Doctors warn against medical marijuana for kids
Published Monday, December 14, 2015 12:22AM EST
The group representing Canada's pediatricians is warning parents against using medical marijuana to treat their children's health conditions, saying there is not enough evidence that the drug is either safe or effective.
The Canadian Paediatric Society said in a statement Monday that while cannabis is increasingly being used to treat certain kids' illnesses, "evidence is lacking about the overall effect on children."
Some parents have been turning to cannabis oil and other forms of marijuana to treat conditions that have failed to respond to conventional medicine. Those conditions include epilepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic pain management and even autism.
Dr. Michael Rieder, chair of the society’s Drug Therapies and Hazardous Substances Committee and author of the statement, said there appears to be some benefits from medicinal marijuana for certain cases of epilepsy, but it’s important to weigh those benefits with the risk.
“Like any potent psychoactive drug, we think we have to balance risk versus benefit. And make sure that children who can benefit can get the benefit, but at the same time acknowledging the risk,” he said.
Alex Repetski, for example, told CTV's Canada AM earlier this year that cannabis oil has been life-changing for his three-year-old daughter, Gwenevere, who has severe epilepsy.
He said no medication had been effective and Gwenevere's seizures were so bad, she could hardly sit or function in any way. But cannabis oil brought an end to his daughter's seizures, he said, allowing her to learn to crawl, walk and feed herself.
Several other parents have reported similar results.
But in its statement, the CPS says there needs to be much more study on both the safety and efficacy of children using cannabis.
Rieder said there is "little data to support either the efficacy or safety of cannabis use" for any health condition in kids.
He added that there has also been an "increasing body of data" suggesting possible harm from marijuana use.
In particular, research from the U.K. and from Harvard suggests that marijuana use during adolescence may change the way the brain develops. As well, some British research suggests that marijuana use may increase the risk for psychosis, Rieder told CTV’s Canada AM.
In July, Health Canada gave growers the green light to begin producing cannabis extracts, which are expected to be approved for sale in the coming months.
That followed a Supreme Court ruling that said medical marijuana users should be permitted to consume the drug in other forms, such as oils and edibles, rather than having to smoke dried buds.
The CPS says in its statement that doctors who use cannabis to treat children's conditions should have specific expertise and training in the use of cannabis in kids, which the CPS calls a "potent psychoactive drug."
Before any treatment, doctors should thoroughly discuss with the family -- and the patient if possible -- the goals and risks of the drug, it said.
It added that since smoking marijuana is "unacceptable" in children, studies on medical marijuana in kids should explore other ways of delivering the drug.
And it added that teens still need to be discouraged from using marijuana recreationally.
"The selective use of cannabis for medical purposes in children must not be confused with condoning its recreational use by adolescents," the statement said.
Rieder added that there is the need for more research looking into how doctors can use marijuana to treat patients, in order to determine the drug's safety. Future research should look into how to properly administer the drug, what dose levels to prescribe and potential side effects.
“I think there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” he said.