Understanding the relationship between CBD and ADHD
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that affects roughly 10% of children and 4% of adults in the United States. Symptoms of ADHD include inattentiveness, difficulty concentrating, organizational problems, and issues with remembering details (1). About 6% of all American children take some form of prescription medication daily to manage the symptoms of ADHD, but is there a possibility that cannabidiol (CBD) can be used as an alternative to these sometimes dangerous pharmaceutical cocktails?
ADHD and Self-Medication
The correlation between ADHD and substance abuse is well documented, but very little is understood about the neurological basis of this co-morbidity. Roughly 25% of patients treated for drug and alcohol abuse suffer from ADHD, and this is thought to be related to the impulsivity inherent in attention-related disorders (2), but a 2014 research study seems to suggest that it might not be that simple (3). Using SPECT scans (a type of nuclear imaging test that creates 3D models of the inside of a subject’s body), researchers discovered that people who suffer from ADHD alongside substance abuse have a much lower striatal dopamine transporter density when compared to people with ADHD who do not have substance abuse issues. In fact, the brains of subjects in the ADHD group with substance abuse co-morbidity more closely resembled the brains of the subjects in the healthy control group. The dopamine transporter is a membrane-spanning protein that regulates the flow of dopamine in the brain. A malfunction in this transporter can cause an excessive flow of dopamine, a condition believed to be related to disorders such as ADHD (4). Many street drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, can change the manner in which this process operates, either by clogging up the protein and inhibiting dopamine reuptake or by reversing the flow of intracellular dopamine. Legal pharmaceutical drugs that are commonly prescribed for ADHD have similar mechanisms to their illegal counterparts. In healthy individuals, these drugs cause euphoria, but in individuals with ADHD, they can cause a feeling of “normalness.” In other words, substance abuse among people with ADHD might be an unconscious attempt to smooth out the brain’s functionality to normal, or near-normal, levels. This compulsion to self-medicate, coupled with the tendency for impulsiveness that is a well-known symptom of ADHD, is a recipe for disaster.
Typical ADHD Treatments
Much has already been written about the side effects and negative consequences associated with long-term use of ADHD medication, so this will only be touched on briefly. The most commonly-prescribed ADHD drugs are dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate, stimulants which can induce a horrifying variety of side effects, including sleeplessness, paranoia, appetite suppression, irritability, heart palpitations, dependency, and even stroke (5). As a result, some people who suffer from ADHD wish to avoid these drugs by seeking out alternative solutions.
CBD and ADHD
It has been suggested that CBD may help the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) to alleviate some of the more serious symptoms associated with ADHD (6). While it won’t eliminate the disorder from the body (there is, in fact, no drug or treatment that is able to accomplish this), CBD can be a very powerful tool, through the supplementation of the ECS, that helps the body control the impulsiveness so common in people with ADHD. This is an extremely important factor to consider in terms of the co-morbidity of ADHD and substance abuse: it may be possible to significantly decrease the tendency toward drug and alcohol abuse in people suffering from ADHD, facilitating better long-term mental health. A 2014 research study conducted at the University of San Paulo in Brazil and King’s College in London concluded that CBD supplementation of the ECS might help the body activate the 5-HT1A (hydroxytryptamine) serotonin receptor, producing anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, which can reduce stress and impulsivity (7). It is also thought that regular CBD supplementation of the ECS can assist the body in regulating its adenosine receptors, which are associated with concentration and focus (8). In that sense, feeding the ECS cannabidiol on a regular basis could help from ruining a person’s life (impulsive behavior, substance abuse, self-destructive tendencies) while a holistic treatment plan is put into practice: a healthy diet, regular exercise, lifestyle changes, and therapy. If CBD is viewed as a vital tool within a holistic arsenal of ADHD warfare, perhaps it could greatly reduce the need for extensive treatments.
CBD and ADHD Conclusion
While there exists very promising potential for the use of CBD supplementation of the ECS as a tool to help relieve symptoms of ADHD, it is important to understand that it will not cure it; but neither will the standard pharmaceuticals that are usually prescribed. With behavioral and attention disorders such as ADHD, one can only attempt to manage the symptoms while dealing with the reality of a permanent underlying condition that is currently too complex for science or medicine to deal with as a whole. Whether or not to use CBD as an alternative to traditional stimulant drugs to help with ADHD is a very serious decision that should be not be taken lightly; however, it is always the right of the patient to make an informed decision about their own health. Consult with a doctor before making changes to your medicinal regimen.