cbd oils for adhd and aspergers

CBD Oil as a Treatment for Autism

Arno Kroner, DAOM, LAc, is a board-certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and integrative medicine doctor practicing in Santa Monica, California.

Cannabidiol , sometimes called CBD, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Since it does not include THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, CBD does not induce a “high.” It can, however, help to reduce anxiety and lower stress levels—symptoms that are common among people with autism.

Currently, there is some evidence that CBD can help to alleviate specific symptoms and improve behavior in children and adults on the autism spectrum, but research into the safety and efficacy of CBD is in its earliest stages.

About CBD

CBD can be derived from hemp or cannabis (the marijuana plant) and is now legal in many states in the United States and in many countries around the world. It can be purchased without a prescription as an oil, tincture, pill, or chewable pill online and is also an ingredient in edibles ranging from coffee to pastries. It comes in many dosages and at many price points.

Claims for CBD range from the realistic to the absurd. Some websites and companies claim, for example, that CBD can cure cancer (it can’t). On the other hand, CBD does seem to alleviate some untractable symptoms of disorders such as epilepsy, sleeplessness, and anxiety—all common issues for people with autism. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.”

In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures, and in some cases, it was able to stop them altogether. Recently, the FDA approved the first-ever cannabis-derived medicine for these conditions, Epidiolex, which contains CBD. CBD is commonly used to address anxiety, and for patients who suffer through the misery of insomnia, studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.”

CBD is not helpful for everyone who uses it, and, in rare cases, it can cause side effects such as sleepiness or nausea.

How CBD May Help People With Autism

Neither CBD nor any other drug can remove or cure core symptoms of autism, which include social communication challenges, sensory dysfunction, and restricted, repetitive behaviors. CBD can, however, help to alleviate disorders often associated with autism such as epilepsy,   anxiety, sleeplessness, and stress.

By relieving the associated disorders, CBD may help reduce some of the most problematic aspects of autism.

For example, it may cause better sleep and lower anxiety (which can reduce aggressive behaviors), fewer seizures (which can lessen stress and make it easier to interact socially), and lower anxiety to make it easier to learn and use social communication skills.

It's also important to note that sleeplessness and aggression are particularly difficult symptoms for parents, who can quickly find themselves exhausted and overwhelmed. Aggression, in particular, is one of the most challenging behaviors common to autism—oftentimes, this is a reason a parent may place their child with autism in an institutional setting.

Research Findings

A few full-scale studies have explored the impact of CBD on children with autism—none, however, have explored its impact on adults on the spectrum. One of the largest such studies took place in Israel. The report includes the following finding:

"In 2014, The Ministry of Health began providing licenses for the treatment of children with epilepsy. After seeing the results of cannabis treatment on symptoms like anxiety, aggression, panic, tantrums and self-injurious behavior, in children with epilepsy, parents of severely autistic children turned to medical cannabis for relief."

The results of the study were encouraging. Most of the children involved saw improvement in anxiety, anger, and hyperactivity.

In addition (and perhaps as a result), they also saw significant improvements in social communication, sleep, and self-injury (a small percentage, however, worsened with treatment). A tremendous bonus is the fact that there were few side effects, and those that did appear (sleepiness and change in appetite) were mild.

Additional studies have provided similar results: CBD has proved to be helpful in a majority of cases in lessening emotional and behavioral issues and can even help to improve social communication skills. These preliminary findings, along with the low incidence of significant side effects, are very encouraging. Studies are ongoing in clinics and research centers around the world.

Before Trying CBD

Given all of the positive findings for CBD and the low risk associated with it, it may make sense to try using it with your child with autism (or trying it yourself if you are an adult with autism). Before buying a bottle of CBD oil, however, it's important to follow these steps:

  • Check with your child's (or your) doctor to be sure that no allergies or sensitivities exist that could cause a reaction to CBD.
  • Check to be sure that CBD is legal in your state, province, or country.
  • Research sources of CBD to be sure the brand you're using is well-regarded and properly licensed.
  • Take careful notes to be sure you have baseline information about your child's (or your own) behaviors and symptoms so that you can make a useful comparison before and after using CBD.

Using CBD

CBD comes in many forms and at many dosage levels. Oils taste somewhat bitter, which is why many people prefer chewable candy-like options; of course, it's important to keep candy-like drugs and supplements out of the reach of children.

In general, it's best to start with a lower dosage. In fact, studies of CBD for other disorders such as migraine suggest that a lower dose may be more effective.

