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Cbd oil for adhd child research

CBD Oil for ADHD: Research, Considerations, and Side Effects

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

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.

Research

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
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • 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.  

Considerations

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: What Parents Need to Know

Parents are giving it to kids to combat anxiety and other problems. But there are risks, and little research to support it.

What You’ll Learn

  • Is CBD safe for kids?
  • What are the risks of giving kids CBD?
  • Can CBD help kids who have mental health disorders?
  • Quick Read
  • Full Article
  • What do we know about CBD?
  • Concerns about CBD
  • Is CBD safe?
  • CBD oil for anxiety
  • CBD and autism
  • Research boom

Quick Read

These days, you can find CBD everywhere. Some people believe that it can treat everything from chronic pain and cancer to anxiety and ADHD. But is it safe for kids?

CBD is still pretty new, so there’s very little research about its safety or how well it works, especially for children. So far, there’s only one marijuana-derived medication that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s called Epidiolex, and it’s used to treat a rare form of epilepsy in patients who are at least two years old.

Because CBD is so new, there also aren’t a lot of rules about what can and cannot be included in CBD products. So, there’s a huge variety in the quality of products. You may even find different amounts of CBD in different packages of the same product.

Since there isn’t a lot of research about CBD, doctors say there are some risks with using CBD for kids. For example, CBD products may contain things other than CBD, and those things could be harmful. Plus, we don’t yet know if CBD works well with other medications or how much you should give your child.

Although a few studies have found that CBD oil might work for anxiety, they only looked at healthy people who were put in situations that made them anxious. There are no studies yet on people with chronic anxiety. Researchers are also exploring CBD for kids with autism spectrum disorder. The results are good so far, but more research needs to be done before we can know if it’s safe and effective.

CBD is everywhere. From corner stores and bars to medical marijuana dispensaries, it’s being offered for its reputed ability to relieve pain and make people feel better.

Though CBD — full name cannabidiol — is extracted from marijuana or hemp, it doesn’t contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that has psychoactive effects, so it doesn’t make you feel high.

Available in the form of vaping, oils, lotions, cocktails, coffee, gummies — you name it — CBD has been touted as a treatment for complaints as far-reaching as chronic pain, cancer, migraines, anxiety and ADHD. You know it’s gone mainstream when even Consumer Reports has issued guides on how to shop for CBD and tips for safe CBD use.

Not only are adults experimenting with CBD for whatever is bothering them, increasingly parents are turning to CBD to help their kids focus, sleep, calm down and more.

But popular use of CBD is blowing up with very little research into its safety or its efficacy, especially in children. The first and only marijuana-derived drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Epidiolex, is used to treat a rare, severe form of epilepsy in patients two years of age and older. And since cannabis is in the early stages of legalization and regulation, there is a huge variety in the quality and dosage of products — risks associated with using products that have not been vetted by the FDA.

What do we know about CBD?

For millennia, hemp plants have been used for medicinal purposes around the world. In 1851 marijuana was classified by the United States Pharmocopeia as a viable medical compound used to treat conditions like epilepsy, migraines and pain. But since marijuana and cannabis-related products were made illegal in the US in 1970, there has been a dearth of research about either marijuana or CBD. Its classification as a Schedule 1 drug made it nearly impossible to get federal funding to study cannabis.

“The biggest problem is there’s a lot that we still need to know, especially in kids,” says Paul Mitrani, MD, a clinical psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute. “In regards to treating mental health disorders in children and adolescents, there’s a lack of evidence to support its use.”

Dr. Mitrani, who is a pediatrician and child and adolescent psychiatrist, says it’s an area worthy of investigation but recommends that parents wait until further research is done before giving a child CBD.

