Why Is Adderall Administered to Children?
Adderall is an amphetamine—a stimulant—that is prescribed by doctors to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurological disorder, the symptoms of which may become so severe that they negatively impact a child’s day-to-day life. Because it works to stimulate the central nervous system, Adderall is commonly prescribed for ADHD.
Concerns About Using Adderall to Treat Children
Generally speaking, many doctors and parents believe through their experience administering the drug to children, that overall it is an effective way to manage ADHD. Because the doses are relatively low and parents administer the medication for their children, there is little-to-no potential for addiction. However, there are side effects that must be weighed against the benefits, and sometimes the side effects are too severe for a child to continue using.
For a couple of reasons, some health care professionals and parents are concerned about the increased use of Adderall for treating ADHD. First, there are questions about the long-term effects it may have, and there are studies that prove that it alters the brain in children and young adults. Second, as with opioids and benzodiazepines, increased use (or prescribing) of Adderall has led to abuse, especially among adolescents and young adults. While it is not addictive at low, controlled doses, Adderall can be addictive when abused and may have adverse or even deadly consequences.
Could CBD Be a Solution?
Evidence already exists showing that CBD can help adults with ADHD. And while there have been some studies involving children and ADHD, there have not been enough. However, there have been trials for other conditions that find that CBD has an adequate safety profile for children.
In this post, we will look at the efficacy and effects of Adderall and compare them with what is known about CBD and its efficacy and effects on children.
Negative Side Effects of Adderall
Sleeplessness and loss of appetite seem to be the to most common side effects of Adderall. These are two vital areas that can impact a child’s health and well-being. Sometimes the loss of appetite will go away after a couple of weeks. But if not, it could trigger loss of body mass and improper growth. If left unchecked, it would be comparable to leaving anorexia unchecked.
Insomnia is not an acceptable condition for a child. It’s well-known that children need 8-10 hours of sleep a night to thrive. A medication that keeps them awake at night does not seem to be worth the trade-off of better behavior. In fact, it seems it would contribute to difficult behavior.
Other side effects include headaches, stomachaches, tics and emotional problems. The traditional approach to these negative side effects is to weigh the side effect against the reward of the medicine and determine if it is worth it. Wouldn’t it be better if a child didn’t have to accept those kinds of tradeoffs?
Does Adderall Alter the Brain
Although they are increasingly prescribed in the U.S., little research has been done on the effects of stimulant drugs on developing brains. In 2016, researchers found that the stimulant Ritalin had a specific effect on developing brains that could lead to permanent neurological changes. The research explained that a young brain is a rapidly developing system that maintains high levels of plasticity. It could be vulnerable to drugs that interfere with specific transmitter systems.
Studies involving adult animals exposed long-term to stimulant medications show that adaptations by the brain are reversible. In juvenile animals, however, long-term exposure to ADHD drugs leads to lasting and sometimes permanent effects, known as neurochemical imprinting.
The Multimodal Treatment Study of Children With ADHD (Full Text), the most comprehensive trial on the long-term effects of ADHD, showed that six years into the study, medication management was associated with an increase in anxiety and depression.
Increased Use Leads to Misuse and Abuse
In 1990, 600,000 children were on stimulants, usually Ritalin. By 2013, 3.5 million children were on stimulants, with Ritalin largely replaced by Adderall. Consequently, the prevalence of misuse leading to abuse of Adderall has increased as well, especially among adolescents and young adults. It is used in larger than prescribed doses to attain a euphoric high, to curb appetite and lose weight, or to be able to stay awake to study.
Side effects of Adderall abuse include:
- Erratic behavior.
- Vitamin deficiencies.
- Physiological disorders.
- Irregular heartbeat and increased heart attack risk.
- Abnormal blood pressure levels.
Additionally, Adderall consumed with alcohol can give the false impression that one is not becoming intoxicated, which can lead to alcohol poisoning.
Some countries, such as Japan, have banned the drug from even being prescribed.
Can CBD Work for Children with ADHD?
There are a number of medications and behavioral therapies for ADHD patients, Adderall being one of them. However, research has shown that the endocannabinoid system can play a vital role in the treatment of ADHD. A study using mice found that those presenting the symptoms of impulsivity were deficient in CB1 receptors. This implies that an increase in the consumption of cannabinoids is associated with a fall in the intensity of the impulsivity of ADHD patients.
Studies have been done on the effects of cannabinoids on adults with ADHD with promising results. In 2015, researchers in Germany examined the relationship between cannabis (CBD and THC) and ADD in 30 patients, all of whom said they experienced better sleep, better concentration, and reduced impulsivity while using the cannabis products. Finally, a 2017 study looking at CBD oil and ADHD in adults found that the oil improved some symptoms.
But with children, there have not been these kinds of ADHD-specific studies. Therefore, there are concerns about the safety profile and its long-term effects on the developing brain. This is why more research is always needed. However, there have been studies on the effects of cannabinoids on children for other conditions.
A one-year study enrolled 214 children from all across the United States with treatment-resistant epilepsy. They were administered CBD in large amounts – 25-50-mg/kg/day. This dose is equivalent to 500-1000-mg of CBD EVERY DAY FOR A YEAR. The result of the national study showed that CBD reduces seizures by a third while maintaining an adequate safety profile.
These were huge doses, much larger than normally needed to treat other disorders such as anxiety, inflammation, or insomnia. This could help to reassure that if a dose of 1000-mg is safe for a child to take for over year, it follows that much lower doses would be safe as well.
The United States Food & Drug Administration & the European Medicines Agency granted CBD preparations the “Orphan Drug” designation for the treatment of seizures in children with Dravet & Lennox-Gastaut syndromes. They also granted approval for CBD to be used in neonatal asphyxia. That is the medical authorities in the United States & Europe allowing the benefits of CBD to be given to the newborn and pediatric population.
Of course, the above conditions are life-threatening and may demand a different kind of regard than ADHD. However, with the negative, at times dangerous, effects of Adderall, would it not be worth it to investigate the very real potential of CBD to help children living with ADHD.
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Jackson, D. “CBD Oil for ADHD? The Facts About This Popular Natural Treatment.” ADDitude.com. Web. Accessed 3 December 2018. https://www.additudemag.com/cbd-oil-adhd-symptoms-natural-treatment/
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“Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label intervention trial.” Lancet Neurol. 2016; 15(3): 270– 278
“Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial.” Lancet Neurol. 2016 Mar;15(3):270-278