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Attention deficit disorder (ADD) diagnoses have exploded in the last 20 years. As the number of children and adults diagnosed with this disorder increased, so has the concern about the effects of commonly prescribed drugs to treat it. Claims of over-diagnosis, the need to “pacify” energetic and creative children to make them comply with institutionalization, and the relatively unknown effects of strong psychoactive drugs on growing brains have made for eye catching headlines and stories.
The concern is genuine but the available science goes a long way to disprove many of them. However, if safer and more tolerable drugs are found that can help a child grow and learn, they should obviously be investigated to their fullest extent.
This has not yet happened for CBD and ADD. CBD is found in the cannabis plant and has been illegal for most of the last century as a result. The rationale for this is confusing at best, but it is the reality of the legal situation. Because of this prohibition, CBD has not been as thoroughly investigated as some other drugs. The minimal investigation that has been carried out on CBD and ADD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has examined the relationship between cannabis use disorders and ADD and ADHD. Studies painted a somewhat negative view until recently.
There are novel studies investigating other conditions’ responses to CBD that raise hopes and should reassure concerned parents, carers, friends, and doctors. In almost every study ever performed on CBD, it has been found to be a highly tolerable and safe drug, much more so than some commonly prescribed drugs.
The long-term safety profile has not been fully established yet, but indicators suggest that it is good. Exactly how it will affect a growing brain is also not understood, though some countries have legalized CBD for the treatment of childhood and adult epilepsy, so regulators are sufficiently convinced of its safety profile that it can be used to prevent the damage that epileptic seizures do.
For years, the use of cannabis by patients with ADD and ADHD to self-medicate has been widely ignored. However, some preliminary studies in recent years have studied how and why people with attention deficit disorder use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms.
Recent studies into the effects of CBD and THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis) on bipolar disorder have found that it has a broad mood-stabilizing effect. This was surprising to some as cannabis was thought to trigger and exacerbate mood disorders. Because ADD is associated with shifts in mood, focus, attention, and impulsivity, the conclusion that cannabinoids can improve these symptoms in other conditions indicates that they might be effective for ADD. This is far from being proven, however, so caution is advised.
Some of the side effects of drugs like Adderall and Vyvanse are nausea, anxiety, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, stunted growth, and problems with the vascular system. This can make them intolerable to some, even if the desired effects are present. These drugs are widely prescribed and usually work. CBD has proven anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, and anti-insomnia effects. There have been no clinical trials to this effect, but the hope is that using CBD alongside prescribed ADD medications could help reduce the severity of the side effects and even improve symptoms.
Cannabis is the most commonly used self-prescribed medicine for people with attention deficit disorder and ADHD. In one study, a quarter of users reported that their ADHD was therapeutic while only 8% reported negative effects. These stats are from a study that investigated the self-reporting of people on internet forums, so it does not meet the required standards for being conclusive. It does, however, indicate that the use of cannabis, and therefore CBD, does help some people with these disorders.
One study investigated cannabinoids impact on ADHD, finding “significant improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity… a trend for improvement in inattention … activity and cognition”. These are very preliminary results, obtained from one study with 30 adult volunteers, but the data indicate that cannabinoids may be helpful.
The use of any drug, especially with regards to children, should only be undertaken in consultation with a qualified medical professional. Full disclosure of exactly what is being administered is essential if the use of the drug is to be done safely. Matching treatments to symptoms can only be done if the doctor knows and understands what is being taken.
Given the stigma and illegality surrounding cannabis compounds, it might seem like a very bad idea to treat a child with this drug. There are also some studies focused on if children can take cannabinoids safely. There is not yet scientific certainty. Your child’s paediatrician is the best person to make informed decisions about it, and the chances are they will either be wary because of the lack of evidence, or willing to experiment because of the potential effects and lack of serious side effects.
CBD is best taken orally. Vaping and smoking is obviously not recommended for children. Topical application is unlikely to get enough CBD into the bloodstream to have an appreciable effect. Administering the drug sublingually (under the tongue) is ideal as it is one of the shortest routes to the bloodstream. CBD does not have a pleasant taste but is not intolerable. It is much improved when ingested in a gummy bear, or other candy to mask the taste, that the patient can keep under their tongue.
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