The uncertainties of using medical marijuana mean that it should not be given to pediatric patients, writes Packard Children's adolescent medicine specialist Seth Ammerman, MD, in today's U.S. News & World Report.
Why not? Ammerman gives several reasons in the opinion piece, including lack of knowledge about the effects, individually and in combination, of the various drug compounds in marijuana. He adds that there are significant concerns about the variation in drug levels between individual plants, poor understanding about how to safely and effectively dose marijuana to children and teens, and inadequate information about short-term side effects of the drugs in marijuana.
The long-term effects of marijuana on young brains are also worrying, Ammerman explains:
Cognitive impairment is of special concern. New research in brain development found that brain maturation isn't completed until the early to mid-20s. The developing brain of a child is often more vulnerable to exposure to compounds than that of an adult.
Finally, the younger an adolescent starts using substances, whether tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs including marijuana, the more likely they are to develop dependence on, or addiction to, that substance. Brain imaging studies in adolescents demonstrate that use of substances, including marijuana, may alter the developing brain itself. The significance of these changes is not fully understood, but is clearly not normal.
Better research on the role of the class of drugs found in marijuana, called cannabinoids, may eventually clarify possible uses of these drugs in disease treatment. But in the absence of such research parents and physicians should avoid giving medical marijuana to children or teenagers, concludes Ammerman.