CBD for ADHD:
Can It Help? September 2021

Could CBD be a novel treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Although cannabis-based preparations have shown promise, there is limited research looking specifically at CBD.

Gleb Oleinik March 22, 2021 Affiliate Disclosure Some links are specifically formatted for which we may receive a commission on resulting sales or clicks from affiliate partners (“Affiliate Links”).

Evidence Based
24 references

Checked for Accuracy

Ana Luiza Dias, Ph.D.

Ana Luiza Dias, Ph.D.

Strength of Evidence icon

Strength of
Evidence

CBD could help with ADHD symptoms.
Effect Magnitude icon

Effect
Magnitude

CBD might relieve ADHD symptoms. However, all of the evidence comes from studies using whole-plant cannabis, so it’s difficult to say how much of that is from CBD.
Results Consistency icon

Results
Consistency

CBD might relieve ADHD symptoms. However, all of the evidence comes from studies using whole-plant cannabis, so it’s difficult to say how much of that is from CBD.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a major non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. Many people use CBD products to relieve anxiety, pain, insomnia, and other health issues.

Some also report taking CBD to relieve ADHD symptoms successfully. Unfortunately, there is limited research looking at this topic.

Most of the evidence is limited to whole-plant cannabis, containing multiple cannabinoids and many other active compounds. As a result, it’s difficult to say whether CBD on its own will have the same effect.

Here’s a closer look at what the science says about using CBD for ADHD, potential side effects, and more.

ADHD Overview

Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition that includes difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.

ADHD develops at a young age (usually in children) and persists into adulthood, causing problems with school, work, social interactions, and risky behavior. It’s estimated to affect about 3-6% of adults worldwide. ¹

The parts of the brain that control attention, decision making, and emotional regulation seem to play a key role in the condition.

Researchers believe that a mixture of factors causes ADHD.

First and foremost, ADHD is considered one of the most heritable mental disorders, which means that kids of parents with ADHD have a high likelihood of having it.

There are also many possible environmental factors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use during pregnancy, birth complications, and viral infections. ²

ADHD Subtypes

There are three main subtypes of ADHD:

  • Inattentive: ADHD, where difficulty paying attention is the main problem. This type of ADHD happens in about 18% of cases.
  • Hyperactive-impulsive: ADHD where hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main issues. This is the least common type (8% of cases).
  • Combined: The most common type of ADHD (70% of cases), which involves both inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity-related issues.

 

ADHD Symptoms & Pathology

The most common symptoms of ADHD are difficulty paying attention and concentrating, impulsivity, and restlessness.

Other possible symptoms include disorganization, difficulty completing tasks, forgetfulness, low tolerance to frustration and stress, mood swings, difficulty planning and managing time, and temper problems.

The symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe. In some people, the symptoms improve with age, whereas others need continued treatment.

Can CBD Help With ADHD?

Much of what we know comes from studies of whole-plant cannabis (the marijuana plant) rather than isolated CBD or hemp-derived CBD extracts.

That’s why it’s hard to say if CBD can relieve ADHD symptoms on its own. Still, researchers are optimistic about CBD’s potential.

For example, the authors of a paper that found beneficial effects from a cannabis extract theorized that CBD and THC’s calming effects might counteract ADHD symptoms related to impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattention. ³

It’s also possible that CBD and other cannabinoids can influence the brain processes directly involved in ADHD, such as dopamine neurotransmission.

There’s also evidence that CBD can help with anxiety, depression, and drug addiction — conditions that frequently co-occur with ADHD. ⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷

How CBD Works

Researchers aren’t entirely sure how CBD can relieve ADHD. However, the most likely explanation is CBD’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Made up of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endocannabinoids, and special enzymes, this system regulates many vital processes to maintain a healthy state of balance within the body. ⁸

There’s some evidence that ECS dysfunction is involved in ADHD. For example, one 2011 study found that the system “misfires” in mice with ADHD. ⁹

Another 2008 study found that certain genetic variations of the CB1 receptor gene were associated with ADHD. ¹⁰

The researchers theorized that this receptor could play an important role because it’s abundant in the hippocampus and amygdala — two brain regions involved in ADHD and other mental disorders.

They also noted that the ECS interacts with and influences both dopamine and serotonin — two neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) believed to play a central role in the condition.

The researchers concluded that phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) might help with both ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We know that CBD can support ECS function by reducing the breakdown of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoids made by our bodies. ¹¹

CBD also works in other ways. For example, it interacts with the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor, which is involved in anxiety, mood, and other processes that can be involved in ADHD. ¹²

What Does the Research Say?

