Can CBD Help You Focus?

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The stigma attached to CBD and the compound’s impact on focus

There is a common misconception about the effects of CBD. Given the cannabinoid’s links to Cannabis sativa species, it's often assumed that the compound is counterproductive when people try to tackle lack of focus or concentration.

Many users assume that because THC (CBD’s psychotropic cousin) disrupts focus, CBD will do the same. However, this is not the case. CBD’s chemical structure does not allow it to bind to CB1 receptors—the ones linked to motivation and mood—with the same affinity as THC.

Moreover, in 2018, the World Health Organisation undertook a comprehensive review of CBD. After accessing all the available research, they concluded that “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential”, going on to add that “to date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”.

Now that we know that CBD doesn’t appear to impact our mental capacity negatively, we can explore the question at hand—can it improve our ability to focus? To answer that we need to understand the factors that can affect our capability to concentrate and focus.

Why do we struggle to concentrate or focus on tasks?

It could be something as simple as the radio playing in the background, but when you really need to focus, even the slightest noise can be a distraction. In this scenario, the solution is simple—remove the distraction. However, it isn’t only technology that prevents us from giving tasks our full attention. Lack of sleep, stress, and cognitive disorders can all have a severe impact on our capability to focus.

The effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance is well documented in a review published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. It was found that lack of sleep caused cognitive function to decrease while increasing levels of the neurochemical cortisol. Typically, mild levels of cortisol are useful in facilitating the body’s stress response.

However, a second study, this time from the University of Limburg, found that heightened levels of cortisol also decreased attention. Combine lack of sleep with stress, and it appears you have a recipe for disaster when trying to focus.

What does the research say about the effects of CBD on our ability to focus?

If you're one of the millions of people that not only struggle to get a good night's sleep, but also feel stressed, then it may feel like your options are limited when trying to improve focus. It turns out that researchers also feel remedies are limited and have turned their attention to CBD.

While there aren’t any specific results regarding CBD’s direct impact on focus, there are studies on how the compound affects both sleep and stress. Knowing that these two factors significantly affect our ability to concentrate, their results could prove vital.

Let’s start by looking at the study involving sleep and CBD. Over four days, researchers at The Department of Neuroscience and Behaviour at the University of São Paulo administered 2.5, 10, and 40mg/kg of CBD to adult rats. Results suggest that “acute administration of CBD appears to increase total sleep time, in addition to increasing sleep latency in the light period of the day”.

While these results show promise, not everyone finds it easy to fall asleep to begin with. Stress is a known factor in disrupting our sleep patterns, so what does the research suggest about CBD and stress?

A study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that when stressed rats were administered CBD, they experienced anxiolytic effects through the compound’s mediation of endocannabinoid signalling. While these results suggest an involvement of the endocannabinoid system in managing the body’s stress response, replicating the outcome in human trials is still underway.

What we know about CBD and focus

Based on the evidence outlined above, CBD could potentially prove to be a promising remedy for lack of focus. While the compound cannot help you remove distractions like your phone or a noisy office, it may influence sleep patterns, and the body’s stress response—both crucial factors in restoring focus.

It is important to note that the studies listed above, and several others, are still in pre-clinical or animal model phases, and there is still much to learn about the full impact of CBD. If you’re interested in CBD’s effect on sleep, stress, or focus, you should always consult your doctor first.

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