CBD Oil for ADHD: Research, Considerations, and Side Effects
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in cannabis that is purported to have a number of mental health effects. This has led many people to speculate that it might also have potential uses in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Before you decide to try it, it is important to learn more about what CBD oil is, what the research says about what it can do, and what benefits and side effects it might have for alleviating symptoms of ADHD.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is most often diagnosed during childhood. It can cause symptoms including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD oil is derived from the marijuana plant. CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant and mixed with a carrier oil such as hemp seed oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil. Studies suggest that it appears to be relatively safe and well-tolerated, although further research is needed to look at the possible long-term effects.
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different compounds. The best known of these is tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) and it is the most abundant. It is also the substance responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. In other words, THC is what causes people to experience the euphoric high associated with marijuana use.
CBD, on the other hand, is the second most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Although it will not cause the high that TCH will, it does have an effect on the brain and is associated with some mental health benefits, including potential benefits for people who have ADHD.
Reasons to Consider Using CBD
Some people who advocate for the use of CBD oil for ADHD suggest that:
- It might be more effective than some other treatments
- It might have fewer side effects than traditional medications
- Anecdotal evidence suggests it may help with ADHD symptoms
- It may have other mental health benefits
Part of the appeal of using CBD oil may be to avoid some of the side effects that are associated with traditional ADHD treatments.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 70 and 80% of kids who have ADHD experience a reduction in symptoms after taking stimulant ADHD medication, they can cause side effects including sleep issues, decreased appetite, and mood changes.
Before you decide to try CBD oil to treat ADHD, it is important to consider the available research. Most importantly, you should always talk to your doctor before you try any alternative remedies.
So what do the experts have to say? Is CBD oil really effective for treating ADHD? Interest in the use of CBD has largely outpaced the research into its uses, safety, and effectiveness.
While some proponents have made a number of claims, the truth is that research on the use of CBD as a treatment for ADHD is extremely limited. Most of what researchers already know stems from research on the use of smoked or ingested marijuana and not directly on the effects of CBD oil or other CBD products.
Even the available studies on the use of marijuana in the treatment of ADHD is very limited. Many of these studies also rely on self-reported data, which does not provide as much support as a randomized clinical trial.
CBD May Reduce Hyperactivity
A 2013 study looked at cannabis use and ADHD subtypes. The data collected from more than 2,800 participants found that people were more likely to self-report hyperactive-impulsive symptoms when they were not self-medicating with cannabis. This suggests that people who use marijuana to self-treat may find relief for symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.
CBD May Reduce ADHD Symptoms
One small 2017 randomized controlled trial found that adults with ADHD treated with the cannabinoid medication Sativex (which contains THC and CBD) showed a minor reduction in ADHD symptoms with no cognitive impairments. However, it is important to note that these improvements were small and were not enough to demonstrate that cannabinoids were significantly more effective than treatment with a placebo.
A 2020 study found that higher doses of medical cannabis were associated with a decreased use of ADHD medication in adults. The products containing a higher dosage of CBD were associated with lower ADHD scores.
Further Research Is Needed
While such results suggest that cannabis and cannabinoid compounds have promise as treatments for ADHD, they don’t indicate that CBD oil on its own might have an impact on the symptoms of the condition. Further research is also needed to determine the role that the endocannabinoid system plays in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
CBD for ADHD Symptoms
While the evidence that CBD oil might be useful as a treatment for ADHD remains scant, it may be useful for managing some of the symptoms that are sometimes associated with the condition. ADHD is often associated with a variety of co-occurring conditions including anxiety and depression.
CBD has shown promise as a potential treatment for a number of mental health conditions, so it might be helpful for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in people who also have ADHD.
While further research is needed to explore CBD’s effects, some studies have shown that it can be effective in reducing symptoms of a number of anxiety conditions including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. CBD has also been found to have an antidepressant-like effect, which may make it useful in the treatment of depression.
It is important to be aware that much of this research is still in the early stages. More work needs to be done to explore the effects of CBD, what conditions it may treat, and what doses may be the most effective.
If you are thinking of taking CBD, you should also be aware that while it is usually well-tolerated, it may lead to some side effects.
Potential Side Effects
CBD oil may cause a number of side effects. Although many of these symptoms are mild, it’s important to note some of the common complaints:
- Appetite changes
- Mood changes
- Stomach upset
Side effects may be more common at higher doses, although research suggests that CBD appears to be safe and well-tolerated at doses up to 1,500 mg per day. It is also important to note that CBD can impact the metabolism of certain medications.
In addition to the most common side effects, there are also concerns about the potential worsening of some ADHD symptoms. Some of the effects associated with marijuana use are also common symptoms of ADHD.
While CBD oil does not have psychoactive properties, it may also contain small amounts of THC, which could potentially exacerbate some ADHD symptoms.
The memory and attention impairments that are associated with the use of cannabis are one potential concern.
