700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Is Medical Marijuana Right for Kids With Chronic Illness?

Oct 29, 2015

There has been a lot of talk in the media discussing legalization of marijuana and what it could mean for children with chronic illness. Dr. Anup Patel, pediatric epileptologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is taking a stand, “It is important to know that legalizing marijuana would not mean greater access to potentially effective treatment for children and adults with a medical illness such as epilepsy. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is not at all marijuana.”

What is CBD?
Cannabis sativa, is the plant known as marijuana. CBD is a chemical found in marijuana. Marijuana also has THC, the chemical which is what causes people to get “high” and experience euphoria and an increased appetite. Epidiolex, a medication, is 98-99% CBD, which is currently being studied in children with epilepsy. It has little or no THC.

CBD is not medical marijuana. CBD does not get anyone high nor does it increase appetite. It may be beneficial in treating children with rare forms of epilepsy, often difficult to control with medication or other available treatments, but it does not work for everyone with seizures.

“The stories of kids having fewer seizures described in the media are heartwarming and can possibly be of some benefit – just like many other medications available to treat seizures,” Dr. Patel adds.

What are the possible side effects?
CBD can cause nausea, diarrhea, or worse, affect the liver.

Dr. Patel states, “There is nothing natural about marijuana and its components. It is broken down in a person’s liver, similar to many other medications. It has interactions with other medications and is still not fully understood. If further studies show that CBD is safe and effective, it will be sent to the FDA for official approval. If the FDA approves this medication, it will be available in the form of a prescription and no laws will need to be changed.”

Dr. Patel is also concerned with the consistency what could be available if marijuana is legalized. If someone buys CBD that has not been tested in a trial, there is no guarantee that it is purified, or mostly purified. Month-to-month changes can be seen in CBD preparations available in states where it is legal and there are currently no regulations of what is being sold in the states that allow it. That is what would happen if it became legal here in Ohio.

How would legalization affect children with chronic illness?
Dr. Patel feels that legalizing marijuana in the state of Ohio or other states does not bring these treatment options to children in need, but only complicates things.

“Legalization would make our jobs as medical providers more difficult as we will not know what changing, non-tested preparations a child may be getting. I understand that parents are desperate and want to help their children, however, it is dangerous to give a child or patient a product unless it has been studied properly and is the same consistent product each time.” If the ongoing trials show that Epidiolex is safe and effective, then all people can have access to it through a prescription and know that it has been properly tested and is consistent each month. Medical providers will know how to dose it and it will be regulated by the FDA.

Accidental Ingestion Risks
As medical marijuana products become more common, the opportunities for unintentional exposures also increases. If a family are considering the use of medical marijuana for anyone in the home, they should choose products with child-resistant packaging and packaging that is not see-through. If any marijuana product is kept in a household, it should be kept up, away and out of sight of children – preferably in a locked cabinet. With edibles and infused products especially, curious children can mistake them for child-friendly candy or food. This poses a significant risk for harm. If there are concerns about an ingestion or questions parents might have, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 to speak to an expert immediately, 24/7.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital

All Topics

Browse by Author

About this Blog

Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.