ADHD Awareness Month: ADHD in Women - Can CBD help with ADHD?

We know that, in general, womens health is tragically overlooked and misunderstood. In recent years its become apparent that ADHD is one of those conditions which was almost exclusively diagnosed in males - until now.

New research has revealed that women are just as likely to have ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), but our lack of understanding surrounding how it presents differently has led to girls being staggeringly under-diagnosed in childhood.

Now, women are taking matters into their own hands. Clinical Partners, one of the UK's leading mental-health-care providers, reported that some 254,400 women took its online ADHD test in 2021 - 33 times the 7700 women who self-assessed in 2019. Its estimated that around 1 million women in the UK have ADHD, but between 50-75% of those remain undiagnosed. This is bad news, as understanding what having ADHD means, how it might affect your life, and how to manage the symptoms, can be completely transformational in understanding, accepting and loving yourself. 

So, with this in mind, and in honour of ADHD Awareness Month, lets delve a little deeper into identifying this condition (or, as some see it, superpower) in women, and the science behind using CBD for ADHD.

First of all…what is ADHD?

ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK for both adults and children affecting people in their millions - 2% to 6% of the global adult population, in fact, and 5% to 10% of school-aged children. It can impact day-to-day life in many ways and its often missed because it rarely looks the same for two people and the list of potential symptoms is vast, spanning physical and emotional realms. 

ADHD is currently categorised by the CDC as: 

- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organise or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.

- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.

- Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

However, symptoms and therefore often the presentation of ADHD can change over time.

CBD & ADHD: What science is saying

Many people around the world who struggle with ADHD opt for CBD as a supplement. While not a medication unless prescribed, there are now numerous studies researching how the CBD molecule and cannabis as a whole may impact ADHD symptoms.

One 2018 study published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology found that of the 53 subjects aged between 4 and 22 who were treated with orally administered CBD oil over 66 days, 68% noticed an improvement in self-injury, rage and a decrease in hyperactivity. Anxiety also dropped by 47%, but unfortunately increased in 24% of child participants.

Working theories suggest that this may be partly to do with the fact that those with ADHD tend to have lower levels of dopamine - a hormone and a neurotransmitter that plays several important roles in the brain and body. CBD has been shown to directly activate dopamine receptors, which could potentially lead to an increase in this vital chemical – the aim of pharmaceutical stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, that are readily prescribed yet pose a risk of severe or life-threatening side effects. 

Another, study released in August 2020 by UCL researchers has shown that a single, 600mg dose of cannabidiol can significantly increase blood flow to the hippocampus – the region of the brain associated with memory, decision making and emotion – without changing other areas of the brain. This naturally has opened up new potential pathways for further investigation into conditions such as Alzheimers disease, traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ADHD. 

This has been supported by other studies. One in 2019, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology”, found that CBD may dampen hyperactive circuitries in the hippocampus and other parts of the brain. Another in 2017, found that even lower doses of CBD (300mg) appeared to help normalise social deficits and cognitive impairments, protect against hippocampal cell death, and improve cognition.

Further to these exciting discoveries, theres speculation about a wide variety of ways in which CBD could help with ADHD, but because the cause of ADHD is unknown its even more of a challenge than usual to pinpoint mechanisms. There are some very interesting ideas around inflammation, which is thought to be a contributing factor and the role of the ECS in the gut-brain axis. Unfortunately, as most doctors are still not being trained in the endocannabinoid system at medical school, proper understanding and communication about these possibilities between doctor and patient are minimal and often ill-informed. Without making education about the ECS a priority, its impossible to get a full picture of brain health and function, and therefore treatment.

Theres still a very long way to go before CBD and medical cannabis become fully available to people in the UK and studies into using CBD for ADHD are still scarce. But a 2017 clinical trial using UK-approved Sativex (an oral spray containing a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC) sparked hope for many. All 30 adults given Sativex showed improvements in hyperactivity-impulsivity, attention span, and emotional control, while the placebo group did not.

 Anecdotally, theres overwhelming evidence to suggest that CBD and other cannabinoids have a positive impact on ADHD without fear of serious side effects, so its unsurprising that so many people struggling with the disorder are keen to give it a try. 

If you think you might have ADHD, be sure to get in touch with your GP and ask about getting a diagnosis. If youre curious and want to take an informal test online, check out InFlow.