Saffron is more than just a dietary spice. It’s been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and research suggests it may have modern applications for the treatment of ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions seen in children. It features symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity that can affect interpersonal relationships and daily function.

Many people diagnosed with ADHD, including adults, benefit from medications that help reduce symptoms and improve focus.

A growing body of research suggests some of those benefits may also be possible through the use of the natural spice, saffron.

To date, there haven’t been any large-scale studies showing that saffron can effectively reduce ADHD symptoms.

That doesn’t mean saffron is ineffective in ADHD, though. A number of smaller studies suggest saffron holds promise as a solo therapy and as a complementary therapy to enhance the benefits of typical ADHD medications such as methylphenidate.

Methylphenidate, known by the brand names like Ritalin and Concerta, is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for the treatment of ADHD. It belongs to a class of drugs called central nervous system stimulants, which work by regulating chemicals in your brain thought to underlie ADHD symptoms.

In 2019, a landmark pilot study brought saffron versus methylphenidate to the attention of the ADHD community. Researchers found that 20–30 mg of saffron a day for a period of 6 weeks was comparable to treatment with methylphenidate for symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity.

Since that time, more research has emerged supporting the benefits of saffron for ADHD.

A 2022 study found saffron was more effective than methylphenidate for reducing ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity, though methylphenidate was more effective for inattention symptoms.

Both therapies improved the number of hours slept among participants, which is a common challenge in ADHD, but only saffron helped with falling asleep.

When saffron and methylphenidate were used together in a 2021 clinical trial, the combination was found to be more effective than the use of methylphenidate alone.

These findings were supported by a 2022 clinical trial, which also found that saffron and methylphenidate were a superior combination.

Despite these promising findings, more large-scale research on saffron for ADHD is needed. All of the current studies involved small participant groups of fewer than 100 people.

The exact mechanisms behind why saffron may work in ADHD aren’t clear, but it may come down to neurotransmitters associated with ADHD and the spice’s neuroprotective features.

Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters are thought to play an important role in ADHD and lay the foundation for why stimulant medications are effective. One way saffron may work as a therapeutic agent is by stimulating chemicals in your brain, such as glutamate and dopamine, similarly to how methylphenidate does.

How saffron protects neurological function might also factor in.

A review from 2022 explains that saffron has consistently been shown to have protective effects against neurological disorders. Many of these benefits stem from the spice’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help combat oxidative stress and inflammation.

Oxidative stress is a state of imbalance in your body, where highly reactive molecules called “free radicals” outnumber antioxidants, the substances that help regulate them. Oxidative stress causes damage at the cellular level and can contribute to many disease processes.

According to a 2018 review, using antioxidants such as saffron for ADHD therapy could protect against damage to neurons that may be involved in neurodevelopmental disorders.

As an experimental therapy, there’s no universal dosage for saffron in ADHD. Dietary supplement recommendations vary depending on the supplier and may be as high as 100 mg by mouth, daily.

The 2019 landmark study found that 20–30 mg daily among children ages 6 years to 17 years was effective for symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity as soon as 3 weeks.

The 2022 clinical trial adding saffron to methylphenidate therapy used 15 mg of saffron twice daily for 6 weeks.

Saffron can be purchased in powder form, capsules, or in threads, the hand-picked, dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower.

When taken at the recommended dosage, the safety margin of saffron appears to be high, though more research in humans is needed.

Side effects noted with saffron use include:

  • vomiting
  • vertigo
  • dizziness
  • appetite loss
  • headache
  • bloody urine
  • nausea
  • allergic reaction

Saffron should be used with caution in pregnant people, since it can cause uterine stimulation. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before taking saffron for ADHD.

Saffron for ADHD is an emerging field of research, but evidence is promising. Saffron may help stimulate chemicals in the brain that underlie ADHD, and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help protect neurological function.

Because not much is known about the proper dosage of saffron specifically for ADHD treatment, speaking with a doctor can help you develop a safe therapeutic plan for incorporating this spice.