Using cannabis to treat ADHD: Does CBD work?

While CBD does possess therapeutic potential as a treatment for ADHD, its psychoactive cousin THC cannot be overlooked completely

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), approximately five percent of American children suffer from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Also known as ‘ADHD’, this chronic condition is treatable, but cannot be cured. 

The percentage of children who endure the symptoms of ADHD in the United States could actually be higher, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claiming that the condition inflicts 11 percent of children aged 4 to 17. Children aside, ADHD also affects 4.4 percent of adults in the U.S.

As more research into cannabis’ health benefits begins to emerge, scientists are closely analyzing the plant’s non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) and its potential as a treatment for mental health conditions, neurological disorders and behavioral conditions, such as ADHD. Since this naturally-occurring substance can be consumed without producing mind-altering effects, an increasing number of parents throughout the U.S. and beyond are considering introducing this non-psychotropic medication into their children’s lives and in many instances, their own.

CBD is dissimilar to its psychoactive cousin THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in the sense that it does not cause the consumer to feel high. Instead, CBD can produce a broad spectrum of therapeutic effects, including pain relief, seizure relief, anti-anxiety, better sleep, improved focus, and enhanced mood, to name a few.

Derived from both cannabis and hemp plants, CBD is an up-and-coming ingredient in the medical, health and wellness markets. In fact, out of hundreds of identified cannabinoids, CBD is one of the most heavily researched. However, further research is required to fully determine the way(s) in which this active chemical compound could enhance the lives of ADHD patients.

Nonetheless, an adequate amount of research has already been conducted that points to the benefits of relieving ADHD symptoms in young patients. For example, a 2013 study on ADHD subtype and cannabis consumption found that the majority of over 2,000 study subjects endured hyperactivity-impulsivity when they did not use plant-based medicines. 

Patients who have been diagnosed with ADHD will experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty managing time
  • Trouble paying attention and maintaining focus
  • Inability to multitask
  • Short temper/constant frustration
  • Disorganization and impulsiveness
  • Restlessness

Based on previous studies and clinical trials focused on the efficacy of using cannabis to treat ADHD, scientists have reason to believe that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD can successfully be used to treat the symptoms of ADHD.

A 1995 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry back supported the idea of using cannabis to relieve the symptoms of ADHD. Now, here we are in 2019 and CBD is being more in-depth research than ever before and in 33 cannabis-friendly states, CBD is commonly prescribed as an alternative to over-the-counter medications.

The swelling consumer demographic was somewhat triggered in 2018 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a cannabis-based medication specially developed to treat young children with rare types of epilepsy; Epidiolex is produced by British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals. 

THC may also relieve the symptoms of ADHD

While CBD does boast plenty of therapeutic potential as a treatment for symptomatic relief from ADHD, its psychoactive cousin cannabinoid delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannot be overlooked completely. In a previous study, Sativex a THC and CBD-containing oral spray also manufactured by GW Pharma was administered to 30 adults who suffer from the symptoms of ADHD. 

Based on the outcome of this pilot randomized placebo-controlled experimental study (Experimental Medicine in ADHD-Cannabinoids) the synergistic effects produced by a combination of cannabis’ primary cannabinoids managed to effectively reduce hyperactivity/impulsivity. Not only this, but the “entourage effect” played a role in enhancing the attention span of ADHD patients.

While some skeptics believe that cannabis’ active chemical compounds may actually aggravate the symptoms of ADHD, there is no hard evidence to prove this. The effects produced when a person consumes CBD will differ depending on the individual’s unique biochemistry, such as their age, gender, weight, and genetic composition. 

Although more adults with ADHD are self-medicating using cannabinoids like CBD, not to mention the fact that more doctors are prescribing medical cannabis to patients with ADHD, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. What this means is that cannabis trials are usually limited to animal testing, as opposed to trials involving humans. 

Until changes happen on a governmental level, more randomized controlled trials are necessary for a better insight into the efficacy of using cannabis to treat ADHD.