Cannabidiol oil, often referred to as CBD oil, is a product of the marijuana plant. Does it really have any proven benefits for managing ADHD 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.
Is CBD Oil Good For Adhd
Karen Sampson Hoffman
YOU’VE SEEN THE POP-UP ADS or you’ve heard a friend talk about CBD oil as an alternative treatment for ADHD. Every online community and social media platform seems to have someone praising the compound or offering to sell it. But what is it, and does it really have any proven benefits for managing ADHD symptoms?
Cannabidiol oil, most often referred to as CBD oil, is a product of the marijuana plant. The plant family is called cannabis, and cannabis products can include CBD oil along with smoked, vaped, or eaten products. CBD oil is just one of more than 85 compounds in cannabis and is regarded by some enthusiasts as having medicinal benefits.
It is not THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound in cannabis that creates euphoria and delivers the “high” of marijuana use. CBD oil is not supposed to contain any THC, meaning the oil needs to be highly refined to make it suitable for use, and therefore is not a natural product. One reoccurring concern, however, is that some products on the market can have trace amounts of THC present, making them unsuitable for use by children and teens and by any adult concerned about possible addiction.
So what about CBD oil as an alternative approach for ADHD symptom management? Some claim that CBD oil, a cannabis product, can be used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. There is limited research showing an improvement for some people who have epilepsy and some people who experience anxiety who use CBD oil, so it is thought to also have benefits for people with ADHD.
What the research says
Researching CBD oil specifically for ADHD is relatively new. Some research has been conducted on smoked and ingested marijuana for ADHD, and the findings in general either do not indicate a benefit or are inconclusive. For both epilepsy and anxiety, there is more research that shows promise. A new medication made from cannabis for seizures caused by Lennox- Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome was approved by an advisory committee for the FDA, but does not have FDA approval.
. This was a very small sample study of thirty people with ADHD who received a trial cannabinoid/CBD medication. The participants were evaluated for symptom levels and IQ performance on standardized tests. There was insignificant improvement on cognitive function and symptom reduction, and nominal improvement on impulsivity and hyperactivity. The researchers expressed concern that the participants did not follow instructions to avoid all other medications or alcohol use that could have affected the study results. The research authors stated that their results were inconclusive. . This study showed poor cognitive function outcome for young adults who began using cannabis before the age of sixteen, including young people with an ADHD diagnosis. When evaluated for working memory, verbal memory, decision-making and recall, these young users had poor performance on all points. They made more mistakes when asked to complete questions or tasks. Most concerning, the authors write, “Individuals who initiate use of cannabis before age sixteen may be at higher risk for developing persistent neuropsychological deficits because their brain is still developing, especially the prefrontal cortex which is associated with several executive functions including planning, verbal fluency, complex problem-solving, and impulse control, each with its own developmental trajectory.”
- Adverse Health effects of Marijuana Use. A review article for The New England Journal of Medicine by National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, and her colleagues, details the known health effects of marijuana use. THC is a concern for health, as are other components of the plant. Adverse effects include decreased cognitive abilities and exacerbated co-occurring mental health disorders and substance abuse. Dr. Volkow lists several health conditions that might be able to be treated by cannabis products, including chronic pain and inflammation, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. She does not include ADHD as a health concern that can be treated by cannabis products. In fact, she writes, “[H]eavy use of marijuana results in impairments in memory and attention that persist and worsen with increasing years of regular use.”
Not a natural product
Some advocates for CBD oil claim that its effects on the body are gentler and more effective than medications for ADHD because it is a natural product, made from a plant.
The cannabis plant has been selectively grown for generations, and grown in specific conditions, to maximize its different aspects. Industrial hemp is grown for its fibers, which are used for rope and different types of cloth. Another type of industrial hemp is grown specifically for its seeds, which are then used in some foods and in products contain hemp oil.
Contrary to some marketing claims, CBD oil is not made from industrial hemp plants. Hemp for fiber is harvested before the plant is mature, ensuring stronger fibers, and once a plant begins to form seeds, it stops producing cannabinoids to focus its energy into seed production.
Industrial hemp, because of these needs, cannot produce cannabidiol oil in sufficient amounts for commercial use. Instead it is often extracted from phytocannabinoid-rich hemp, which has ideally had THC bred out of it. This plant retains many of the characteristic of the marijuana plant. This plant is a recently developed variant of the cannabis family and only goes back to the 1990s. To the untrained observer, it resembles the marijuana plant.
CBD oil can be made from either PCR hemp or from the marijuana plant because of the similarity between the two variants. In the manufacturing process, the plant is broken into pieces and a chemical solvent, a grain or wood alcohol, petroleum, or naphtha, is used to extract the compounds in the plant. The whole material is decanted and the liquid is mechanically separated, drawing off the oils and resins. The solvent is then reused. There is also a process using carbon dioxide that bursts the plant cells and captures the oils and resins from through a series of filtering chambers. Other extraction methods use heated oils that “cook” both the oil and plant.
The oils and resins are then further refined to separate the CBD from other compounds; this could be a combined mechanical and chemical process. It must also be tested to make sure all THC has been removed, especially when the marijuana plant is used rather than PCR hemp.
