CBD for Focus: What’s the Deal?
Type “CBD for Focus” into Google, and pages of articles will come up proclaiming CBD’s miraculous effects on the brain, one’s ability to focus and get stuff done! But look a little closer… and you’ll notice most of those are blogs from companies selling CBD. Try to dig deeper… and, well, you can’t. A majority don’t contain any outgoing links, and certainly not to any formal research studies.
Nonetheless, you may read about everyone from celebrities to everyday folk sharing their own experiences using CBD for focus. It’s hard to say, though, where the line is between advertising and truth. Pro golfer Morgan Hoffman, diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2016, says, “I haven’t had any injuries, my body feels good, and my brain is clear. I’m more stable and calm on the course”. That sounds great, but since Hoffman and many other athletes like him have endorsement deals with CBD companies, it’s hard NOT to take these claims with a grain of salt.
One study looked at social media to see what users of CBD were saying online and their reasons for use, as compared to what existing research says. Some made comments like, “I will say from my personal experience that hemp flower and oil have really helped my ADHD.” While certainly not everyone interested in CBD for focus has ADHD, it is highly relevant to this conversation, as ADHD is characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Others say CBD helps with their ADHD-based hyperactivity and restlessness, which in theory, if reduced could make it easier to focus. Of course, that is very exciting for anyone struggling with mental focus and ADHD in particular, if true. But… is it?
CBD Focus: What Does the Research Say?
Nothing. Well… almost nothing. There are literally ZERO studies on mental focus, mental clarity or ADHD and CBD. That means everything and anything you read on the internet at this point is anecdotal. That doesn’t mean it won’t help, but it also doesn’t mean it will! At this point, it’s hard to say.
The only study in the neighborhood explored Sativex, manufactured by GW pharmaceuticals, given to a very small group of adults diagnosed with ADHD. It is the first drug to ever be approved by the FDA directly derived from cannabis. However, Sativex contains an equal amount of THC and CBD, which means the results likely won’t apply to CBD alone. Looking at its impact on cognitive performance, there was no statistical difference between the group that took Sativex and the group that didn’t. Importantly, there were no negative effects, but the results are far from a slam dunk.
Duke University researcher John Mitchell, Ph.D is careful to warn, “When parents or adults look into CBD oil for someone with ADHD, it’s not just that there’s a lack of evidence out there right now… There have been no treatment studies. There are no randomized trials that show it works.”
Does CBD Help With Focus?
The science behind CBD and the brain does point to potential for CBD to help, but current knowledge is an itty bitty teeny tiny drop in the bucket of what researchers and physicians would need to understand to recommend it.
Here’s what IS currently known. The endocannabinoid system appears to play a role in executive function, which is essentially your brain’s ability to get stuff done! This study gave THC to healthy volunteers and found their brain’s default mode network (DMN) was more active, which correlated with lower performance on mental tests. Basically, THC failed to make it harder to “deactivate” the DMN to mentally perform. Intriguingly, brains of those with ADHD also have a more active DMN – which suggests the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in ADHD. Though without any studies specifically on CBD for ADHD or on mental focus in healthy individuals, there are far more questions than answers.
Another line of research on marijuana points to CBD’s potential for enhanced brain performance – but again, nothing definitive has been found. What is known is that when individuals smoke marijuana strains that contain high levels of THC, executive function is impaired. But on the other hand, when strains with high levels of CBD are smoked, the brain seems to work just fine! Researchers believe CBD can have “protective effects” against the mental challenges posed by THC.
Another study found those smoking marijuana with low levels of CBD had a higher risk of impaired memory, while those smoking marijuana with high levels of CBD had no problems with their memory. Again, keep in mind that combining THC and CBD likely has a much different effect on the mind than CBD alone, so we can’t say CBD is great for executive function or memory quite yet!
CBD For Focus and Concentration: Should You Try It?
Without any research to say either way, that’s completely up to you! It appears to be fairly safe, so for many there won’t be harm in trying. But on the other end of the spectrum, there may not be any benefit either! If CBD does help you focus, concentrate and get your to do list accomplished, wonderful! If not, well, it may not be you – it might simply be that CBD doesn’t affect the brain that way. If you want to give it a try, it’s ideal to self-experiment and only try adding CBD to your routine without trying anything else new at the same time. Also take note of what’s happening in your life at the time, whether you have a lot more stress or things going on than usual. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of whether and how CBD affects your brain and won’t be confusing the effects with something else. One day research may be able to help you make a more informed decision, but until then, the choice is yours!
Sarah has a Ph.D in Sociology with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona. Her current research spans the fields of trauma, psychology, neurobiology and sociology.