There are so many products that we deem safe for adults but dangerous for children. These includes alcohol, caffeine and of course, cannabis. The first two have been scientifically studied and designated as unsuitable for youth. However, the latter substance, cannabis, is much more contested. This is especially the case as this plant is making headway regarding its medical legitimacy with users of all ages. Whether you’re curious the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine for children or the effects of the plant in general, here are some things to consider regarding children and cannabis.
1. Effects On The Brain
Our body naturally produces cannabinoids, a chemical compound found in marijuana that’s tied to dopamine and the reward receptors in our brains. When additional cannabinoids are added to the endogenous (or naturally occurring) cannabinoids in our bodies when we ingest marijuana, the effect is similar to an increase in dopamine level—you feel euphoric, excited and relaxed.
However, cannabis affects every person differently and the experience of one user can be vastly different from another. Science hasn’t yet examined what might cause our bodies to react differently to cannabis, but with increased interest in the plant as a medicinal product, our questions may be answered soon. Because of this uncertainty, being cautious in exposing children to this plant is key—the last thing any parent wants is for their child to have an adverse reaction.
2. Medical Benefits
The components of cannabis that hold the most value in the medical world are CBD and THC. THC increases appetite and reduces nausea in addition to having pain reduction and anti-inflammatory properties, whereas CBD does not affect the mind or behaviour of the user, but does help in reducing pain. CBD has even been shown to control epileptic seizures and treat various mental illnesses, even in children.
Recent studies conducted on animals have shown that cannabis extracts may be able to kill or reduce the size of certain cancer cells. This, of course, is very exciting to the wider medical community, but further testing is needed before we can confirm any definitive answers. According to the FDA, more large-scale research needs to be conducted before cannabis can be legitimized as a medical product. But for now, many parents have turned to the plant after traditional medicine has failed to effectively treat their sick child. With more research and the success stories of many children using cannabis oils, the medical use of this plant is likely to become more accepted.
3. Long Term & Developmental Effects
According to drugabuse.gov, cannabis has serious long-term effects on users, especially if those users are teenagers. This government-sourced website states marijuana may cause a reduction in thinking, memory and learning functions in users. The site also notes that teens who were considered to be heavy cannabis users lost an average of eight IQ points for every year they had been smoking.
Other concerns relate to respiratory problems and increased heart rate, which is proven to exist in cannabis smokers, regardless of age. Some users have experienced hallucinations, paranoia and schizophrenia when consuming cannabis, but of course, these experiences are all unique to the individual as with any medication.
While parents should keep these possible effects in mind when discussing cannabis use with their children, it’s important to remember that some of these statistics are not scientifically sourced, but rather, stated by the government.
4. New Research
While the only official medical research conducted using cannabis has been on lab rats, there have been various informal efforts to examine its effects on children. For example, Vice and CNN have each created documentaries featuring children who’ve been given cannabis for medical purposes.
One of the stories examined is that of Mykayla Comstock, who was eight years old when she was first given medical cannabis to treat her leukaemia. The extracts she ingested equated to seven grams of cannabis every day and were supplemented with candied edibles. This large amount of cannabis is controversial, but her cancer has since gone into remission. Because of the stigma associated with giving kids marijuana, medical science has not yet studied cases like Comstock’s. Further, there are no scientific explanations for her incredible turnaround, which is unfortunate for children who suffer from similar ailments and who might benefit from comparable treatments.
5. New Technology
Smoking cannabis has never been easier and healthier than it is today. Technologies like vaporizers allow users to smoke cannabis without the added chemicals of burning plant matter. For those wanting to avoid smoking, there are many other ingestion methods, such as tinctures, extracts and edibles. Arguably, the most harmful effect that cannabis has on the human body is its impact on the lungs, but technology has circumvented this problem by allowing the drug to be safely consumed by adults or children.
Currently, only three states, including Colorado, Oregon and California, allow children under 21 to use medical marijuana for specific ailments, including epilepsy. In all other states it’s illegal, but it’s also unlikely that a child under 21 would receive a jail sentence for consuming a small amount of marijuana for medicinal purposes, though it is something to consider.
At this point, there just simply isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitively say whether or not cannabis is safe for children. Ultimately, if your child is suffering from an ailment that your doctor thinks might be relieved by cannabis use, it’s up to you as a parent to decide what’s best. Concerning recreational use amongst kids, cannabis is similar to alcohol in that it must be consumed responsibly. Better education and science regarding cannabis will help kids make these decisions from an informed perspective and will help you decide how to discuss the topic with your family.