Can CBD Treat ADHD Symptoms?

UPDATED ON FEBRUARY 12, 2019

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a highly genetic brain-based syndrome that is caused by the regulation of specific parts of brain functions and behaviors. It is not a “one size fits all” type of syndrome. Brain function and related behaviors can be different from person to person.

There are actually three main types of ADHD which include inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and combined:

  • With inattentive ADHD, someone will show enough symptoms of inattention such as being easily distracted but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive.
  • In hyperactive or impulsive ADHD, a person will appear to be always on the go, talk excessively, have difficulty waiting their turn, squirming in their seat, runs around or climbs in inappropriate situations and may also be unable to be quiet and interrupt others. Someone with hyperactivity and impulsivity ADHD will not have inattention symptoms.
  • In combined ADHD, a person will experience all of the above symptoms.

Treatment for ADHD

There are several medications used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. Stimulant medications such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall are most commonly prescribed to help normalize brain activity which helps lessen the symptoms of ADHD.

There are also cognitive behavioral therapies which have been found to be effective. The focus here is to build new skills and coping strategies in order to help create a way to process the emotional and interpersonal effects of ADHD. Often times, patients who are diagnosed with ADHD often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. For many, this may require additional medication or treatment as part of treating ADHD.

CBD to Treat ADHD

CBD is considered a bit of taboo as a form of treatment for ADHD. The main reason for this is the lack of research done on it, and that a lot of sufferers of ADHD are children. There are many public forums on the internet of patients who have been diagnosed with ADHD who share their stories of self-medicating. Often times cannabinoids, including CBD, are discussed. There still is not enough research to fully support the use of CBD as a treatment plan that doctors will prescribe, but there is enough research to support further research to be done on CBD and ADHD.

Researchers believe that CBD acts on the endocrine system by regulating dopamine in ADHD patients to help “normalize” their symptoms. Dopamine acts as a motivational component of reward-based behavior. No one knows exactly what causes ADHD but we have learned that lower levels of dopamine are present in patients diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers believe this may be caused by neurons in the brain having a higher concentration of proteins called dopamine transporters. These protein transporters can prevent dopamine from going on to the next cell, essentially stopping it from getting to where it needs to go. This then lessens the effects of dopamine preventing the patient from experiencing the effect it has on us. Higher levels of dopamine transporters are also linked to ADHD as well. Discovering that CBD can interact with these dopamine receptors brings real hope to other possible treatments.

The Journal of Psychopharmacology published a study in 2012 which focused on the effects of CBD reducing hyperactivity, attention span, and reducing social investigative behavior. This study was conducted on lab rats. They were treated with 3 mg/kg/dose of CBD. The results of using CBD on the rats seemed to  “normalize” the ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity.  The other symptoms did not show a significant change. What the CBD was doing exactly to cause this “normalcy” needs to be further examined.  This study alone is a very promising finding and again supports the need for further research of CBD as a treatment option for ADHD.

In a study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry in London, researchers reviewed the effects of cannabinoids on patients with ADHD. Many patients in this study shared that they self-medicated with cannabinoids and preferred them over their ADHD medications prior to this trial. The trial consisted of randomized placebo-controlled testing. Participants were randomly assigned either the active medication, Sativex, or placebo. Sativex is a synthetic form of cannabis in a spray form.  The results showed an increase in cognitive performance and activity level. Patients experienced improvement with hyperactivity/impulsivity and improvement with inattention. This study provided preliminary evidence which supports the self-medication theory of cannabis use in ADHD and the need for further studies on the endocannabinoid system in ADHD.