Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of several active compounds found in the cannabis plant.

It’s unclear whether CBD oil can help ease symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Although CBD has established benefits for certain mental health conditions, researchers are still trying to understand its effects on behavioral and neurological conditions.

Here’s what you need to know about the potential benefits, side effects, and more.

Research on CBD as a treatment for ADHD is sparse. Much of what we do know stems from research on cannabis as a whole and not the specific CBD compound.

Symptom management

Cannabis use and ADHD are both independently associated with impaired attention, inhibition, and functioning.

Because of this, many researchers theorize that cannabis use would exacerbate existing ADHD symptoms. However, there isn’t any evidence to support or contradict this.

One 2015 study explored the relationship between ADHD, depression, and marijuana use in undergraduate students. Although the researchers established that some students used marijuana to cope with depressive symptoms, its overall effect on these symptoms was unclear.

A 2013 study on ADHD subtype and cannabis use also posed interesting results. After collecting data from 2,811 current cannabis users, researchers found that people who used cannabis daily self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity when not using cannabis.

More research is needed to truly understand what benefits, if any, CBD may pose in ADHD management.

Substance abuse

Most research is around ADHD as a risk factor for developing substance use disorder.

One 2014 study assessed cannabis use and ADHD symptoms in 376 undergraduate students.

The researchers found that current and childhood inattention were associated with more severe cannabis use and dependency.

They also found that participants who demonstrated hyperactive-impulsive behavior as children began to use cannabis earlier than participants who did not.

A separate 2017 study assessed 197 students of the same age group but looked more broadly at the role of impulsivity in young adults with ADHD and risk factors for alcohol and drug abuse.

The authors concluded that young people with ADHD were more likely to use illicit drugs and alcohol.

When you consume CBD oil, the compounds engage with two receptors in your body. These receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, have a direct effect on specific parts of your body.

CB1 is more abundant in the brain and is directly related to epilepsy. CB2 is more abundant in the immune system. It’s connected to pain and inflammation.

The compounds from CBD trigger your body to use more of the cannabinoids it produces naturally. Your body doesn’t actually use any of the compounds found in the oil.

The uptick in naturally-occurring cannabinoid use may lead to a number of benefits, including decreased anxiety and reduced hyperactivity.

Traditional ADHD medications fall into two categories: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulant ADHD medication is fast-acting and widely used. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of American children use this type of treatment to address symptoms of the attention disorder.

However, stimulant medications aren’t without side effects. These include:

  • insomnia
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • mood changes

Although non-stimulant medications are less likely to cause side effects, they’re still possible.

These may include:

  • upset stomach
  • poor appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • mood changes

Stimulant and non-stimulant medications are prescription-only. You’ll have to see a doctor and undergo regular examinations to continue use.

CBD oil has been shown to be well-tolerated at doses of up to 1500 milligrams per day.

Depending on a number of factors, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours before you feel its effects.

The side effects of CBD oil are considered minimal overall. They may include upset stomach, drowsiness, or changes in appetite or weight. In one study, CBD-cannabis rich extract was shown to increase the risk of liver toxicity in mice. However, the mice in that study received large doses of CBD (via injection).

CBD may interact with a number of different supplements, prescription medications, or over-the-counter drugs. CBD, like grapefruit, also interferes with enzymes that are vital to drug metabolism. Before you use CBD, check to see if any of your supplements or medications come with a "grapefruit warning."

CBD oil may be available without a prescription in locations where it’s legally available.

CBD oil is typically taken via vaping or oral ingestion.

Oral CBD is considered less likely to cause side effects, so beginners may want to start here. You can put a few drops of the oil under your tongue, take CBD capsules, or even eat a CBD-infused treat.

Vaping CBD oil may be beneficial if you need immediate symptom relief. The inhalation process delivers the compounds to your bloodstream much quicker than other methods.

At this time, there aren’t any formal guidelines on how to use CBD oil to treat traditional ADHD symptoms. This includes hyperactivity, fidgeting, and irritability.

Researchers have studied doses for related symptoms, such as anxiety. Although more research is needed, one 2018 study suggests that a single 300-milligram dose may be enough to reduce anxiety.

If you’re new to CBD, you should start with the smallest dosage possible. Gradually increasing your dosage will allow your body to get used to the oil and reduce your risk of side effects.

Some people may experience upset stomach or drowsiness when they first begin taking the oil. Starting with a lower dose may help reduce your risk for these side effects.

Other side effects may depend on the way you use the CBD oil.

Vaping, for example, may cause lung irritation. This can lead to chronic cough, wheezing, and other breathing difficulties.

Your doctor may advise against vaping or other inhalation methods if you have asthma or any other type of lung disease.

If you’re unsure about the potential side effects or how your body might handle them, talk with your doctor.

Because of the stigma associated with marijuana, THC, and CBD, only a few studies or trials have looked at the use of CBD in children. To date, Epidiolex is the only CBD product that's been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children. Epidiolex is a prescription drug used to treat rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

Most reports on CBD in children are case studies or individual anecdotes reported through doctors or researchers.

For example, one 2013 report asked parents in California to complete a Facebook poll about giving CBD oil to their child to treat epilepsy. Nineteen parents reported administering the drug to their child. Side effects included drowsiness and fatigue.

In a similar 2015 Facebook poll, 117 parents of children with epilepsy reported safely administering the product to their child. These parents reported improvements in sleep, alertness, and mood with regular CBD use.

Like these polls, many of the individual testimonials around the use of CBD oil in children are specific to epilepsy. Some reports have focused on conditions such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, that doesn’t mean that CBD can’t be used to treat symptoms of ADHD. It just hasn’t been studied specifically for this use.

If you think CBD might ease your child’s symptoms, talk with their doctor. You can discuss the possible risks and rewards.

CBD isn’t the same thing as medicinal marijuana.

Although CBD oils are made from cannabis, they don’t always contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the component that makes users feel “high” or “stoned” when smoking marijuana.

There are two types of CBD strains widely available on the market: dominant and rich. CBD-dominant has little-to-no THC. CBD-rich contains both components in equal amounts.

Even if you select a combination product, the CBD counteracts the effects of THC. You shouldn’t experience any significant psychoactive effects, but be aware that side effects may vary between persons.

Although CBD products are widely available, they aren’t always legal. Make sure you’re aware of any local, state, or federal laws before seeking out the product.

Many types of CBD are derived from hemp products. Because of the 2018 Farm Bill, these products are legal in the United States if they contain less than 0.3 percent THC. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.

Marijuana-derived CBD is only legal in certain states. That’s because these products may contain trace amounts of THC.

Although CBD is less restricted internationally, some countries may have laws regulating its use.

More research is needed before CBD oil is considered a conventional treatment option for ADHD, but it’s worth talking to your doctor if you’re interested. They can help advise you on the proper dosage, as well as any legal requirements.

If you decide to try CBD oil, treat it like you would any other tool for symptom management. It may take some time to work, and you may need to adjust your dosage to better suit your needs.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.