The entire process relies on heavily refining the product to make it suitable for human consumption. And the more “pure” the product, the greater the amount of refining it must go through. So while synthesized from a plant, it must go through multiple mechanical and chemical processes to become usable and has very little resemblance to the plant it started from. The more “pure” the CBD product, the less natural it is–the final product does not exist in a natural form. You cannot chew on a leaf of a cannabis plant and receive any benefits from CBD oil.
Thoughts from an expert
John Mitchell, PhD, has heard all about ADHD and cannabis product use. He is a researcher and assistant professor at the Duke ADHD Program. He’s not surprised by the current interest in CBD oil for ADHD symptoms and is not impressed by arguments in its favor.
“There is some efficacy in childhood epilepsy,” he points out, “but when you look at the literature for anything else, especially psychiatric disorders, there’s not strong support to say yes, this should be a go-to treatment, especially for ADHD.”
He says the interest stems from people’s desire to have more choices in treating medical conditions and in the changing perceptions on marijuana use. He points to several states that have made medical marijuana legal and a few states that are considering legalizing recreational marijuana use.
“This interest in CBD is coming out more broadly in these perceptions of lack of harmfulness and the changing perceptions of marijuana use in general,” says Dr. Mitchell. “For a lot of different disorders—PTSD, ASD, some addictions—[some people] are interested because it might have therapeutic effects when you isolate the CBD. But those studies are preliminary. When you look at the published literature on CBD there’s nothing—it’s limited to one study.”
He reminds anyone interested in CBD oil or cannabis products that there have not been the studies showing effectiveness or safety for these products when it comes to ADHD management.
“When parents or adults look into CBD oil for someone with ADHD, it’s not just that there’s a lack of evidence out there right now,” he says. “There have been no treatment studies. There are no randomized trials that show it works. And there are other treatment options available for kids and adults with ADHD. These are unregulated products. If these are not well-regulated products, how do we know that we’re really getting what’s being advertised?”
“When parents or adults look into CBD oil for someone with ADHD, it’s not just that there’s a lack of evidence out there right now,” says researcher John Mitchell, PhD, from the Duke ADHD Program. “There have been no treatment studies. There are no randomized trials that show it works. And there are other treatment options available for kids and adults with ADHD. These are unregulated products. If these are not well-regulated products, how do we know that we’re really getting what’s being advertised?”
What about the question of CBD oil being a more natural option than a medication? It comes from a plant, after all.
“Natural doesn’t necessary means it’s less harmful,” says Dr. Mitchell. “If I were a parent, I would want it to be pure. Which means it’s actually less natural, because it has to be refined.”
Other considerations, he says, include how well-refined a CBD oil might be—are the THC and other potentially harmful components fully removed—and the fact that there are no longer-term studies on CBD oil use for children or adults. He adds that there are well-researched and effective non-medication treatment options, such as parent training and lifestyle adjustments, that are shown to be effective in managing ADHD symptoms.
There is also the question of CBD oil becoming a “gateway” to marijuana use by a young person. Dr. Mitchell says a young adult who took CBD oil as a child might not see the difference between it and marijuana use for symptoms management. Marijuana use has well-researched effects on physical and mental health and can make ADHD symptoms worse, he says.
“The literature shows there are harmful effects,” says Dr. Mitchell. “There are impacts on cognitive ability, motivation. Especially for those who are younger and smoking more, there is an impact on IQ.”
Leaping beyond the data
The research on CBD oil and other cannabis products as a possible intervention for ADHD does not show effectiveness for managing symptoms, and actually shows increased mental and physical health risks. There haven’t been any studies on the use of CBD oil in children; neither have there been studies on long-term effects. So while some people are using it and have shared their results publicly, researchers and medical professionals have not found evidence that it is an effective treatment for ADHD. The research does not show that CBD oil works for ADHD management.
“We don’t want to misrepresent things, and with CBD oil, it is getting misrepresented,” says Dr. Mitchell. “When people say this works for ADHD, this is going way beyond the data. That’s too big of a leap.”
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.
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.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment of ADHD.
Loflin M, Earleywine M, De leo J, Hobkirk A. Subtypes of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cannabis use. Subst Use Misuse. 2014;49(4):427-34. doi:10.3109/10826084.2013.841251
Cooper RE, Williams E, Seegobin S, Tye C, Kuntsi J, Asherson P. Cannabinoids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A randomised-controlled trial. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017;27(8):795-808. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2017.05.005
Hergenrather JY, Aviram J, Vysotski Y, Campisi-Pinto S, Lewitus GM, Meiri D. Cannabinoid and terpenoid doses are associated with adult ADHD status of medical cannabis patients. Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2020;11(1):e0001. doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10384
Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825‐836. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
Sales AJ, Crestani CC, Guimarães FS, Joca SRL. Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol is dependent on brain serotonin levels. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018;86:255‐261. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.06.002
Bergamaschi MM, Queiroz RH, Zuardi AW, Crippa JA. Safety and side effects of cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent. Curr Drug Saf. 2011;6(4):237-249. doi:10.2174/157488611798280924
Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219-27. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1402309