There isn’t a lot of research looking at the benefits of CBD for ADHD. Most of the evidence comes from studies of whole-plant cannabis, so it’s difficult to isolate the effects of CBD.

One notable 2017 study looked at the effects of Sativex, a whole-plant, cannabis-based drug that contains equal amounts of THC and CBD, in 30 ADHD patients. They took Sativex or placebo daily for 6 weeks.

The Sativex group had significant improvement in hyperactivity and impulsivity-related symptoms. There was also a trend (but not enough to rule out random chance) towards improving inattention and emotional lability symptoms (rapid, exaggerated mood changes).

A 2015 case series discussed 30 people with treatment-resistant ADHD who used medical cannabis products. All of the patients saw symptom improvement, including better concentration and sleep and less impulsivity. ¹³

A similar 2020 study looked at the link between cannabis dosage and ADHD symptom relief. A total of 59 ADHD patients who used medical cannabis reported their symptoms and dosage (measured in the amount of cannabinoids and terpenes) through questionnaires.14

Cannabinoids treatment reduced ADHD medication use. ¹⁴ In particular, patients taking larger doses and lower symptom scores were more likely to completely stop their ADHD medication.

Another 2016 study examined online discussions of marijuana use for ADHD. The researchers looked at 401 forum posts, which indicated that cannabis can help with ADHD symptoms.

The researchers concluded that there’s a need for “examining the objective effects of cannabis use on ADHD symptoms and associated features.” ¹⁵

There is evidence that CBD can relieve anxiety, ¹⁶ which is one of the most common coexisting conditions in ADHD.

Another 2020 British paper reviewed the evidence for using CBD to manage ADHD. After looking at several studies, the researchers concluded that “Positive effects of CBD on ADHD and other mental health disorders have been found in short-term studies.” ¹⁷

In summary, there’s some evidence that whole-plant cannabis preparations that combine CBD with other cannabinoids and terpenes may be beneficial for ADHD.

However, rigorous studies looking specifically at CBD are needed, since we can’t rule out the effects of THC and other components of cannabis.

Using CBD for ADHD

Out of all the available CBD products, CBD oil is the overall best option for ADHD. It’s cost-effective, absorbed better than capsules and gummies, and has relatively long-lasting effects. ¹⁸

People who prefer immediate relief can also vape CBD but this comes at the cost of shorter duration of effects and potential health risks.

We recommend using full-spectrum CBD products, which carry all of hemp’s cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds. By working in synergy, these compounds produce the so-called “entourage effect.” ¹⁹

That’s why whole-plant cannabis preparations seem to be more effective than pure CBD or THC.

How Much CBD Should I Take for ADHD?

There’s no one-size-fits-all dosage of CBD for ADHD. It depends on many factors, including your unique body chemistry, weight, the severity of your symptoms, and the type of product you’re taking.

The best approach is to start low and go slow. ²⁰ Begin with a small dose (10-15 mg) and wait two hours to see how it affects you.

If you don’t notice any changes, gradually raise the dosage over time until you settle on the amount that gives you symptom relief.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Although CBD can cause minor side effects, research suggests that it‘s a relatively safe substance.

The most common side effects of CBD are: ²¹

  • Tiredness and drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea and nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in appetite or weight

 

However, these effects were only reported in studies using large oral doses of pure CBD.

In contrast, regular CBD users frequently use CBD oil instead of capsules and other oral products, take smaller doses, and often opt for full-spectrum products, which may have a lower likelihood of causing side effects than pure CBD. ²²

CBD can also interfere with enzymes that are needed to metabolize many prescription drugs. ²³ But again, these effects seem to require very large doses.

All in all, the potential risks of CBD pale in comparison to the side effects and addictive potential of stimulant drugs frequently used to treat ADHD.

Conclusion

There isn’t a whole lot of research looking at the use of CBD for ADHD and more high-quality studies are needed before recommending its use. Still, indirect evidence suggests that CBD could improve some symptoms of ADHD.

One of the reasons some people prefer to try CBD is because it’s a natural substance with few side effects. In contrast, prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD can be addictive and lead to serious side effects. They also don’t work for everyone, especially in the long term. ²⁴

We recommend full-spectrum CBD oil as your go-to CBD product for ADHD. You should start with a low dose and slowly raise it as needed.


Gleb Oleinik

Gleb Oleinik is a freelance CBD & cannabis writer from Vancouver, Canada. He’s read thousands of studies about cannabinoids and other beneficial natural compounds, helping him translate complex science into plain language. He’s also written third-party lab test reports of CBD products and knows the industry inside and out. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.