When it is OK to give children medical pot

Healthcare professional with marijuana from Shutterstock
Healthcare professional with marijuana from Shutterstock

Medical marijuana should only be used for severely ill kids who have no other treatment option, the most influential US pediatricians group said in a new policy.

Some parents insist that medical marijuana has cured their kids' troublesome seizures or led to other improvements, but the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) policy says rigorous research is needed to verify those claims.

To make it easier to study and develop marijuana-based treatments, the group recommends removing marijuana from the government's most restrictive drug category, which includes heroin, LSD and other narcotics with no accepted medical use, and switching it to the category which includes methadone and oxycodone.

The recommended switch "could help make a big difference in promoting more research," said Dr. Seth Ammerman, the policy's lead author and a professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Stanford University.

The academy's qualified support may lead more pediatricians to prescribe medical marijuana, but the group says pediatric use should only be considered "for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate."

Read: Casual marijuana use linked to changes in brain

The academy also repeated its previous advice against legalising marijuana for recreational use by adults, suggesting that may enable easier access for kids.

Marijuana shouldn't be legalised because of the potential harm it can cause children and teens, the group says.

The academy supports decriminalising marijuana, which means offenses would result in civil penalties or lesser criminal charges than they currently carry. But, the AAP recommends this be done in conjunction with programs to prevent marijuana use and provide early treatment for teens with marijuana use problems.

The statement also includes steps to protect children in states that have legalised marijuana for recreational or medicinal use.

"We know marijuana can be very harmful to adolescent health and development," Dr. Ammerman said.

"Making it more available to adults - even if restrictions are in place - will increase the access for teens. Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development," he said.

Read: Marijuana smoking affects brain chemistry

In teens, marijuana can cause memory and concentration problems that may lead to difficulties in school. Also, the drug can impair motor control, coordination and judgment, leading to an increased risk of accidental injury and death, according to the AAP.

What's more, the AAP pointed out that regular use of marijuana can lead to poorer lung health, psychological problems and a greater chance of drug dependence in adulthood.

"It is true we do not yet have data documenting changes to child health in response to the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, though there have been reports of child ingestion and injuries," Dr. Sharon Levy, chair of the AAP Committee on Substance Abuse, said in the news release.

"It took several generations, millions of lives and billions of dollars to establish the harms of tobacco use on health, even though these harms are overwhelming. We should not consider marijuana 'innocent until proven guilty,' given what we already know about the harms to adolescents," Levy said.

Studies have linked recreational marijuana use in kids with ill effects on health and brain development, including problems with memory, concentration, attention, judgment and reaction time, the group's policy emphasises.

Read more:

How marijuana clouds memory
Marijuana use triggers psychosis
Marijuana causes disruptions similar to schizophrenia

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