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Through the lens of popular culture, cannabis is rarely viewed as an agent for high mental performance and focus. Nonetheless, a large number of people suffering from attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have confessed to using cannabis to manage their symptoms. These reports have caught the attention of researchers who have been trying to investigate the link between phytocannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), and ADD and ADHD symptoms. For a full list of the medical conditions for which CBD may be useful, please consult our research page.
What we know about CBD & ADD and ADHD
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS (Learn more about the endocannabinoid system), is involved in many physiological functions that underlie cognition, concentration, memory, mood and other behavioral characteristics. Individuals suffering from ADD or ADHD often suffer from disruptions in these characteristics. A “self-medication theory of cannabis use in ADHD” has emerged to explain the frequent use of cannabis by individuals with ADD or ADHD.1 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27033880)
Much of the evidence supporting the use of phytocannabnioids as a treatment for ADD or ADHD is observational and is based on reports of individuals with ADD or ADHD who self-medicate with cannabis, in general, or CBD, specifically. For example, a 2014 survey of 2,811 cannabis users with ADHD found that symptoms were less controlled when individuals were not using cannabis. This effect was more pronounced for hyperactive-impulsive symptoms than for the inattentive subtype of ADHD.2 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24093525) A 2015 retrospective study of 30 adults using cannabis to treat ADHD reported that all patients experienced improvements in multiple symptoms, including improved concentration and sleep, and reduced impulsivity. Twenty-two of the 30 patients were able to discontinue use of pharmaceutical drugs.3 (https://www.cannabis-med.org/english/bulletin/ww_en_db_cannabis_artikel.php?id=461) A 2016 analysis of online forum discussions on cannabis and ADHD indicated that individuals consider cannabis a safe and effective therapy for ADHD.4 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27227537)
At least one randomized placebo-controlled trial has been conducted, using a combination of THC and CBD. A 2017 pilot study of 30 adults with ADHD found that these phytocannabinoids were associated with small improvements in hyperactivity/impulsivity, inattention and other outcomes.5 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28576350)
Most research focused on the relationship between phytocannabinoids and ADD or ADHD has examined the risk of cannabis misuse and abuse among those diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. This research is augmented however, by other studies demonstrating positive effects and symptom reduction. There is a dire need for more research, particularly clinical trials, to establish the therapeutic utility of phytocannabinoids in treating these conditions.
Below is a list of available studies concerning the use of CBD, and other phytocannabinoids, in treating ADD/ADHD.
Research and Case Studies on the effects of Cannabis to treat ADD – ADHD:
- Searching for a Neurobiological Basis for Self-Medication Theory in ADHD Comorbid With Substance Use Disorders
- CBD and clozapine reverse MK-801-induced deficits in social interaction and hyperactivity in Sprague-Dawley rats
- Subtypes of ADHD and cannabis use
- Childhood and current ADHD symptom dimensions are associated with more severe cannabis outcomes in college students
- Oral delta 9-THC improved refractory Gilles de la Tourette syndrome in an adolescent by increasing intracortical inhibition
- Fitness to drive in spite (because) of THC
- ADHD Is Highly Prevalent in Patients Seeking Treatment for Cannabis Use Disorders
- A Qualitative Analysis of Online Forum Discussions on Cannabis Use and ADHD
- Cannabinoids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a randomised-controlled trial
- 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?
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.
Some common symptoms associated with ADD/ADHD include:
Being easily distracted, forgetful or bored
Trouble paying attention to details
Poor organization skills
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.
1. Notzon DP, Pavlicova M, Glass A, et al. ADHD Is Highly Prevalent in Patients Seeking Treatment for Cannabis Use Disorders. J Atten Disord. 2016.
2. Loflin M, Earleywine M, De Leo J, Hobkirk A. Subtypes of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cannabis use. Subst Use Misuse. 2014;49(4):427-434.
3. Milz E, Grotenhermen F. SUCCESSFUL THERAPY OF TREATMENT RESISTANT ADULT ADHD WITH CANNABIS: EXPERIENCE FROM A MEDICAL PRACTICE WITH 30 PATIENTS. Paper presented at: 7th European Workshop on Cannabinoid Research and IACM 8th Conference on Cannabinoids in Medicine2015; Sestri Levante, Italy.
4. Mitchell JT, Sweitzer MM, Tunno AM, Kollins SH, McClernon FJ. “I Use Weed for My ADHD”: A Qualitative Analysis of Online Forum Discussions on Cannabis Use and ADHD. PLoS One. 2016;11(5):e0156614.
5. Cooper RE, Williams E, Seegobin S, Tye C, Kuntsi J, Asherson P. Cannabinoids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A randomised-controlled trial. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017;27(8):795-808.
Chief Medical Advisor at Green Flower BotanicalsDr. Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH is the founder and Medical Director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education, and Chief Medical Advisor at Green Flower Botanicals. Dr. Corroon is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, peer-reviewed clinical researcher and industry consultant with a focus on medical Cannabis. He has completed certification programs from both the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine. He is a member of both organizations and serves on the Research committee for the SCC. Dr. Corroon is committed to investigating the important clinical and public health questions resulting from the broadening acceptance of Cannabis in society. He lives in San Diego, California.
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This page has been submitted in cooperation with our Medical Advisor, Dr. Jamie Corroon. Dr. Corroon has reviewed and approved the information contained on this page for general accuracy, authenticity, and relevancy of the stated research. While it is our intent to publish the most up-to-date research available, this review is limited to the material submitted on this page and does not take into account research which may currently exist or supersede this content. This review is for informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine. CBD products are not approved by the FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease. You should always seek the advice of your physician before adding any supplement to your diet.
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