Updated on December 6, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Cannabis poses as many benefits for children as for adults. It helps children worldwide with painful long-term illnesses like epilepsy, AIDS and cancer. For children, CBD oil helps manage severe seizures, bringing a level of comfort to life. However, the benefits and technicalities of cannabis prescriptions for children are often misunderstood.
Uses of Marijuana Treatment for Children
Medical marijuana has some applications for pediatric care, including:
For the family of Bella Chinonis, CBD treatment has been extremely successful. The family spent five years living with Bella’s hours-long seizures caused by her severe form of epilepsy, struggling with the traditional pharmaceuticals prescribed by her doctors. All the treatment did was put Bella into a daze that further inhibited her development.
But with CBD oil, they found all the calming effects they needed without the haze. Many parents of epileptic children have found the same results, helping their children achieve some amount of normalcy in their lives.
Children in the more severe range of the autism spectrum tend to have difficulties dealing with daily life. Everything seems too loud and overwhelming, and too many things are competing for their attention. With CBD oil, they can calm down and process what’s going on around them, making interaction with the world easier.
Cannabis is often lauded by parents of children suffering from painful diseases or treatments. Offering similar pain-relieving results as traditional pharmaceutical pain-killers, cannabis oil is non-addictive and has few side-effects, making it a safer choice than many traditional options.
Benefits of Marijuana Treatment for Children
Compared to traditional prescription drugs, medical marijuana products offer numerous benefits to children and their parents. Just a few of these benefits include:
Many mainstream pain management drugs are slightly to severely addictive, which is a particular concern when children are involved. If the child ever recovers from their illness, overcoming their painkiller addiction can be yet another painful step to the process. Cannabis oil, like other medical marijuana products, is non-addictive in nature.
Cannabis oil is made with cannabis extract, a substance that contains concentrated amounts of marijuana’s key medicinal compound, called “CBD” or “cannabidiol.” This substance is also weak in THC, the compound with hallucinogenic properties. This means children get all the benefits of the substance without the side-effects.
This is a major advantage cannabis oil has over many pharmaceutical options, as opiate painkillers and synthetic drugs often have negative side-effects that alter a child’s cognitive, motor or organ functions. For example, Bella Chinonis suffered severe liver damage after years of heavy doses of prescription drugs.
Cannabis oil comes in many forms, making it easier to use for parents and children. While smoked marijuana offers many benefits, few children are willing or able to smoke marijuana in the quantities needed to benefit from the plant — and it’s not recommended for young lungs, anyway.
Cannabis oil, on the other hand, offers all the benefits without the smoke inhalation or the psychoactive side-effects. Cannabis oil can also be added to drinks or foods to accommodate children who are sensitive to certain tastes and textures.
Another benefit of cannabis treatment for children is the relatively low cost of treatment. CBD oil for children usually comes around $200 a month or so. For Bella Chinonis’ family, it comes free, since it’s being donated by a local Detroit business to help with her life-threatening illness.
The Challenges of Medical Marijuana for Children
Parents often face challenges when they first explore the option of cannabis treatment. Bella Chinonis’ family encountered reluctance from their pediatric doctors, stating it would “lower her IQ” and that there simply “wasn’t enough research” to suggest it would be a viable option for Bella.
This is a common viewpoint — both within the medical community and the legal community, primarily due to the lack of research in the areas of pediatrics and autism.
This lack of investigation is first and foremost because Federal law has prohibited marijuana studies. Since the criminalization of marijuana under Federal legislation in 1937, science labs across the United States have been unable to pursue research without penalization.
The majority of research today is based on individual testimony, often without controlled studies — and under such conditions, these claims cannot be verified. And with medical marijuana still classified as a Schedule 1 drug at the Federal level, these restrictions inhibit medical marijuana studies that could persuade more physicians to consider treatment plans using medical marijuana.
Legal Considerations for Child Marijuana Treatment
Child treatment with marijuana falls under many of the same laws as medical marijuana for adults, with a few additional restrictions. Medical marijuana treatments are available for very young children in all states that allow medical marijuana prescriptions. No age requirement currently exists for medical cannabis because of its use as a medical treatment.
However, there are some restrictions concerning the form of marijuana children can legally be given. For the Chinonis family in Michigan, they found they had to skirt the law to give Bella CBD oil, because the law explicitly stated that medical marijuana users could only smoke the substance. Bella’s infused olive oil didn’t fall into that category.
The vast majority of child medical marijuana laws require the following for any patient under 18:
Discussion With a Physician: The patient’s parents or legal guardians must discuss the risks and benefits of medical marijuana before treatment can begin.
Two Written Certifications: The patient’s parents or legal guardians must submit written certifications from two physicians to the regulatory entity.
A Parent or Guardian’s Consent: The patient’s parents or legal guardians must consent to the treatment in writing, verifying that they will allow the patient to use marijuana in a medical capacity, will serve as the patient’s primary caregivers and will control the acquisition, dosage and usage of their medical marijuana.
Additional stipulations and requirements may vary by state. Be sure to check with the local law before pursuing a medical marijuana treatment plan for your child.