Lower doses are also more easily tolerated than a higher dose.

When you start using any new supplement, drug, or treatment, it's important to be sure your child's doctor is aware of the new treatment and has no concerns about it relative to your child's health as well as let everyone working with your child know that you've started something new and ask them to look for and report any changes in behaviors or skills.

Take careful notes of any changes you see yourself so you can easily review your records to determine how helpful the new treatment really is and keep an eye open for any troubling side effects. Be sure to communicate any side effects to a doctor or healthcare professional immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Children with autism grow and learn every day, simply because they are maturing. As a result, there is no simple way to determine whether a change in behavior or an increase in skills is due to a particular treatment or to ordinary maturation. This reality makes it very easy to see a change in behaviors and inaccurately attribute them to the newest treatment you've tried. By far, the best way to know whether a particular treatment is truly effective is to be rigorous about evaluating your child before and after its use.

To do this, you'll need to create or find and use a numerical scale (1 to 5 for instance) to measure your child's behavior. For example, is today's angry outburst at a level 1 or a level 5? By carefully evaluating the impact of a new therapy, you can eliminate the likelihood that you'll make decisions based on wishful thinking rather than on solid evidence.

CBD Oil and Autism: What Parents Need to Know

Autism is a neurological disorder impacting social skills and development. It affects one in 40 American children today, according to a December 2018 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many children with autism have difficulty interacting with others, and some display unusual patterns of behavior like ritualistic motions. Individual cases of autism fall on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe.

Doctors don’t know the cause of autism, but environmental and genetic factors may play a role. There’s also no cure for autism; however, a variety of interventions (like occupational and speech therapies) can lessen the severity of symptoms. One of the newest and most controversial treatment options is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a natural substance extracted from cannabis.

  • RELATED:Is CBD Oil Safe for Kids?

CBD oil is made without large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical that’s responsible for the psychedelic effects of marijuana – so it can’t technically get you “high.” It has become widely available in health food stores and medical marijuana dispensaries across the country – usually in liquid, cream, or gel capsule form.

In preliminary studies, CBD oil has been shown to improve a variety of physical and mental health conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, ADHD, gastrointestinal illness, insomnia, cancer, and more. And in an April 2018 study of 60 children published in Neurology, a group of Israeli researchers found that CBD oil reduced autism-induced behavioral, communication, and anxiety problems.

Parents across the country have hopped on these findings and starting giving CBD oil to their children. Many claim CDB oil helps regulate emotions, promote better sleep, and control autism symptoms.

As with every new medical breakthrough, though, CBD oil isn’t without drawbacks. According to Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, senior director of the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute, there’s a lack of information about using CBD for behavioral disorders, especially in young children. That’s why Silverman and many other health professionals suggest parents learn the facts before stocking up on CBD oil.

  • RELATED: Signs of Autism in Toddlers

“As parents, we give ourselves the daunting task of fixing everything. When your child is diagnosed with a developmental disorder like autism, the desire to fix things is even more exaggerated,” she says. “Treatment for autism takes time. Parents see CBD oil as this option that can address some of the needs in a way nothing else can.”

But despite how tempting CBD oil may be as an autism treatment, Silverman says it’s “not an intervention with an evidence base.” It’s also not an FDA-approved method for treating autism.

Here are a few more issues surrounding the treatment of autism with CBD oil:

No clinical trial has analyzed the effects of treating CBD oil with autism, so doctors aren't sure about safety. It’s also unclear exactly how CBD is absorbed into the body.

You can't know the exact amount of CBD in your oil. The concentration of ingredients may differ in each batch, says Silverman.

CBD oil products aren’t lab tested in every state, according to the Child Mind Institute, so they could potentially contain THC or other unknown items.

CBD oil may interact with other medications.

Side effects, like drowsiness and dry mouth, may be possible.

Some parents may also wonder about the legal issues regarding CBD oil. Some states allow CBD oil as long as it's derived from hemp, but not from marijuana. Other states outlaw CBD altogether, and some permit it for certain uses. Research your own state's legislation for more details. 

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re considering treating your child’s autism with CBD oil, thoroughly research the positives and negatives. Talk to your child’s doctor – or someone who is well-educated in using CBD oil for medical purposes. And when it comes to choosing products, try finding out how much THC it contains. It's always best to be an informed consumer when making decisions regarding your child's health. 

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.

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.

Research

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
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • 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.  

Considerations

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.