Is Medical Marijuana Safe For Children and Adolescents?
Kent Mao, Contributor
Success stories of medical marijuana use in children range from the treatment of disorders that affect classroom performance such as autism and ADHD to life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy and cancer. But while a growing number of doctors are beginning to consider medical marijuana as a legitimate form of clinical therapy, the vast majority remain wary of its impact in younger patients.
The underlying factor in the medical community’s resistance to cannabis seems to be the overall lack of clinical research that has been conducted so far, especially in children and adolescents. On the other hand, the absence of research happens to be only a recent phenomena, as a review of the medical literature reveals numerous reports and studies on the safety of marijuana commissioned over the past many decades.
What these studies demonstrate appears to echo what marijuana advocates have been saying for decades: Cannabis is an overwhelmingly harmless substance.
Safety Profile of Marijuana
Perhaps the earliest study to investigate the safety profile of marijuana comes from the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission — a research team ordered by the British government in 1893 to study the effects of ever-prevalent cannabis use in India. The Commission completed their report in 1894 — a lengthy 3,281 page document which demonstrated a clear lack of observable drawbacks associated with marijuana use.
“In regard to the physical effects, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all… It has been the most striking feature in this inquiry to find how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation.”
Likewise, a report published by the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse in 1972 could find no fault with the use of cannabis, despite governmental pressure to prove otherwise.
“Marijuana has been used by man around the world for many centuries. Scientifically, more is known about marijuana’s effects than many other botanical substances used by man… Almost all chronic, heavy hashish smokers are indistinguishable from their peers in social behaviour, work performance, mental status and overall life style.”
Risks For Children/Teens
Despite significant evidence of marijuana’s lack of side effects, children and adolescents are treated with particular caution when it comes to any form of medical therapy, because of the developmental vulnerability that individuals face during their formative years.
In fact, one of the largest concerns of doctors and parents alike are the effects of drugs on a child’s developing brain. And while evidence of marijuana’s impact on neural development remains conflicted, some studies have managed to link early marijuana use with deficits in brain volume and intelligence (1).
Still, it’s important to note the lack of census among the medical community on these findings, as large-scale clinical trials have never been conducted. Furthermore, cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, such as Marinol, have already been approved by the FDA for childhood use (2). Marinol is a pure THC pill that shares a nearly identical side effect profile as medical marijuana (3).
However, the fact remains that the safety of marijuana use in children and adolescents remains a largely unknown variable, which also happens to be the most common reason given by doctors when explaining their lack of support for medical marijuana (4).
But while this is true for cannabis, it is also true for many other cancer medications and anti-psychotics that are regularly prescribed to children. As such, a minority of health practitioners have already begun to voice their support for the use of medical marijuana, even in child and adolescent patients.
Support For Medical Marijuana
Although still a subject of much debate, medical marijuana has become an increasingly popular form of treatment among the North American population — both for adults and children. In fact, a number of paediatricians, including Dr. Claudia Jensen, have started to recommend medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for conditions that have traditionally been dominated by the pharmaceutical industry such as ADHD (5).
In an interview with MSNBC, Dr. Jensen explained how medical marijuana could be used effectively as a treatment for ADHD without the mind-numbing side effects that are typically associated with cannabis use.
“They don’t have to get stoned — it’s dose-related. But they do get the benefit of being able to focus, pay attention, not be impulsive, not be angry, be peaceful and relaxed and pay attention in school, which helps them get better grades.”
Likewise, Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dr. Lester Grinspoon voiced his support for using medical marijuana to control childhood ADHD in a recent interview with Sphere (6).
“I’d have no hesitation giving a youngster with ADHD a trial of oral marijuana. For some kids, it appears to be more effective than traditional treatments. And marijuana certainly has fewer potential dangers than Ritalin.”
Indeed, while concerns continue to be expressed over the use of medical marijuana in society’s most vulnerable of patients, evidence of its relative safety seems more than obvious to those with an open mind towards non-traditional therapies.
As Dr. Grinspoon states, medical marijuana could very well be a safer treatment option for children with ADHD and, more than likely, many other conditions that afflict the younger generation of patients.
About the Author
Kent Mao is a contributor to Waking Times and the editor of TruthOnPot.com, an online resource for medical marijuana facts, information and research. TruthOnPot.com actively engages in the online discussion of marijuana research and policy. You can learn more by visiting www.truthonpot.com. Kent is also a contributor to Waking Times.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of WakingTimes or its staff.
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