CBD and ADHD: What Does Science Say on Using CBD for ADHD Treatment?

cbd for adhd
By Julie Hanahan Updated April 30th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

The adoption and widespread use of CBD products have outpaced research. CBD product claims and anecdotal stories credit CBD as being beneficial for a myriad of conditions. Because of this, many people are interested in using CBD as a therapy for ADHD. Living with ADHD can be challenging for both adults and children, and the data shows that up to 4.4% of adults and 6.7% of children have ADHD.

Many adults have claimed to tackle their ADHD symptoms with CBD products, with varying claims of improvement. But does the research back them up?

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CBD and ADHD: What are the findings?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid produced by cannabis plants. CBD became federally legal in 2018 when the Farm Bill legalized hemp, along with hemp-derived CBD. The US federal government defines hemp as any cannabis plant with a concentration of THC less than 0.3%. Those concentrations produce little to no intoxicating effects.

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, describes an ongoing pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with daily tasks and development. Symptoms follow these groups: inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination. 

Although ADHD in adults and children is widespread, research on its relationship with CBD is in its infancy. 

Researchers have studied ADHD extensively, but CBD is relatively new to medical study. In fact, there are no studies or clinical trials currently underway to study the effects of CBD alone on ADHD.1 

Scientists are interested in the endocannabinoid system as it relates to ADHD treatments. The endocannabinoid system sends chemical signals to receptors throughout the body, regulating both the neurotransmitters in the brain and the biological functions. 

Studies focused on the endocannabinoid system and ADHD and found that dopamine dysfunction might be the underlying cause of ADHD symptoms. Dopamine is a chemical messenger credited with sending reward, satisfaction, and pleasure signals to the brain. When dopamine levels are unbalanced, the symptoms of ADHD (like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness) might be due to problems in how the brain produces or uses dopamine.

Endocannabinoids can modulate dopamine release in specific brain regions. Scientific studies have found that by increasing the levels of anandamide (a type of endocannabinoid), it's possible to counteract both the side effects of Adderall (a medication commonly prescribed for ADHD). Raising anandamide levels leads to a direct release of dopamine in the brain. Essentially, by boosting anandamide, the brain releases more dopamine, which can help alleviate ADHD symptoms and some side effects of its treatments.

Using medicines like Adderall is one way to increase dopamine levels. Another possibility is through the use of cannabinoids in cannabis, including CBC, CBN, THC, and CBG. Each of these cannabinoids elevates the anandamide levels in the brain, releasing dopamine. 

CBD, however, acts on serotonin.2 

Although dopamine is more commonly associated with ADHD, serotonin could offer some relief. 

Serotonin is a mood regulator and works on conditions like anxiety and depression. Since many ADHD patients also have mood issues, this could be a promising area of research. Also, impulsive behavior, as in ADHD, may be triggered by a lack of serotonin. Some existing ADHD medications, like atomoxetine (Strattera), focus on this mechanism.

In further research, if CBD is a successful serotonin enhancement tool, it may be helpful in the treatment of ADHD.

Does CBD Help with ADHD?

Does CBD Help with ADHD

The field of study on CBD and ADHD is small but growing. 

In 2022, a published study from Canada discussed the use of cannabis in treating ADHD. Three patients were authorized to use oral cannabidiol oil CBD:THC (20:1) from a medical source. Each of the patients was permitted to continue the use of their prescribed medications in addition to the CBD oil.3

All three patients self-reported improvements in their ADHD symptoms, and all showed measurable improvement in standard testing for depression, anxiety, emotional regulation, and inattention. 

However, contrary to the study protocol, each patient varied in personal consumption methods. Two patients preferred smoking cannabis as opposed to CBD oil. One patient used a high-THC product with low CBD. (CBD:THC 0:18-19). Another patient reported he did use the CBD:THC 20:1 CBD oil, but when tested after dosing, high amounts of THC and no CBD were found in his system. 

As perhaps occurred in this study, an increasing number of patients are self-medicating with cannabis to treat ADHD. Research on this is also limited, with only two other published case reports of patients receiving benefits from cannabis. One clinical trial was terminated due to difficulty in enrollment. 

Positive reports of relief from ADHD by Reddit forum contributors on cannabis, CBD, and ADHD threads found CBD only and THC/CBD most effective in the treatment of ADHD. Some contributors state they used cannabis/CBD products along with their prescription medication for the most effective results. Another recommended caffeine and CBD. The few commenters who did not find relief for ADHD used CBD, THC, or both. 

These personal accounts and medical studies underscore the need for continued research on CBD for ADHD with standardized products and dosing. 

CBD is federally legal, although some US states restrict its use. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) do not condone the legalization of cannabis, including CBD, until further study. Conversely, the American Heart Association supports the removal of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance (no medicinal value) and approves of medical marijuana but does believe recreational use needs additional study. The World Health Organization states, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD." Nationwide polls indicate consumers are interested in cannabis legalization, yet many health-related organizations are still developing their CBD policies.

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What are the Risks of Using CBD for ADHD?

