Medical Marijuana for Kids Prompts Debate

The use of medical marijuana in children is becoming a hotly debated topic, with some parents expressing horror that the drug would be used on children, and others praising the possibilities that marijuana could help kids cope with disorders ranging from epilepsy to cancer and autism.  More on the issue from NBC News:

Eighteen states, plus Washington, D.C., allow use of medical marijuana. A number of them provide prescriptions to children, with parental supervision, to treat a host of ills, ranging from autism to cancer to seizures.

Critics, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, argue that the remedy hasn’t been clinically tested in kids and might have some long-term ramifications.

[10-year-old] Zaki [Jackson's] parents were surprised at first and a bit taken aback. “We are Christians,” Jackson said. “We are conservative. And we’re using medical marijuana. That’s a kind of big hump for people to get over. Despite the stigma associated with cannabis, we owed it to Zaki to give it a try.”

Jackson said the results were immediate and stunning. “I probably stared at him for a good three hours after his first dose and then I fell asleep. I didn’t feel any seizures after his first dose,” his mother said.

In fact, it’s been eight months since Zaki’s last seizure and he’s finally starting to do normal kid activities, like ride a swing.

Zaki’s pot is provided specifically for him by a team of brothers who legally grow medical marijuana. It has been bred to have low levels of TCH, but higher levels of another cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD.

While both cannabinoids impact pain, nausea and seizures, CBD isn’t psychoactive, said Dr. Margaret Gedde of the Clinicians’ Institute for Cannabis Medicine. That means that kids using this type of marijuana won’t get high.

Cannabinoids work by hijacking normal brain circuitry.

In other words, the cannabinoids in pot are very similar to substances our own brains naturally make, called endocannabinoids. These substances serve to quiet excessive activity, whether it’s in the immune system, in the gut or in the nervous system, Gedde explained to NBCNews.com.

When cells become overactive, a switch is thrown and endocannabinoids are released. Once they lock on to receptors in the brain, “a message is sent to tell the cells to calm down,” she said. “It’s a balancing system and it’s what keeps seizures from happening in healthy brains. In these kids the system is overwhelmed. It needs a little extra help.”

That’s where the pot comes in. For Zaki, it’s delivered in a syrup that he takes each day, which contains an extract of purified cannabis oil that is high in CBD, Gedde said.

While the drug seems to be working miracles for Zaki, some doctors believe its safety in children needs to be tested in clinical trials.

“I worry that we just don’t know enough about it,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, of the Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. “I think they’re putting their child at risk of long-term consequences of marijuana use that we don’t fully understand.”

 

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