Medical Marijuana for Kids. Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

Medical Marijuana Kids

On Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave his blessing to a medical marijuana bill that would allow qualified children to ingest edible forms of the drug. A reluctant Christie agreed to sign the bill only if it contained the following compromises:

  • Edible forms of marijuana would be dispensed to minors only.
  • Keep the current provision that requires approval be given by both a doctor and a psychiatrist.

In a statement released on Friday, Governor Christie said, ” “Today, I am making commonsense recommendations to this legislation to ensure sick children receive the treatment their parents prefer, while maintaining appropriate safeguards.” I am calling on the Legislature to reconvene quickly and address these issues so that children in need can get the treatment they need.”

The marijuana bill, s2842, raises new questions about the safety of medical marijuana and its effect on minors. Parents with children suffering from disabling and chronic illnesses are seeking the drug as an alternative to medical treatments that have failed but  doctors and researchers say not enough testing has been done.

Children diagnosed with epilepsy, autism, cancer and a host of other terminal, chronic and debilitating diseases may be offered medical marijuana if a doctor determines the benefit outweighs the risk. Currently, the greatest benefit marijuana offers to patients is to stimulate appetite and ease the nausea and vomiting of chemotherapy treatment. The drug, legalized for medical treatment in 18 states, also offers relief to epilepsy patients, particularly the rarest form, Dravet’s Syndrome.

On August 11, 2013, CNN broadcast a documentary called “Weed,” which discussed use of medical marijuana. Two children were highlighted in the story, both suffering from Dravet’s Syndrome. After receiving a liquid form of marijuana called a “tincture,” the seizures for both reduced dramatically from 300 a day, to just three, and both continue to improve. In both cases, the “high” of the drug was eliminated by reducing the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

Despite the benefits reported by parents, a number of physicians are standing by their stance that the uncertainties of marijuana exposure make it a risky treatment. Recently, Seth Ammerman, clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University voiced his concerns about the possible dangers of giving the drug to children. In a Us News and World Report, Ammerman talks about the need for stringent tests on medical marijuana, dosage concerns and the possible long term repercussions on the still-developing brains of children. Dr. Ammerman’s biggest worries:

  • Most marijuana products sold at dispensaries are not tested for cannabinoid content, so the purity and actual dose based on THC or CBD content is usually unknown.
  • Anecdotal reports of successful treatment for a specific problem in a particular individual do not necessarily project to a broader population.
  • There is no known pediatric dosing for any medical marijuana product. Thus using medical marijuana in pediatric and adolescent populations is completely trial and error.
  • The developing brain of a child is often more vulnerable to exposure to compounds than that of an adult.

As more children are approved for medical marijuana, the growing market will increase. This is a daunting forecast for parents who want to alleviate their children’s suffering, physicians who want to make the right decisions for their patients, and lawmakers tasked with the responsibility of keeping it regulated and safe.