Concerns about CBD

While anecdotal evidence of the benefits of CBD is common, there are risks associated with using these products, especially in children. Some of the concerns:

  • Products are unreliable in delivering a consistent amount of CBD. They could have less, or more, than advertised, and most do not offer independent verification of active contents. Analysis of products for sale show that many do not have the amount of CBD that they advertise. “So you can’t depend on the quality of what you’re getting,” notes Dr. Mitrani.
  • How much is absorbed? Very little is known about how much CBD is actually delivered to the brain in a given product. Various delivery systems — vaping, taking it orally, eating it in baked goods, etc. — have different rates of delivery. Even the oils that the CBD is dissolved in can result in varying effects. “Effects can vary a lot based on the delivery system used and the amount people are exposed to can be inconsistent,” Dr. Mitrani says.
  • Products may contain things other than CBD, and they could be harmful. Lab testing — which provides information about CBD levels, THC levels (if any), and contaminants in the product — isn’t mandatory for CBD products in every state. Without a CoA (Certificate of Analysis) it’s that much harder to verify the safety of the product. Bootleg CBD may be connected to recent lung illnesses and deaths that have been attributed to vaping. The CDC and the American Medical Association recommend avoiding vaping entirely while the cause of these illnesses is determined.
  • CBD may be safe itself, but it may interact with other medications a child is taking, that are also metabolized in the liver.
  • If it’s used for sleep, Dr. Mitrani worries that while it may potentially help with sleep, “your child may become tolerant to it and possibly experience worsening sleep problems if stopped.”
  • Since CBD use — especially for kids — is a still so new, few people are familiar with dosing for children, so determining how much to give your child would be tricky. Clinical doses versus what you might find at a coffeehouse could vary dramatically.
  • The legality of cannabis products and CBD is still murky. CBD derived from hemp is federally legal, while CBD derived from marijuana plants is subject to the legal status in each state — and remains federally illegal. Meanwhile, the FDA issued a statement making clear that products that contain CBD — even if they are derived from legal, commercial hemp — cannot claim to have therapeutic benefits or be sold as dietary supplements unless they have been approved by the FDA for that use.

Is CBD safe?

Last year the World Health Organization, acknowledging the explosion in “unsanctioned” medical uses of CBD, reviewed the evidence for its safety and effectiveness. The WHO report concluded that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” Any adverse effects could be a result of interactions between CBD and a patient’s existing medications, the WHO noted.

The report found no indication of potential abuse or dependence. “To date there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

As for effectiveness, the WHO noted that several clinical trials had shown effectiveness for epilepsy, adding: “There is also preliminary evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions.”

CBD oil for anxiety

In 2015 a group of researchers led by Esther Blessing, PhD, of New York University, investigated the potential of CBD for treating anxiety. In a review of 49 studies, they found promising results and the need for more study.

The “preclinical” evidence (ie from animal studies) “conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders,” Dr. Blessing wrote. Those include generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and OCD.

The review notes that the promising preclinical results are also supported by human experimental findings, which also suggest “minimal sedative effects, and an excellent safety profile.” But these findings are based on putting healthy subjects in anxiety-producing situations and measuring the impact of CBD on the anxiety response. Further studies are required to establish treatment with CBD would have similar effects for those who struggle with chronic anxiety, as well as what the impact of extended CBD use may be.

“Overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders,” Dr. Blessing concludes, “with need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations.”

CBD and autism

A group of Israeli researchers have been exploring the use of CBD to reduce problem behaviors in children on the autism spectrum. A feasibility study involving 60 children found substantial improvement in behavioral outbreaks, anxiety and communication problems, as well as stress levels reported by parents.

The researchers, led by Adi Aran, MD, director of the pediatric neurology unit at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center, went on to do a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 150 participants with autism. In this trial, just completed but not yet analyzed, patients were treated CBD for three months.

Research boom

In the US, research has been given a boost by changing guidelines and laws. In 2015 the DEA eased some of the regulatory requirements that have made CBD, as a Schedule 1 substance, difficult to study. “Because CBD contains less than 1 percent THC and has shown some potential medicinal value, there is great interest in studying it for medical applications,” the DEA said in announcing the change.

And in approving the first CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, last year the FDA expressed enthusiasm for the research boom that is sure to come, paired with stern words for the flood of marketers of products claiming unsubstantiated health benefits.

“We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products and work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high quality products,” the FDA pledged. “But, at the same time, we are prepared to take action when we see the illegal marketing of CBD-containing products with serious, unproven medical claims.”