Etiology of ADHD

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in children characterized by impairments in inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

It’s estimated that between 4 and 5% of adults suffer from ADHD and up to 11% of children between 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. It’s suggested that diet, nutrition, environment, genetics, and abnormalities in the metabolism of certain fatty acids may contribute to the development of ADHD. The ADHD brain is different. While the direct cause is unknown, many doctors prescribe stimulant drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin to help reduce symptoms.

What is the Cause?

The etiology of ADHD is generally acknowledged to be complex and multifactorial. Suggested contributory factors have been diet, nutrition, and in imbalances in signaling molecules between neurons.

“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in childhood and has a high comorbidity with other disorders of behavior and mood such as conduct disorder and developmental coordination disorder. At least one-fourth of children with ADHD also have a learning disorder resulting in difficulties with reading, spelling, and writing.”

“There has been increased interest in ADHD as a heritable neuropsychiatric condition linked to pathogenesis of brain dopamine.” It has been reported that “ADHD as an important putative complex subtype of a general condition or umbrella disorder known as reward deficiency syndrome (RDS).” This results in an imbalance in signaling molecules between neurons.

“RDS refers to the breakdown of a cascade of neurotransmitters in the brain in which one reaction triggers another – the reward cascade – and resultant aberrant conduct. At the level of individual neurons, the reward cascade is catalyzed by a number of specific neurotransmitters, each of which binds to certain types of receptors and serves a specific function. The binding of the neurotransmitter to neuronal receptors triggers a reaction that is part of the cascade. Disruption of these intercellular cascades results in aberrant behavior of one form or another in RDS, including ADHD.”

What it isn’t?

ADHD is not the result of too much TV or “bad parenting.”

“ADHD often is blamed on bad parenting, or a “bad” attitude. However, brain-imaging studies have shown that children with this disorder have an underlying neurological dysfunction … In the simplest terms, the brains of these children have yet to come fully ‘on-line.’ It is conjectured that while certain important brain pathways are working normally, cortical regions involved in attention, impulse control, and stimulus integration abilities, have yet to become fully active.”

Stimulants aren’t the only option for your child

Pharmacological treatments using stimulant medications have been the primary treatment for ADHD for decades.

“However, in recent years there has been a growing interest in nonpharmacological treatments to provide an alternative for parents and clinicians looking for alternative or additive treatments.

Children with ADHD often have impulsive and hyperactive tendencies, and this is associated with low dopamine levels. While stimulant medication can elevate dopamine activity, it’s often associated with a slew of side effects including dependency, loss of appetite, delayed growth, tic disorders, and personality changes — all of which can affect your child’s wellbeing and quality of life.

1 Milte, et. al., “Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Acids, Cognition, and Behavior in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Nutrition, (2012) 28; p. 670-677.

2 Blum, et. al., “Attention-deficit-hyperactivity Disorder and reward deficiency syndrome,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2008:4(5) 893-917, pg. 893-917.

3 Blum, et. al., “Attention-deficit-hyperactivity Disorder and reward deficiency syndrome,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2008:4(5) 893-917, pg. 893-917.

4 Blum, et. al., “Attention-deficit-hyperactivity Disorder and reward deficiency syndrome,” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment 2008:4(5) 893-917, pg. 893-917.


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