With the availability of CBD products sold at gas stations and grocery stores, it’s easy to forget that CBD is medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve CBD products, and they cite science, safety, and quality as their reasons. 

Safety and quality concerns address the lack of regulation in the CBD market. There are many reputable manufacturers of high-quality CBD products, but the allure of a booming market brings unscrupulous dealers. Third-party testing of CBD products with a certificate of analysis (CoA) provided protects the consumer in place of FDA approval.  

Determining the product's potency is only possible with independent lab tests. CBD products purchased at a medical dispensary are tested as the law requires. 

For the questions regarding the science, the FDA cites studies that show CBD harms the reproductive health of male rats. They also note that liver damage may occur at higher CBD doses. Both of these concerns are under ongoing research efforts.

Additional animal and human tests raise similar questions and note unwanted side effects that CBD can produce.4 These side effects may include:

Less concerning but uncomfortable side effects of CBD may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth

Like all treatments, using CBD for ADHD comes with its own set of potential risks and complications.

A primary concern is the possibility of drug interactions. CBD shares similar side effects with many other drugs. Combining these drugs with CBD may intensify these effects. CBD may negatively alter the effectiveness and potency of other medications as well, including common ADHD drugs.

Ritalin is an often prescribed medication for ADHD. Also known as methylphenidate or Concerta, it works by altering the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, making it helpful in treating ADHD symptoms. Some individuals report using both cannabis and Ritalin to manage their ADHD, although this is not generally recommended due to limited research. A 2015 study noted possible side effects from combining cannabis and Ritalin included increased heart rate and cardiac distress, drowsiness, and increased hyperactivity.5 

Another prescription medication for ADHD, Adderall, is a central nervous system stimulant. This pharmaceutical compound includes the active ingredients dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. Adderall helps focus, energy, and attention by boosting brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. The direct interactions between CBD and Adderall have yet to be studied.

Self-reported results by users of Ritalin or Adderall and weed indicated few adverse effects. Both medications’ stimulant effects are pleasurable and may lead to overuse. Combining either of these medications can enhance the shared potential side effects, including increased heart rate, dry mouth, and dizziness. For those with an existing heart condition, caution is recommended when combining the two.

Another significant concern is the interaction between CBD and other medications. The Harvard Health Blog notes that CBD can raise levels of certain other medicines in the blood, similar to grapefruit. This interaction can be particularly concerning for individuals on ADHD medications, as it might amplify side effects or reduce the drug's efficacy.

The interactions between CBD and ADHD medications, potential side effects, and the lack of comprehensive research highlight the need to follow medical advice.

Is it Legal to Use CBD for Kids with ADHD?

cbd for kids with adhd

Yes and no. The only legal CBD product for children is Epidiolex, an FDA-approved medication for specific forms of epilepsy to prevent seizures. Though the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp – and CBD along with it – it didn't specify any age restrictions on purchasing hemp products, and there haven't been any subsequent restrictions passed. So, it falls to the states to decide. Some states banned the sale of CBD products to people under 18 or 21, but many don't address the matter at all. 

In some states with medical cannabis programs, CBD use for children may be included as part of the program. Still, its use includes stipulations like the need for a medical card, physician recommendation, parental approval, or a designated caregiver for the purchase and to supervise the administration of CBD. Check current local and state laws on CBD before purchase or use. 

CBD may be legal, but its general safety for children is not confirmed. There is no evidence that the CBD products on the market outside of Epidiolex are safe or effective for children. Prescription Epidiolex has been subject to clinical trials, and reported side effects may include:

  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • General discomfort
  • Rash
  • Interference in how other medicines, including propofol, bupropion, morphine, clobazam, lorazepam, and phenytoin, work.

Despite this, some CBD products are being marketed for children. Parents should consult with their child’s pediatrician before providing CBD products to their kids.

Safety Tips for Using CBD for ADHD

When considering the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for ADHD, safety should always be a top priority. While CBD has gained popularity for its potential therapeutic benefits, it's essential to approach its use with caution, especially when considering it for children or alongside other medications.

Consult a Healthcare Professional: Before starting any CBD regimen, especially for children, consult a pediatrician or healthcare provider. Follow their guidance on appropriate dosages and potential interactions with other medications.

Start with Low Dosages: Begin with a low dose of CBD and monitor for any adverse reactions. Gradually increase the dosage if necessary, but always under the guidance of a healthcare professional. For children, consult with their doctor for dosing recommendations.

Be Aware of Potential Side Effects: While CBD is generally considered safe, it may cause side effects in some individuals. Common side effects include sleepiness, diarrhea, and vomiting.4

Choose Quality CBD Products: Ensure that your CBD product is of high quality and comes from a reputable source. Look for products that provide a certificate of analysis for lab-tested results to verify the CBD content and ensure it contains less than 0.3% THC.

Be Cautious with Other Medications: CBD may interact with other medications, including those commonly prescribed for ADHD. For instance, combining CBD with stimulant medications like Ritalin or Adderall can affect how these drugs work and may increase their side effects.

