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Medicating a kid can be difficult. Even for a simple sinus infection, most medications aren’t recommended for children under six. Many medications only have dosing information for children 12 and over. For more complicated health concerns, pediatric medication may be prescribed by a doctor, but these medications often come with a laundry list of side effects.
Many parents turn to alternative therapies, like humidifiers, vapor rub, essential oils, or diet changes to help ease their little one’s suffering. Other alternative medicines for children are on the rise, the most prominent (and perhaps the most controversial) being cannabis. Like many parents, you may be skeptical of cannabis for kids, but what if you were pushed to the edge?
That is exactly what happened to one mom, who spent days in hospice with her son Deryn, expecting him to die at any moment. Deryn was fourteen and had spent four years of his life battling a particularly aggressive form of leukemia. He had suffered through countless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and four bone marrow transplants, but his condition relentlessly worsened.
None of the bone marrow transplants ever grafted properly and Deryn’s immune system was virtually non-existent. After years with no progress towards recovery and recommendations from several doctors, his parents, Callie and Simon Blackwell, decided to take him off his antibiotics. They were well aware that these antibiotics were the only thing keeping Deryn alive, and that without them he would die from the first infection that invaded his body. They moved him to hospice the next day.
But still, Callie couldn’t stand to see her son suffer. He was in terrible pain, nauseous, couldn’t eat, and was worn from years of aggressive therapy. As any mother would, Callie was willing to go to any extent to give her son relief in his final days, so she did what no doctor had done for Deryn before. She gave him cannabis.
Callie concocted her own cannabis oil in her kitchen and placed a single drop in her son’s mouth. Almost immediately, Deryn relaxed. Callie continued to give Deryn the cannabis oil, happy that it seemed to ease her son’s discomfort, but she could not have expected what happened next.
Very slowly, Deryn’s condition began to improve. His blood count increased, his pain levels were reduced, and eventually, Deryn’s body began healing—something it was not formally capable of. Weeks later, the Blackwells were sent home from hospice. Today, years later, Deryn is happy and healthy, doing all the things a teenage boy should.
Callie wrote a book about her experience, in which she clarifies that she doesn’t like using the word “cure,” but she doesn’t think that her son’s recovery was a miracle, either. Scientific research shows that it probably wasn’t a mysterious phenomenon, but instead was due to the effects of the cannabis oil.
Callie is not the only parent reaching for cannabis for their kids. The use of cannabis for children is becoming more widespread with time, probably because of the many conditions that it may benefit. However, research is limited regarding the use of cannabis for children.
There is plenty of ongoing researching looking in-depth at the benefits of cannabis for autism, and just as many researchers are interested in the use of cannabis for ADHD. Many doctors hope that with more research comes an increase in the number of kids who are prescribed cannabis instead of Ritalin, Adderall, and other risky prescriptions.
Dr. Frank Lucido, a Berkeley Medical Cannabis Specialist, points at CBD as a useful tool for managing autism and seizure disorders. Dr. Lucido says that it can do wonderful things for these children when used correctly, helping them behave more appropriately, manage their emotions, and even help them learn more efficiently. More research points to CBD as a useful tool for managing childhood conditions like anxiety, insomnia, depression, and ADHD. THC has its place, though, and may be useful for treating severe conditions like cancer.
Cannabis research is still on the rise, and there is much more left to be seen. There is a good amount of research, however, backing cannabis use for cancer. Some of this research shows cannabis’ ability to stop the growth of cancer cells and reduce the size of tumors.
Most of the studies concerning the effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells show that THC and CBD are able to kill cancerous cells in a petri dish. But what does this look like on a cellular level? How does it apply to cancer cells in our body? Many researchers have their own hypothesis regarding what may make cannabis an effective anti-cancer agent.
There are a few things we know for certain about cannabis and its ability to affect our body. The first scientific indication that cannabis could be useful for a range of health conditions was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Israeli researcher Dr. Ralph Mechaoulam discovered the ECS in the ‘90’s and determined that it had a hand in balancing almost every important bodily function.
The system is responsible for maintaining homeostasis and aiding the body in processes that are vital to the healing process. The ECS also affects appetite, reproduction, motor function, and several other important processes.
This system is made of cannabinoids called “endocannabinoids,” that are similar to the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, called “phytocannabinoids.” The ECS has cannabinoid receptors (CB-1 and CB-2) all over the body, which helps it absorb THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids and put them to work. Research shows that there are CB receptors in every organ, which means cannabis may be able to infiltrate cancerous cells throughout the body.
When looking at research specifically regarding how cannabis cures cancer, reports vary. Many researchers agree that phytocannabinoids are able to disrupt communication in cancer cells, which helps slow reproduction. Some research shows that THC and CBD are able to block the growth of blood vessels that are required in order for tumors to grow.
In places where medicinal marijuana is legal, doctors are frequently prescribing it as a co-treatment alongside chemotherapy and radiation. Studies show that marijuana has great potential for treating symptoms of cancer and its usual treatment methods by increasing appetite, reducing nausea, decreasing pain, and regulating sleep patterns.
Unfortunately, a lack of research, as well as legislative restrictions, make it difficult for doctors to prescribe cannabis in situations where it may be useful. Callie turned to cannabis as a last resort, but many parents are beginning to look at it as a first option, especially as a substitute to riskier pharmaceuticals.
One dad chose cannabis over Risperdal, a powerful antipsychotic prescribed for a variety of illnesses, including his 7-year-old son’s autism. He started his son on the antipsychotic after he noticed an increase in aggressive behavior, which is typical for kids with severe autism.
