Should kids and adolescents ever use medical marijuana?
Administering the drug to younger patients remains somewhat contentious, but it also appears effective in treating a limited number of symptoms.
According to a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics, medical marijuana is effective in treating seizures and chemotherapy-induced nausea in young patients.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis, looking at 22 relevant studies on the use of medical cannabis on children and adolescents to reach this conclusion.
Of the many chemical components found in marijuana, researchers determined that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most abundant cannabinoid found in the plant, improved nausea and vomiting for young chemotherapy patients.
Cannabidiol (CBD) another cannabinoid present in marijuana was determined to have an effect on seizures.
Some advocates have hailed these results as further proof of the effectiveness of medical marijuana, particularly in cases where children haven’t responded to other traditional treatments.
“The real-world results of these programs indicate that cannabinoids can play a role in pediatric care, particularly in the treatment of life-threatening seizures, and that they can do so in a manner that is sometimes safer and more effective than conventional treatments,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Healthline.
Treatment not effective in all cases
While treatment for the above conditions using medical marijuana seems promising, the review concludes there’s little evidence to support its effectiveness in treating a wide range of other conditions in young people.
Researchers wrote that they didn’t find sufficient support for the benefits of medical marijuana on neuropathic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder, or Tourette’s syndrome in young patients.
Other health organizations have previously issued warnings on the use of medical marijuana (and recreational marijuana) in children and adolescents due to the risks it represents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) previously warned parents about these dangers, which they say include weakened motor skill control and memory function, as well as mental health issues, including depression.
“Our research supports the AAP’s concerns that cannabis can be harmful to children’s brains,” said Dr. Shane Shucheng Wong of Harvard’s department of psychiatry and a lead study author. “Studies of children and adolescents who use recreational cannabis, particularly frequent use of high potency cannabis over longer periods of time, suggest negative effects on learning, memory, attention, and problem-solving ability.”
As such, appropriate dosing of medical marijuana is of the utmost importance for younger patients.
Careful usage urged
Currently there are only two synthesized cannabinoids that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medications: dronabinol and nabilone.
Both are used to treat nausea and vomiting in children and adults.
AAP guidelines recognize the use of these two approved drugs in order to treat those conditions.
“The academy’s guidelines also recognizes cannabis may be an option for debilitating conditions, which includes seizures from epilepsy conditions,” said Wong.
The study authors warn that the use of the drugs in pediatric cases must be judicious because of the potential of psychoactive effects.
Naturally-derived cannabis — the actual components of the plant, including flowers and leaves — that are typically smoked or vaporized can have wildly varying chemical components and potency depending on the strain.
The same is true for marijuana concentrates and edible products.
The varying potency and chemical makeup of these products can make consistent, appropriate dosing more challenging in young patients.
To ensure oversight and appropriate usage, all states with medical marijuana programs require consent forms from a legal guardian and a physician to give kids access to medical marijuana.
Some states require the guardian to control dosage and frequency of use, but others do not.
As another safeguard, some states require two physicians to sign off on a minor using medical marijuana.