In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), points out many of the potential negative side effects of marijuana use. Among these are impaired attention and memory, problems that can be long-term and become worse with chronic cannabis use.
Another concern is that ADHD can be a risk factor for drug and alcohol misuse. Having impulsive symptoms may cause people to be more likely to misuse cannabis or develop a cannabis use disorder. This presents concerns when it comes to using cannabis or cannabis-related products in the treatment of ADHD symptoms.
Whether the use of CBD oil might contribute to later marijuana use remains unknown. However, marijuana can potentially have negative effects on things like attention and motivation. Young people who smoke marijuana can also experience lasting detriments to cognitive ability and IQ.
Some research suggests that very high doses may pose a risk of liver damage. In a study where mice were given very high doses of CBD, researchers observed that there was an increased risk for liver toxicity. Of course, more research is needed to determine if these same risks apply to humans.
So should you try CBD oil for ADHD? Some important things to remember:
- It shouldn’t be a substitute for other treatments. While there is evidence that CBD may have mental health uses, this does not mean that it is the best option for the treatment of ADHD. There are a number of effective treatments currently available to manage the symptoms of this condition. Until further evidence demonstrates the usefulness of CBD for this purpose, it is better to stick to known treatments that have a solid track record of effectiveness.
- Just because something is perceived as being more “natural” does not mean it is the best choice. CBD oil appeals to some people because it is seen as a natural product. But it is important to remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean that it will be safe. While CBD oil appears to have few or minor side effects in the short-term, researchers still are not sure about any long-term impacts it may have.
- We don’t know if it actually works. The jury is still out on whether CBD might be effective for treating ADHD and answers won’t become clear until further research is done.
- CBD oil and other CBD products are not regulated. When you purchase these products, you have no way of knowing if you are getting what you think you are getting. There are no regulations or manufacturing oversight that allows consumers to feel secure about the purity of the products that they are purchasing.
There are different types of CBD oil to choose from and it is unclear which CBD products might be helpful in the treatment of ADHD. These types vary depending on what they contain. CBD oil isolate contains only CBD. Broad-spectrum products contain CBD as well as other cannabinoids, but not THC. Full-spectrum products, on the other hand, contain CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.
Some research has found that CBD may play a role in counteracting some of the negative side effects associated with THC.
When it comes to ADHD, people who are thinking of trying CBD oil need to understand that there is a major lack of research on the topic. There are no randomized controlled trials that indicate whether it is effective or ineffective. There is also no research comparing CBD oil to other treatments for ADHD.
How to Use CBD Oil
If you decide to try CBD oil for ADHD or other reasons, it is important to purchase it from reputable sources. Products containing CBD are frequently mislabeled, and since there is no federal regulation over these products, it is difficult to know exactly what you are getting.
There is also no research comparing the effects of different forms of CBD. In addition to being available as an oil, CBD can also be purchased as capsules, gummies, sprays, tinctures, candies, beverages, and vaping oils.
Is It Legal?
While CBD is growing in popularity, its legal status varies depending on where you live. All states permit CBD, but many have restrictions based on the THC levels found in the product. It is important to note that while many states have passed laws legalizing CBD and other cannabis products, any product containing more than 0.3% THC is illegal according to federal law.
The FDA has also issued warnings about companies illegally selling unapproved CBD products boasting unsupported claims about their effectiveness in the treatment of ADHD and other conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits manufacturers from claiming that a product can prevent, treat, or cure a disease unless such claims are backed by reliable scientific studies.
The FDA warns that consumers should be wary of such claims. “This is especially concerning when companies are peddling unproven CBD products for use in vulnerable populations like infants and children,” explained FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D.
A Word From Verywell
While CBD oil and other CBD products may show promise for relieving some symptoms of ADHD, there simply is not enough evidence to support using it as a treatment for ADHD. If you do decide to try it, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Your doctor will be able to suggest the most effective and safest ways to help you better manage your symptoms.
CBD oil has been touted as a potential treatment for ADHD, but does it actually work? Learn more about the research, side effects, and safety.
We Give CBD Oil To Our Sons With ADHD
April 16, 2019 Updated March 12, 2021
Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of the author and is not medical advice. Please talk to your doctor before utilizing any treatment(s) for your child.
When our son was diagnosed with ADHD, we were surprised to learn there was an explanation for his defiance. Honestly, we simply thought he was a child who’s rebellion was over the top, compared to other kids his age. But, with the ADHD diagnosis, we learned he also had oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) as well. Apparently, it’s quite common for kids, but mostly boys, to have a dual diagnosis when dealing with mood and behavior disorders. His doctor and therapist walked us down a long road between play therapy, medication, and occupational therapy. It can be exhausting.