The medicine worked to an extent. It “mellowed him out” as his father said, but the possible side effects of the narcotic are severe. The potential side effects list for Risperdal is lengthy and includes things like cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as an increased risk for viral infections, pneumonia, or multiple nervous system disorders.
By recommendation of a trusted doctor, he and his wife decided to start his son on cannabis oil. After a few weeks, he reported his results on Reddit, and they were pretty incredible. First, he says that he began to speak without prompting, which was a huge milestone for his mostly non-verbal son. He made more eye contact and showed signs of improved communication skills.
His father seemed astounded after the little boy sat through a 15-minute haircut, something that is usually challenging for children with autism who frequently suffer from sensory processing disorders as well. His son, who had always used a diaper, even began to pee while standing on their patio. Overall, the little boy seemed happier, less frustrated, and more in control of his own emotions and behaviors, which is always a step in the right direction for children on the autism spectrum.
There is no doubt that many people have seen improvements in their Autistic child’s behavior after introducing cannabis. The question is, can these changes be contributed directly to the cannabis oil? Again, the available research is limited. However, cannabis research is soaring in Israel, where researchers have begun to look at the effects of cannabis (mainly THC and CBD) on pediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder.
One study found pretty promising results. Regular doses of high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil were given to sixty low-functioning ASD children. Of these children, 61% experienced improved behavioral outbreaks. Anxiety symptoms improved in 39% and communication skills improved in almost half of the children. The children experienced lower stress levels and less disruptive behaviors.
Some adverse effects were reported, including sleep disturbances in 14% of the children, increased irritability in less than 10%, and loss of appetite in only 9%. After looking at the long list of potential side effects of popular Autism prescriptions, these adverse reactions seem to pale in comparison.
Again, there are no definite answers as to how cannabis affects autism. However, many ongoing studies intend to uncover the truth. We know that moments after cannabis is ingested, CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids infiltrate the bloodstream. They are then distributed by the bloodstream where they attach to CB receptors throughout the body. Almost immediately after ingestion, traces of the cannabinoids can be found in every organ, including the brain.
There is some evidence that these cannabinoids are able to affect the way the brain functions by disrupting communication between the neurons. This is why researchers concluded that THC and CBD are able to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and neuropathic pain. Many researchers agree that this is also the reason cannabis has shown to decrease disruptive behaviors in autistic children.
Prescriptions like Adderall and Ritalin are often prescribed to children who are diagnosed with ADHD and ADD, but not every parent is thrilled about putting their kid on these strong stimulants. In 2005, Adderall sales were suspended in Canada due to the sudden death of 12 children. Many researchers even warn against the possible side effects of using these stimulants for children, and the CDC has posted several warnings suggesting that young children are often overmedicated for these conditions.
Some of the adverse side effects of popular ADHD medications include nervousness, restlessness, dizziness, loss of appetite, and even increased aggression or violent behavior. Because of the risks associated with these medicines, more people are looking at cannabis for a safe alternative.
Ongoing studies are looking a the effects of full-spectrum cannabis products on ADHD, and some studies have found that it is seemingly effective in reducing symptoms and increasing focus. One study looked specifically at the effects of THC on one patient with ADHD, in which the patient experienced more regulated activation levels that resulted in increased performance and improved state of mind.
Researchers are unsure why cannabis reacts this way in ADHD patients, but many lend blame to the ability of cannabinoids to alter brain communication to reduce anxiety. Other researchers relate it to cannabis’ ability to increase focus, or its ability to help the body maintain regularity, which may help reduce hyperactive behaviors in children.
One reasonable explanation lies in ADHD’s connection to decreased dopamine levels. Patients with ADHD symptoms repeatedly show lower dopamine activity in the brain. THC has shown evidence of increasing dopamine production, which may help create balance in an ADHD brain.
The dad from Reddit is not unlike many parents across the world who are desperately seeking a safe, effective medication for their child. Luckily, researchers are beginning to open their eyes to the benefits and the necessity of pediatric cannabis, which has led to a series of studies. Most of these studies have focused on the pediatric use of cannabis for autism, but other studies show other potential benefits for the holistic medicine. One major breakthrough concerned the use of cannabis for treating pediatric epilepsy.
Another reason many parents support cannabis for pediatric use is due to its high safety margin. The common side effects are mild and reportedly rare, with the most commonly reported adverse effects including diarrhea, tiredness, and appetite changes. Some evidence shines a light on Cannabis as a panacea of sorts, showing its potential to treat a wide variety of ailments.
There are several ingestion methods for medicinal cannabis that make it easy for kids to get down. Oral tinctures are popular for pediatric use because they can be accurately measured and easily dropped into a kids mouth or added to a quick snack. Tinctures take effect quickly, which makes them useful for treating chronic conditions. Kids may also prefer cannabis gummies, and for conditions that require large doses, cannabis concentrates can be taken by mouth.
Cannabis is often more affordable than some pediatric medications, too. The doses required for children is small in most cases, which makes cannabis a more financially reasonable option.
For now, many professionals agree that more research will need to be done before we see the widespread use of cannabis in pediatric medicine. Although many parents feel that cannabis is a safer alternative to many prescription medications, legislative boundaries are still an obstacle. Some parents believe that cannabis is the medicine that their child needs, but fear the consequences of dosing their child without a doctor’s recommendation. As a result, many are pushing for the necessary research advancements in hopes of being able to more easily obtain legal pediatric cannabis for their children.
Cannabis product types, dosing methods, and dosing amounts can be complex. The best way to make sure you are making the best health decision for your child is to include their pediatrician. If you are thinking that cannabis may be a good option for your child, try talking to your doctor about your options.