CBD vs Adderall: What’s more Effective for ADHD?

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A persistent question asked by the Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder community is what will help me focus? Thus far, scientists have been able to create a variety of synthetic compounds that aim to put that question to rest. One such compound is the widely prescribed amphetamine known commonly as Adderall.

While the consensus among most physicians is that Adderall is the best treatment for ADHD on the market, use and distribution of the drug carries some concerning repercussions. Due to Adderall’s high potential for abuse and dependence, many feel that the drug is one that should be gradually replaced by a safer, healthier alternative.

With the growth of the marijuana industry and our increasing understanding of the cannabis plant, the ADHD community is beginning to seriously consider the use of cannabis oil for ADHD treatment. However, though much research has been conducted on the use of CBD for epilepsy and anxiety, the use of CBD oil for ADD and ADHD treatment has thus far remained largely unexplored. So, the question currently facing the medical community is: does cannabis show promise as a replacement for Adderall and other ADHD medications? While no extensive studies have been conducted, some anecdotal evidence seems to suggest as much and should be seriously investigated further.

What is Adderall and is It Really That Bad?

According to Attitude Magazine, Adderall is a mixture of four different amphetamine salts; dextroamphetamine saccharate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, amphetamine aspartate and amphetamine sulfate. The drug was approved for use by the FDA in the treatment of ADHD back in 1996 and has since become the preferred choice over Ritalin for most patients. The preference for Adderall is due to the drug being longer lasting and having fewer withdrawal symptoms after discontinued use.

What makes Adderall unpleasant are its side effects. Common side effects of Adderall use include; restlessness, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, dry mouth, and changes in weight. Less common side effects include; euphoria, bad taste in the mouth, constipation, and gastrointestinal irregularities. While these side effects can be tough to endure for some, they are not life-threatening and often go away eventually. In terms of the drug’s adverse effects on the brain, Attitude Magazine writes, “there have been 11 reported cases of psychotic reaction from among 7,000,000 prescriptions for Adderall written since 1996.” Keep in mind that these effects are related to those actually suffering from ADD or ADHD, not those who abuse the substance for recreation.

That being said, prescription side effects are not what makes the drug problematic. Rather, Adderall’s habit-forming nature and the increasing market consumption rates point to a growing epidemic. According to American Addiction Centers, “Adderall is part of a wave of prescription medications that are being adapted to illicit purposes.” Adderall sales increased more than 3000% between 2002-2006 and although the ever increasing circulation of the drug is for prescription purposes, the rapid distribution of Adderall has amplified the opportunity for abuse.

Adderall is currently classified as a “Schedule II” drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency and is widely abused by college students studying for their exams. Not only does using the drug for this aim do little in the way of improving grades, it can also result in overdose. Complications from an Adderall overdose include;

         Confusion and Panic

         Fatigue

         Restlessness

         Tremors

         Depression

         Hallucinations

         Cardiovascular Problems

The increased availability of Adderall and the risk it poses to non-ADHD individuals should persuade the medical community to explore researching other treatment options. Due to the cannabis plant’s low risk of dependency, mild side effects from use, and effectiveness in the treatment of other psychiatric conditions, more research must be conducted into the relationship between CBD and ADHD.

Cannabis oil for ADHD: Promising Signs

        Cannabidiol or CBD is a component found in cannabis that works in a supplemental way with natural endocannabinoid receptors in the human body. When ingested, CBD binds with CB1 receptors found in the brain and increases serotonin release without triggering a negative feedback loop. Furthermore, CBD also increases dopamine levels and indirectly blocks the action of gamma-Aminobutyric (GABA). This process results in several effects in the user such as; relief from anxiety, relief from inflammation/pain, improved focus, and improved mood.        

The aforementioned effects of the substance have proven to effectively treat patients suffering from depression, epilepsy, and various anxiety disorders. The use of CBD for ADHD treatment remains broadly unexplored, but there are some small studies that have shown positive results.

As stated, no extensive studies have been conducted, but there are some reported instances of ADHD patients using CBD for focus. For example, according to A Medium Corporation, a self-reported study of 55 separate ADHD related forum threads found that 25% of posters experienced positive results from using CBD to treat their ADHD symptoms, particularly those related to concentration. Another study surrounding the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid medication with a 1:1 THC/CBD ratio, showed that the medication was consistently effective in improving ADHD patient cognition and behavior.

Though these studies do not provide definitive proof regarding the effectiveness of CBD for ADHD, the signs are promising. Moreover, due to CBD’s non-habit forming nature, some researchers have speculated about the use of CBD oil for the treatment of children with ADHD.

Cannabis oil for ADHD Children

Due to the aforementioned dangers of Adderall, safer medications for treating ADHD children are necessary. According to Compassionate Certification Centers, a small number of studies have been conducted into the use of CBD oil for ADHD child treatment.

        In one reported study, researchers divided 64 adolescent males into different groups –some of the boys had ADHD, some suffered from substance abuse problems, others suffered from both, and the last group served as a control. Adolescents with both ADHD and substance abuse problems showed lower levels of dopamine transporter density in the brain, which researchers found can be treated with CBD use.

A second study conducted in 2012 examined the relationship between ADHD and cannabis use. Researchers presented cannabis users with a survey asking them about their ADHD symptoms while on and off CBD. The findings of the survey suggested that cannabinoid receptors play a role in regulating brain function and further that CBD may reduce symptoms of ADHD.

These cases are promising for children who suffer from the disorder particularly because unlike Adderall or Ritalin, CBD does not cause patient dependency nor does it carry a risk of overdose.

CBD oil for ADHD: Concluding Remarks

Due to the novelty of cannabis for mental illness treatment and the infancy of the marijuana industry in general, we cannot state whether CBD can definitely help alleviate ADHD symptoms. Before a conclusion can be made, more studies have to be conducted and a standard CBD dosage for ADHD must be measured. Thus far, what we have gathered are anecdotal accounts and small scale CBD studies that cannot speak to individual use of the substance.

However, with the increase of Adderall and other stimulants out on the market, their high potential for abuse and their ready availability raises some red flags and justifies increased research into healthier alternative medication.

What we know about CBD oil so far is that it is not habit forming, it does not pose a risk of overdose, and with properly regulated doses, it does not cause psychoactive damage. Furthermore, the chemical makeup of the substance and its effect on individuals with depression and anxiety leads us to believe that CBD can be an effective treatment for ADD and ADHD symptoms further down the line.

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