Is cannabis safe for kids?

Kids and cannabis.

For the uninitiated, the combination sounds almost criminal. Yet, millions of children around the world are being treated with cannabinoids to control conditions such as Dravet’s and ADD every single day. The mainstream medical community can’t make up their mind about the safety of cannabis in children and lawmakers around the world are still battling it out over whether children should be given access to it. So who’s right here?

Using cannabis has been seen as particularly controversial given the sensitive nature of the topic. The truth is, when it comes to medication (and cannabis definitely falls under that category), kids are not just “mini-adults”. Giving a medication to a child is not as simple as lowering the dose of any medication we can give to an adult.

Doctors and pharmacists treat children in a very different way to adults because their bodily systems work differently. This is the reason children can take some medications that adults take whilst they can’t take others. Children’s bodies process medications in a different way to the bodies of adults and as such, every decision to treat has to take this into account.

The concern about giving children a substance they may not be able to handle is thus very legitimate. Many people react strongly against the idea that we could give a potentially addictive “illegal” substance such as cannabis to a child. The assumption is that it is not only addictive but also that children cannot process the cannabinoids in marihuana.

Yet, children are being treated with highly addictive, potentially dangerous substances (think Adderall) every single day and it barely causes a flutter. It seems particularly strange that the same lawmakers and medical doctors who do not think twice about giving children access to drugs like Adderall and Xanax can have such a strong reaction against cannabis. So let’s unpack this right here. Is it safe to give medicinal cannabis to kids?

The Pro’s

Many doctors are strong supporters of medicinal cannabis for children. This isn’t an accident. There is a lot of interest in cannabis as a paediatric medicine because there are few medications out there that are as safe as cannabis when it comes to overdose potential. No-one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. Period. One of the biggest concerns when dosing children is giving them just enough to treat without causing problems because of overdosing. With cannabis, this is not a problem at all.

Cannabis can also treat, or at least control, many conditions that would otherwise be treated

with harsh medications that have lots of side effects, very small safety margins ( so it’s very easy to overdose!) and long-term health impacts. Given these are not the sort of medications we would want to give our kids, there’s something to be said for wanting to look at cannabis as an alternative.

From controlling seizures in Dravet’s to offering a stimulatory effect in children with ADD, the therapeutic profile of cannabis is impressive. Combined with the safety margin of cannabis, there’s good reason that doctors are slowly catching onto the idea that medicial cannabis use in children may actually be favourable.

The Cons

BUT there is a major caveat.

Building up enough research evidence to support a particular treatment option takes a lot of time. Because marijuana has been illegal for so long, that research database is only just starting to get built up now. As with any medication, it can take many, many years to answer questions such as: is it safe to use? If so, how much should we use for what condition? How does it interact with other medications? Are there long-term side-effects?

Conducting the right research on cannabis is even harder. Not only do cannabis researchers need to answer the questions above, they also need to work out which particular compounds in the cannabis (and there are hundreds of them) has an effect on a particular condition, which form it should be given in and how to accurately dose cannabis when the medicinal content is so difficult to standardize.

Also, because medicinal cannabis is extracted rather than created in a lab, it is very difficult to maintain quality. For example, whilst CBD could help epileptic children, CBD from hemp plants might actually make seizures worse. Also, researchers need to look into the long-term effects of cannabis use on the brains of children.

Cannabis has a growth effect on the brains of older people but some research has shown that it might cause delays in younger children. The question then is, is it going to be as bad as the drugs we would otherwise give sick kids though? At the end of the day, we want to create as much benefit whilst minimizing the harm as much as possible.

The truth is, there is no way of being completely sure that medicinal cannabis is 100% safe for kids yet. Cannabis is not necessarily ideal for everyone. Some people may have negative reactions to cannabis, just as they might do to any other medicine. Some people could be allergic. The main concern with cannabis is the effect it has on the brain, and how safe it is in particular for young people. The research is still building up. But, we can make an educated guess that it probably is safe for at least a certain percentage of children and likely

to be far better than the drugs they would otherwise have to take. The problem comes with determining which precise cannabinoids are useful for which conditions, in which sort of concentrations and at what dosages.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is see a paediatric doctor who has experience prescribing medicinal cannabis. He/she would have the real-world experience to make the right decision for your child. You can also find some great articles about kids and medicinal cannabis over at Cannakids.

Need help finding a paediatric doctor who works with medical marijuana in Michigan? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you find one!