a strong link between ADD and genetics, with up to 70-80 percent heritability. Several risk factors such as smoking/drinking during pregnancy and exposure to toxic environments have also been shown to make a child susceptible to ADD.

Even though the available treatments help manage the symptoms caused by ADD, the side effects can be adverse, not to mention the risks of addiction and substance abuse. One of the biggest issues with current ADD treatments is that, being stimulants, they do not help the patient relax. They also come with side effects such as; nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal cramping, sleep issues, headaches, irritability, mood swings, diarrhea.

Moreover, some patients do not respond to these treatments, pushing them to seek for other alternatives. One of these substitutes that has been making a lot of heads turn is called cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound derived from the cannabis plant, which has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic effects.

Summary of the Research on CBD for ADD/ADHD

If you go ahead and search ‘CBD oil for ADD/ADHD’ or similar keywords, you will get a lot of results, mostly from chatrooms and the comment sections on many webpages. There is a lot of anecdotal and clinical evidence showing that many ADHD patients self-medicate using cannabis products. For instance, one study estimates the prevalence of ADHD in adults seeking treatment for cannabis use disorders to be at between 34%-46%. This begs the question, does CBD for ADD/ADHD really work, or why are so many people with the condition self-medicating? There are not many studies in this field, but let’s look at the few that investigate the relationship between cannabidiol and ADD/ADHD.

One study published in the Clinical Nuclear Medicine observed that ADHD and substance abuse disorders (SUD) frequently occur concurrently. According to previous studies both disorders cause a change of dopamine transporter (DAT) density in the brain, but their neurobiological basis of this phenomenon is not well-known.

Therefore, researchers in this study sought out to compare dopamine transporter density in four groups of subjects consisting of 62 adolescent males: those with ADHD and SUD, patients with ADHD without SUD, those with SUD only, and healthy subjects. The results showed that the test subjects who had ADHD and substance use disorder (SUD) had lower levels of dopamine transporter density in the brain compared to those with ADHD without SUD. Researchers concluded that cannabis and cocaine use may be responsible for these outcomes, which would explain why adolescents with ADHD normally attempt to self-medicate.

Another study published in the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse in 2013 found that people were self-medicating in order to deal with, and manage hyperactivity and impulsivity, some of the two major symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

The study surveyed about 2811 cannabis users to investigate the association between subtypes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cannabis use.The results showed that a larger percentage of users reported more pronounced symptoms of ADD/ADHD when they were not self-medicating. The authors recommended more studies to be done in order to establish a definitive link between the endocannabinoid system and CBD for ADD/ADHD.

Following the recommendations from the 2013 study, German researchers sought to analyze the relationship between ADD/ADHD and treatment with cannabis. The study involved 30 patients, 28 male and 2 female subjects, who had received approval to use Cannabis flowers between 2012-2014 for medicinal purposes. The tests were carried out with regards to the course of disease, effects of self-medication with Cannabis and previous treatment efforts.

In all the considered cases, subjects reported improvements of several symptoms associated with ADD/ADHD, including improved concentration and sleep, and reduced impulsivity. All patients used some form of Cannabis flower. The authors concluded that for adult patients with ADD/ADHD, who experience adverse effects or do not respond well to standard medication, cannabis could be an effective and well-tolerated alternative.

Another study took advantage of a recent novel model designed to evaluate social investigative behavior in Sprague-Dawley rats with MK-801-induced hyperactivity. The model involves physical separation whilst making it possible for the subjects to maintain contact via different social cues. The researchers in this study modified the model to assess locomotor activity of the rats along with social behavior.

Results showed that the rats displayed reduced social investigative behavior, hyperactivity and reduced attention span after being treated with MK-801- (0.3 mg/kg). Interestingly, pretreatment with cannabidiol (CBD) (3 mg/kg) not only normalized social investigative behavior in the rats, but also increased it beyond control levels. Pretreatment with clozapine (1, 3 mg/kg) also normalized social investigative behavior. Both cannabidiol and clozapine showed no effects of pretreatment on impairments to attention span. These findings reinforce the potential therapeutic properties of CBD in tackling some of the symptoms caused by ADD/ADHD and sets the platform for more studies.

Lastly, a group of researchers carried out a qualitative analysis of online forum discussions, commonly known as threads, concerning the effects of cannabis on ADD/ADHD. The scientists considered a total of 268 different forum threads from which they randomly selected 20% to yield 401 different posts.

As per the outcome, 25% of individual posts reported that Cannabis helps with ADHD, compared to 8% which said it was harmful. 5% of the posts reported cannabis to be both harmful and therapeutic while 2% said it had no effects on ADHD. This is the first study to establish such a trend; that cannabis has beneficial effects towards ADD. The authors called for more clinical and systematic research to establish the scope and level of efficacy of cannabis with regard to ADD.

Conclusion

Most systematic studies that have researched the relationship between cannabinoids and ADHD have focused on preventing substance abuse rather than curing ADHD. However, as clearly shown by the available research and anecdotal evidence, cannabis, more specifically the non-psychotropic CBD, contains neurological effects that can benefit people suffering from ADHD, thus causing a lot of patients to self-medicate. There is dire need for more systematic studies to establish the exact extent of benefits that can be accrued from this compound, as well as its mechanisms of action.


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