Children and medical cannabis

Medicinal cannabis during childhood cancer treatment

Medical cannabis treatment plans for children

After decades of stigmatisation, it is hard for many in the medical profession to accept medical cannabis as a viable treatment option in adult patients. For those doctors still desiring further medical cannabis research before contemplating prescribing, accepting the use of medicinal cannabis oil as a part of treatment plans for children can be a huge stretch.

Yet for those families of children with treatment-resistant conditions like epilepsy, autism or kids experiencing side effects from cancer therapies, medical cannabis may offer an alternative treatment where other medications have failed. 


Grassroots movement: Childhood epilepsy and CBD oil

Medical cannabis for epilepsy was one of the first childhood conditions where grassroots movements pushed ahead of clinical research. The case of Charlotte Figi and her family made waves around the world when they shared Charlotte’s success story with CBD for epilepsy.

Charlotte suffered from upwards of 300 grand mal seizures per week from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, and she was prescribed dozens of medications that provided little benefit. When given CBD oil Charlotte’s seizures reduced to 2-3 per month, she began making eye contact and interacting with her family more than ever before, and continued thus for a further 9 years. This dramatic change inspired researchers and lawmakers around the world to reconsider their positions on cannabis medicine and start investigating deeper.

Charlotte passed in early 2020 (likely from complications due to COVID-19) yet her legacy lives on, potent and pure as ever, inspiring families to seek out expert medical cannabis advice for kids with epileptic conditions.

Since Charlotte’s story, families around the world have shared their success with medical cannabis, particularly CBD in instances of epilepsy. Yet medical professionals aren’t convinced by anecdotal research, clinical data showing safety, efficacy and the appropriate dose is what doctors need to feel confident to prescribe.

A number of gold-standard research studies, namely randomised-controlled trials, show positive results for CBD oil treating epilepsy. A recent placebo-controlled trial of 120 children showed CBD reduced seizure by more than 50% in 43% of children additionally, 5% of kids achieved complete seizure freedom. 

Reviews that assess multiple epilepsy trials also conclude CBD may reduce seizures and improve quality of life, especially for those experiencing rare or treatment-resistant epileptic conditions.


How can medical cannabis oil help children on the Autism Spectrum?

Another childhood condition where families have fought tirelessly to receive access to medical cannabis are those with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

The story of CA Clinics patient Deakin was shared on Prime 7 by his mother Marianne. Deakin experiences a complex array of ASD, ADHD, ODD, anxiety and panic attacks that were treated with an equally bewildering and powerful (though largely ineffective) combination of pharmaceuticals. Deakin’s mum reports him to be much happier and under the guidance of his doctors has reduced four of his medications since being prescribed CBD oil.

Research coming foremost out of Israel has shown prescribing medical cannabis for individuals with ASD shows benefits to behavioural outbursts, sleep and quality of life. In the case of children with Autism high CBD, low THC formulations are most commonly used, in one study conferring as much as a 66% decrease in one or more core ASD symptoms. 


Medicinal cannabis during childhood cancer treatment

There are certainly extra variables to be accounted for when prescribing medicinal cannabis to children alongside cancer therapies, yet some children may benefit from medical cannabis reducing symptoms of chemotherapy just as adults have.

One of the most common side effects of deleterious cancer treatments is loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss. In reducing food and nutrient intake the body has less energy and substrates for normal biological processes, which can negatively impact the digestive, hormonal and immune system. Maintaining adequate nutrition and body composition with the assistance of medical cannabis prescriptions may go a long way in providing resilience to chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

In a small study of paediatric cancer patients, the administration of delta-8-THC (a minor cannabinoid with less intoxicating effects than delta-9-THC) completely prevented vomiting in all children. By preventing vomiting there is a potential to address or avoid cancer-related anorexia or wasting syndrome.

Chronic pain and anxiety from cancer treatment are also regularly experienced by adults and children alike. Research for medical cannabis treating these symptoms concurrent to childhood cancer is sorely needed, though supported by a growing body of evidence pointing to medical cannabis being helpful for chronic pain and mood disorders.

Medical cannabis research and children

Sophie’s success with cancer therapy alongside medical cannabis

Human clinical research into the use of medical cannabis as an adjuvant treatment to conventional cancer treatments is lacking. Yet a number of stories inspire a sense that there is still more to uncover about the possibility of medical cannabis as an adjunct to cancer therapies. Sophie was diagnosed with an aggressive optic pathway glioma brain tumour at 8 months old. While conventional cancer treatments are often successful for Sophie’s type of tumour the recurrence rate is >85%. 

When taking a high potency cannabis oil Sophie experienced very few of the common and debilitating symptoms of chemotherapy like appetite and weight loss. Her development and quality of life were maintained throughout the gruelling treatments. Her parents attribute her life, health and ability to battle this recurring cancer to the combination of conventional cancer treatments and medical cannabis.

Despite such anecdotal successes and promising in vitro investigations, we are still far away from understanding how cannabinoids might impact cancers in humans. Yet for the moment it’s clear cannabis medicines have potential in helping manage the side effects of cancer therapies.


Medical cannabis research and children

There are certain challenges to overcome when studying a novel medication (although it could also be said cannabis is an ancient medicine), especially in children. When researching medical cannabis in children’s diseases a number of ethical concerns come into play.

All healthcare practitioners commit first to doing no harm, thus when prescribing medical cannabinoids to children a thorough assessment of any potential harms are assessed and discussed with the family. The prescribing medical cannabis doctor will evaluate the benefit to risk ratio in each individual case before recommending any medical cannabis treatment.

Another consideration is the patient’s autonomy. The ability for children to make rational and informed decisions regarding medications is largely determined by their age. However, for many families considering medical cannabis for their children, the capacity for the child to provide informed consent or be an active participant in their medical treatment can be impaired. 

Some conditions that affect verbal communication or cognition can also inhibit kids from describing how they feel when taking a medication. Therefore it is the doctor’s responsibility to ensure parents or guardians of children prescribed medical cannabis are well informed of the potential side effects and ways to monitor their child’s symptom changes and general experience of medicine.

Potential side effects of medical cannabis treatments for children

Ethically the prescribing medical cannabis doctor must assess the benefit to risk ratio for each paediatric patient both prior to commencement of treatment. Ongoing monitoring is essential, as with any medicine, especially when other medications are prescribed concurrently.

In the case of children and medical cannabis, the most commonly reported side effects are drowsiness, gastrointestinal discomfort and appetite changes. Across both adults and childhood treatments, side effects from medical cannabis are generally reported to be tolerable by the majority and can often be mitigated with careful dosing regimes.

Research is still sorely needed in this area however thus far it seems medical cannabis or CBD oils have the potential to alleviate some of the suffering that comes with childhood illnesses. 


CA Clinics: Access medical cannabis

The possibility of prescribing medical cannabis for your child should be investigated under the guidance of your GP or specialist. Doctors at CA Clinics have knowledge and experience in a range of childhood illness presentations to find out more contact us on 1300 991 477 or at [email protected]

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