My husband and I really struggled with the idea of putting our son on medication. Trust me when I say, we aren’t those parents who believe traditional medicine is the devil. We don’t disagree with that way of thinking either, we just prefer to identify a balance between homeopathic remedies and the need for traditional medicine, if we can. However, the concept of putting our young son on a medication that has addictive trends is not something we settled with easily.
But, we knew we had to entertain and establish a plan before he went into first grade, aside from our sanity. Because after all, our sons’ inability to control his impulses and his anger, were like that of a blender going off without its lid. We wanted to protect our son from the stigmas of children with mental disorders, as well as from bias opinions of the education system with all the technicalities. So, with great reservation, we agreed to our son taking Adderall.
After about a year on the medication, a good friend of mine whose daughter also struggled to find balance with her ADHD and ODD, recommended we consider CBD oil. We had read several articles, including testimonies from adults with ADHD, as well as parents with children fighting the disorder, who had found great success using CBD. It’s unlikely that you haven’t heard of CBD oil and its benefits, but in case you haven’t, CBD is also known as cannabidiol oil. Although it’s not marijuana, it does come from the hemp derivative, which is a part of the marijuana plant. THC is the compound that when ingested gives the euphoric or high feeling in its user. Legally, CBD can only contain a maximum of 0.3% THC, which really is nothing. Hence, the reason it’s legal for us to administer to children.
There is very limited research on whether CBD oil has actually helped kids with ADHD, though there are limited studies where kids and young adults with epilepsy or anxiety have seen improvements. Which is what prompted the discussion around CBD helping patients with ADHD. Recently, there have been small research groups who have concluded that they’ve seen no improvements in cognitive or memory behaviors in children with ADHD consuming CBD.
I am sure, with the growing interest to change the stigma around marijuana and it’s medicinal use, it’s the very cause for the increased enthusiasm around CBD oil and treating medical or behavioral health issues. People want it to work, so they can say, see a marijuana subsidiary saved my child. Either way, because we knew families who were experimenting with their children and found they either could decrease the amphetamine medication, or completely take their child off the medication, we wanted to see if CBD held our “miracle” too.
Let me begin by setting the stage for our experience with CBD oil. Our son is six years old, and his biggest problem is finding the right ways to control his impulses around being angry. Furious actually. He has a very short temper. Naturally, just like any kid his age when he hears the word No, he immediately switches to angers little minion. The difference with our son is he gets physically aggressive. We have two other boys who are younger than him, they observe and absorb everything he does, good and bad. To make matters even worse, our youngest son, who is three, has now began to show even more extreme symptoms of ADHD and possibly ODD. My husband and I made the decision based on the fact that we didn’t want to medicate our three-year-old, and with the circumstances of our oldest son we concluded that it was best to at least try CBD oil for both of our boys.
First, we bought a low-grade bottle of CBD oil at grocery store. We wanted to start out small and with a low milligram to test the effects. From the first drop of sublingual oil, we noticed a slight change in calming effects. That first night both of our boys slept through the night for the first time in months. In spite of the CBD, they both were still struggling behavior wise, but we didn’t expect a miracle overnight. After further research, we found a well known and established CBD product distributor, and made our first big purchase. We bought a variety of sublingual oils and gummies. The package included bottles of 500 mg and 1000 mg CBD.
Based on the available research, which is limited, because it’s still considered a fairly new product, finding the right dosage for each person/child is different. As suggested we started out small. We began with one vial dropper of the 500 mg sublingual CBD for each kid. Over a period of a month we found the right dosage for each one of our boys.
Brennden is currently taking 2 vials of the 500 mg three times a day sublingual, and Junior is taking 2 vials of the 1000 mg two times a day.
We knew we had found the right dosage for them each individually when specific areas of their lifestyles began to increasingly improve.
We have seen such a positive change in both of our boys since we established a healthy routine of CBD oil in their daily regimen. Our oldest son, Brennden, has not been able to stop taking his Adderall just yet, because the medication helps him focus in ways I am not sure CBD oil will ever offer him. Nonetheless, we have been able to reduce his Adderall milligram use per day. CBD oil has been incredible for our family. Not only has it helped our children in many ways, but both my husband and I have been able to use CBD to reduce anxiety, stress, and pain relief. We used to struggle as a unit to find balance and peace, as well as offer support to our children through the highs and lows of these disorders. But not so much these days.
With the combination of support and services of our therapist, the small dose of Adderall and CBD oil our kids experience:
– More balanced moods
– Better eating habits
– Less tantrums and quicker deescalation
– More focus at school which has led to academic growth
– Healthier relationships between friends and siblings
As a family we will continue to pack our days with adventures, mastering our love languages, play therapy, and CBD oil. We have a long road ahead of us, but we have new tools to make that road smoother and maybe a little less red-faced angry. Every day will be different but there is a hope for the future that wasn’t there before, because of CBD.
As a family we will continue to pack our days with adventures, play therapy, and CBD oil. Here's why CBD oil has helped my son with ADHD.