Monitor for Long-Term Effects: While short-term use of CBD appears to be safe, the long-term effects, especially in children, are not yet fully understood. Continuous monitoring and regular check-ups with a healthcare provider are crucial.

Educate Yourself on State Laws: While CBD derived from hemp with less than 0.3% THC is federally legal, state laws can vary. Some states may have age restrictions or other regulations related to purchasing and using CBD products.

Ask a Budtender: Are There Any CBD Products for ADHD?

cbd for adhd

While it's impossible to recommend CBD products for ADHD with any kind of scientific certainty, patients do report that some products do help, and there are several options available across different product categories. Here's a selection of CBD items that might be beneficial:

CBD Gummies for ADHD

Wyld Strawberry 20:1 Gummies: These gummies offer a 20:1 CBD to THC ratio, providing the potential benefits of CBD with minimal THC content. They're a tasty and discreet way to consume CBD. Made with natural fruit juice!

CBDFx Gummies: If you're looking for a federally legal option with a solid reputation for quality, look no further than CBDFx's gummies. CBDFx has been making highly-rated CBD products for years, and their gummies are a classic in the cannabis community.

CBD Oil for ADHD 

Dr. May Focus 20:1 Tincture: With its impressively versatile formula, you can use this product as a tincture or topical or even cook with it. Plus, it only contains two ingredients: ultra-distilled cannabis oil and organic coconut-derived MCT oil.

NuLeaf Naturals Full-Spectrum CBD Oil: For a high-quality full-spectrum CBD oil available in just about every state, NuLeaf Naturals offers a premium CBD oil that's a clear favorite among users. This easy-to-dose tincture is available in a range of concentrations for people with different tolerances and needs.

CBD Tinctures for ADHD

Yummi Karma - Tincture Just Peachy | 30:1: This tincture is good for all-day relief without the high. A pleasant fruity-sweet taste makes it easy to take!

CBD Flower for ADHD 

Here are some recommendations for strains and the terpenes they contain that may help ADHD based on user reviews:

  • Harlequin – This strain is high in CBD and features myrcene, a-pinene, and b-caryophyllene terpenes. Users report it to provide a clear head with an earthy flavor.
  • Green Crack – Green Crack is a strain reported to provide a cerebral, energizing high. With mood-improving linalool, it can help increase focus and creativity.
  • ACDC – This strain is known for its high CBD content, which can also help to improve focus and concentration. Myrcene is the dominant terpene, along with pinene and caryophyllene.
  • Sour Diesel – Sour Diesel is a citrusy strain that provides an uplifting, energetic high. Limonene can help increase focus and productivity, and it also has myrcene, beta-pinene, alpha-pinene, and camphene in its terpene profile.
  • OG Kush – OG Kush is a strain popular for its relaxing, euphoric high. Myrcene, caryophyllene, and limonene make it excellent for both mind and body focus and concentration.

Chemovars can vary based on grower production. If these strains are unavailable, look for flower with similar terpene and cannabinoid profiles to find a good alternative.

CBD Tablets for ADHD

Level CBD Tablets: Get high-free relief in swallowable scored tablets that promote calm and last through 4-6 hours of daily ease.

CBD Mints for ADHD

Mr. Moxey’s Lavender Mints: Delicious, comforting lavender, valerian root, and passion flower are paired with CBD extract to make these fantastic mints. Melt them on your tongue, or simply swallow the mint to bring calm.

CBD Vapes for ADHD

Nuvata 9:1 Tangerine Vape: The bright citrus flavor in this vape, with terpinolene, myrcene, caryophyllene, humulene, and pinene, finishes the flavor with a reported relaxing focus.

Secret Nature Lemon Diesel Vape Cart: This full-spectrum CBD cart is rich in terpenes, like Limonene, that are thought to boost focus. Secret Nature uses high-quality hemp flower, and their products are third-party tested for potency and contaminants.

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  1.  Kirkland AE, Fadus MC, Gruber SA, Gray KM, Wilens TE, Squeglia LM. A scoping review of the use of cannabidiol in psychiatric disorders. Psychiatry Research. 2021;308(2022). doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2021.114347
  2.  Dawson DA, Persad CP. Targeting the Endocannabinoid System in the Treatment of ADHD. Genetics & Molecular Medicine. 2021;3(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.33425/2689-1077.1006
  3.  Mansell H, Quinn D, Kelly LE, Alcorn J. Cannabis for the Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Report of 3 Cases. Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids. 2022;5(1):1-6. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000521370
  4.  Huestis MA, Solimini R, Pichini S, Pacifici R, Carlier J, Busardò FP. Cannabidiol Adverse Effects and Toxicity. Current Neuropharmacology. 2019;17(10):974-989. doi:https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X17666190603171901
  5.  Kollins SH, Schoenfelder EN, English JS, et al. An exploratory study of the combined effects of orally administered methylphenidate and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on cardiovascular function, subjective effects, and performance in healthy adults. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2015;48(1):96-103. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2014.07.014

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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