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Saffron: A Promising Herbal Treatment of ADHD

Saffron may be as effective as methylphenidate.

Recently there has been increasing research interest in the use of saffron (Crocus sativus) to treat a range of mental health problems such as depressed mood, Alzheimer's disease, and anxiety. (Pitsikas and Sakellaridis 2006; Pitsikas et al. 2008; Akhondzadeh et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2010). Though the mechanism(s) of action responsible for the beneficial effects of saffron have not been clearly established they may involve dopamine and norepinephrine and possibly also GABA, the brain’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter.

The findings of a landmark study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology suggest that in addition to saffron’s mood-enhancing benefits, the substance has beneficial effects on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Baziar et al 2019). In the study children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD received either 30 mg of saffron daily or methylphenidate (Ritalin™). Individuals in both groups showed equivalent and significant improvement in ADHD symptoms, and there were no differences in side effects Both treatments were well tolerated.

This is the first randomized controlled trial on saffron in ADHD. More studies are needed to confirm these findings and determine optimal dosing strategies.

All of the above references are listed below.


Baziar, S., Aqamolaei, A., Khadem, E., Mortazavi, S., Naderi, S. et al (2019) Crocus sativus L. Versus Methylphenidate in Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind Pilot Study. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 29:3; 1-8.

Pitsikas N, Sakellaridis N: Crocus sativus L. extracts antagonize memory impairments in different behavioural tasks in the rat. Behav Brain Res 173:112–115, 2006.

Pitsikas N, Boultadakis A, Georgiadou G, Tarantilis PA, Sakellaridis N: Effects of the active constituents of Crocus sativus L., crocins, in an animal model of anxiety. Phytomedicine 15:1135–1139, 2008.

Akhondzadeh S, Shafiee Sabet M, Harirchian MH, Togha M, Cheraghmakani H, Razeghi S, Hejazi SS, Yousefi MH, Alimardani R, Jamshidi A, Rezazadeh S-A, Yousefi A, Zare F, Moradi A, Vossoughi A: A 22-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind controlled trial of Crocus sativus in the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Psychopharmacology 207:637–643, 2009.

Wang Y, Han T, Zhu Y, Zheng CJ, Ming QL, Rahman K, Qin LP: Antidepressant properties of bioactive fractions from the extract of Crocus sativus L. J Nat Med 64:24–30, 2010.

About the Author
James Lake, MD

James Lake, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works to transform mental health care through the evidence-based uses of alternative therapies.

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