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Many people suffer from impulse control issues, especially those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), which falls under the class of Impulse Control Disorders (ICD). With these disorders, the inability to control impulsive behaviors has extremely negative effects on anyone involved.
ADHD is a common yet controversial diagnosis. The hallmark symptoms of impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity can seriously impede the lives of those affected.
As CBD (Cannabidiol) climbs steadily to the top of alternative treatments for many conditions, ADHD may be another that can be added to its list.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is gaining popularity as a tonic of sorts. It’s recorded therapeutic effects from various studies extend far and wide, with positive results in treating pain, inflammation, anxiety and even depression. Although these findings are being recorded both officially and anecdotally further research and study will be needed before a proper treatment can be created. Further more its effect on improving impulsivity means neurological conditions such as ADHD are now being recognized as well.
ADHD and the impulse control issues that come with it are frustrating and detrimental to everyone involved. If you or someone you know struggle with impulsivity, you’re probably very familiar with the conflict and hopelessness it brings.
What is CBD (Cannabidiol)?
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a compound known as a cannabinoid that is extracted from plants belonging to the cannabis family. Medicinal CBD can be different as it is usually derived from industrial hemp. CBD, unlike other cannabinoids like THC, is non-psychoactive. This means it doesn’t produce the “high” that is usually associated with cannabinoid use.
Due to its unique actions within the body, CBD is being tested, both officially and by those who self medicate, to treat a vast number of conditions, including:
The body of research is growing as scientists and doctors try to understand the mechanisms of cannabidiol’s actions. Its therapeutic effects are the result of not one, but many different molecular pathways used by the compound. These pathways are found in the endocannabinoid system but further research is still being carried out to learn more about this system and how CBD interacts with it. This is to not only discover how it can be beneficial but to also find out about any harmful potential side effects.
Impulse Control Disorders are a group of disorders that are marked by impulsivity. Impulsivity is the inability or failure to resist an urge, temptation, or impulse. For example the need to “press a red button” or do something you are being told not to do. The list is long for disorders that involve impulsivity. They include:
All of these are characterized by problems in maintaining self-control behaviorally and emotionally.
Impulsivity, or lack of impulse control, generally follows the same pattern. There is:
Those who do not suffer from impulse control issues can manage urges and impulses effectively. The key to self-control seems to be within our brain’s large prefrontal cortex. It gives us the ability to control impulses so that we can plan ahead, consider better alternatives, and avoid giving in to potentially destructive or unproductive behaviors.
But what exactly happens in the brain that allows us to control primitive responses? And what goes wrong for those who cannot seem to avoid giving in to their impulses? The answers seem to lie in our intricate systems of neurotransmitters, receptors, and influencing chemicals that comprise our nervous system’s signaling.
Our entire nervous system is devoted to sending crucial information from the brain to the body and vice versa. In the brain, signals are sent from neuron to neuron, giving us the ability to think, remember, and function.
Neurotransmitters function as messengers in the nervous system. They are chemicals released at the end of nerve fibers. Their release is prompted by the arrival of nerve impulses.
When released, neurotransmitters diffuse across a synapse or junction. This is the space between the nerve and another nerve or tissue. Neurotransmitters enter the space and fit into their proper receptor on the receiving nerve. This diffusion transfers the nerve impulse, signaling the receiving nerve or tissue to take a certain action.
After this diffusion, reuptake occurs. The neurotransmitters are broken down and reabsorbed so that the next impulse can be received.
Neurotransmitters interact with receptors all over the body. This interaction results in the regulation of almost every process. This regulation affects:
When everything is functioning properly, the nervous system keeps a balance by using inhibitory, or calming, and excitatory, or stimulating, neurotransmitters.
The main neurotransmitters for mood and behavior regulation are:
For years, ADHD and impulse control disorders have been treated with stimulants. These work by increasing norepinephrine and dopamine within the synapses. This increase speeds brain activity and allows the person to focus and plan more efficiently.
Many who suffer from ADHD have a slower processing speed. Thus, a stimulant can help with attention span, concentration, and organization.
Those who not only suffer from attention deficit, but also impulsivity, have yet another aspect of neurotransmitter imbalance to deal with.
People who find impulse control especially difficult often have low-activity midbrain dopamine receptors. Under the influence of a stimulant, much more dopamine is released than usual. This can compensate for the sub-sensitive receptors in impulsive individuals.
However, there is another player in the game of impulsivity and ADHD that wasn’t immediately apparent before.
A study carried out using “knockout mice” suggested that norepinephrine and dopamine were not the only neurotransmitters that needed to be addressed in order to treat ADHD and impulsivity.
These mice were given the name “knockout” because the gene that coded for dopamine transporter protein (DAT) had been knocked out. This was the protein that stimulant treatments were supposedly interacting with to even out symptoms of ADHD. Even without DAT, the mice were calmed by stimulants, suggesting that dopamine interaction wasn’t the key factor in treatment.
The mice were next given a drug to deactivate their norepinephrine transport protein. As expected, norepinephrine levels increased after the drug was administered. However, the increase in norepinephrine didn’t alleviate ADHD symptoms in the mice.
Both of these experiments suggested that another neurotransmitter may be at the root of ADHD and impulse disorders. That missing piece turned out to be serotonin.
Low serotonin and serotonin receptors with low sensitivity are usually at the core of anxiety and depressive disorders. Could the same be true for impulse disorders?
In the final experiment, these mice were given Prozac, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Without stimulant drugs that are traditionally used for ADHD relief, these mice were calmed. This confirmed that serotonin played a critical role in impulse control.
Evidence suggests that an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine can lead to impulsive behaviors and other attention disorders.
This is where the therapeutic effects of cannbidiol, or CBD, can come into play.
There is a lot of information available on cannabinoids and their interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) which we mentioned before.
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system of compounds and enzymes that interact with specific receptors throughout the body. These interactions regulate many body functions in an effort to maintain internal balance.
While other cannabinoids such as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, interact directly with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, CBD has entirely different interactions.
Studies into CBD (Cannabidiol) found that it can:
Understanding serotonin’s role in ADHD and impulsivity can explain why CBD is an effective treatment for the disorders.
CBD stimulates a serotonin receptor called the 5-HT1a receptor. Unlike drugs that block this receptor to increase serotonin availability, CBD stimulates the 5-HT1a receptors so that more serotonin can be received.
Increased serotonin has a calming effect on the nervous system. This diminishes many of the responses that are responsible for the impulsive behavior and lack of self-control. Boosting serotonin by stimulating receptors helps keep a balance between neurotransmitters.
CBD differs from pharmaceutical drugs in that it doesn’t carry the same risks for addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms. Sufferers can find relief without becoming vulnerable to future issues.
This is an enormous breakthrough for those living the roller-coaster life that comes with impulse control problems. It gives hope for a life that is free from overwhelming urges, distractions, and destructive behaviors. However, as with any medication or treatment you should always seek professional medical advice from your doctor before using them especially CBD or cannabis based treatments. Although there are promising findings, the extent of long term use of CBD for any condition is still unknown.
Studies backing the safety and efficacy of CBD keep growing in numbers. With so many people being affected by ADHD and impulse disorders, CBD can offer a potentially natural and holistic solution. Those who struggled before can have a normal life and regain their mental health.