Menu

Is it Safe to Give a Child CBD for ADHD?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 04, 2021

CBD, or cannabidiol, is gaining widespread popularity. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 14% of Americans use CBD for issues such as sleep, anxiety, and pain. A medicine that contains CBD, Epidiolex, is used in children with a certain kind of epilepsy. CBD is being promoted as an alternative treatment for ADHD. You may be wondering if it's a safe and effective treatment for your child with ADHD. 

What is CBD?

CBD is a component of cannabis and medical marijuana, but it's derived from the hemp plant, a cousin of the marijuana plant. CBD by itself won't get you high. It doesn't contain THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that causes you to get high. 

CBD products are available in a wide variety of products, including oil, gummies, vaping, and lotion. Because marijuana and cannabis products have been illegal in the US since 1970, there haven't been many studies done on them. CBD derived from hemp is now federally legal. However, CBD derived from marijuana is still federally illegal.  

Does CBD Help ADHD?

The research into whether CBD helps ADHD is very limited. Most of the available research has focused on cannabis products that also contain THC. 

A small study in 2017 found that adults treated with Sativex, which contains CBD and THC, experienced a small reduction in ADD symptoms with no cognitive impairment. However, the improvement was not significantly better than the improvement with placebo. 

Another study that was done in 2020 found that adults who took higher doses of medical cannabis took fewer ADHD medicines and reported lower ADHD scores.

There is no scientific proof that CBD works or is safe for children. Until there is some proof that CBD is safe or effective to treat ADD, stimulant medicines such as Adderall are still a better option. There is some evidence that CBD oil may help with anxiety, which some kids with ADHD also have. A 2018 study done on 60 children with autism showed that anxiety improved in 39% of the children.

Is CBD Safe for Children?

There is no evidence that the CBD products on the market are safe or effective for children. The FDA has only approved one CBD product, a prescription drug called Epidiolex that treats seizures associated with certain types of epilepsy in patients older than 1. Epidiolex has been studied in clinical trials. While it has proven to be effective at reducing seizures, it has shown significant risks and side effects including:

  • Elevated liver enzymes
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Sleepiness
  • Malaise
  • Sleep problems
  • Increase in suicidal thoughts
  • Interference in how other medicines including propofol, bupropion, morphine, clobazam, lorazepam, and phenytoin work

Continued

The long-term effects of CBD are not known. CBD oil has not been studied adequately in clinical trials for problems such as ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatricians of Pediatrics does not support any use of medical marijuana products that haven't been approved by the FDA.  

Problems with Unproven Medical Claims

Any CBD products other than Epidiolex making medical claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. They have also not been evaluated to determine the proper dose or for any dangerous side effects or other safety concerns. The FDA has tested the chemical of CBD in some products and found that they did not contain the amount of CBD in which they claimed. 

Continued

Other Safety Concerns

In addition to possible side effects and unproven medical claims, there are some other safety concerns with CBD oil including: 

  • Products deliver an unreliable amount of CBD. There is no way to know how much you're getting.
  • There is no way to know how much is absorbed. Different delivery methods such as vaping, taking it orally, and eating it have different rates of absorption. 
  • Products contain other ingredients that may not be safe. 
  • There is no way to know what dose to give your child. 
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Child Mind Institute: "CBD: What Parents Need to Know."

Contemporary Pediatrics: "Examining cannabidiol use in children."

European Neuropsychopharmacology: "Cannabinoids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A randomised-controlled trial."

Gallup: "14% of Americans Say They Use CBD Products."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t."

Pediatrics Northwest: "Medical Use of Cannabis and CBD in Children."

Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal: "Cannabinoid and Terpenoid Doses are Associated with Adult ADHD Status of Medical Cannabis Patients."

Scientific Reports: "Real life Experience of Medical Cannabis Treatment in Autism: Analysis of Safety and Efficacy."

US Food and Drug Administration: "What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.