Docs Say They’ll Help Sick Kids Get Medical Pot—But There’s A Catch

Doctors weigh in on the use of medical marijuana for children.
Docs Say They'll Help Sick Kids Get Medical Pot—But There's A Catch

While the use of medical marijuana has greatly increased over the last several years, doctors have always been hesitant to prescribe it to young children. It’s proven to be effective for a number of common disorders in children such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and of course, cancer, but doctors have remained somewhat reluctant to prescribe it due to some of the lingering stigmas attached to the plant.

However, as we continue to see stellar results from cannabis, in both adults and children, docs say they’ll help sick kids get medical pot—under one condition.

Doctors’ Stance

A recent study published in Pediatrics proved that 92 percent of medical providers were willing to prescribe cannabis for cancer. The study was conducted in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington—three states that currently employ the use of medical marijuana.

However, providers who were actually licensed to prescribe medicinal cannabis noted they were still hesitant to provide children with it, due to the federal government’s prohibitionist stance on the drug. This is even the case in certain states where medical marijuana is legal and readily available.

“It is not surprising that providers who are eligible to certify for medical marijuana were more cautious about recommending it, given that their licensure could be jeopardized due to federal prohibition,” said co-author Kelly Michelson, MD. “Institutional policies also may have influenced their attitudes. Lurie Children’s, for example, prohibits pediatric providers from facilitating medical marijuana access in accordance with the federal law, even though it is legal in Illinois.”

Another reason for most doctors’ reluctance to prescribe the plant is an overall lack of research surrounding cannabis and children. According to the study, the majority of doctors surveyed (63 percent) weren’t worried about potential substance abuse in children, but rather, a lack of protocol in prescribing marijuana to young cancer patients.

“In addition to unclear dosage guidelines, the lack of high-quality scientific data that medical marijuana benefits outweigh possible harm is a huge concern for providers accustomed to evidence-based practice,” said Michelson. “We need rigorously designed clinical trials on the use of medical marijuana in children with cancer.”

However, there was one situation in which all doctors almost universally agreed that prescribing cannabis was a relative no-brainer.

Most providers agreed that medical marijuana was far more of a viable option for children with advanced cancer or near the end of their life, as opposed to kids with earlier stages of the disease. Only two percent of doctors surveyed believed medical marijuana wasn’t appropriate for children in any situation.

Final Hit: Docs Say They’ll Help Sick Kids Get Medical Pot, But There’s A Catch

While it is certainly comforting to know most doctors are willing to prescribe the plant in dire situations, it still can be viewed as somewhat troubling that most doctors only see cannabis as a worst-case scenario treatment.

However, Dr. Joanne Wolfe, another researcher behind the study, says the reason it’s being viewed as a last resort, is that a lot of children are able to recover from cancer without the use of medical cannabis.

“It’s very uncommon to provide certification for marijuana for children with cancer, and the reason is that there’s a high expectation for many different childhood cancer diagnoses that these children will go on to be cured and will go on to have a normal life expectancy,” Wolfe said.

Despite its current status as a last option treatment, Wolfe says marijuana is still an important tool for symptom relief and comfortability for children.

“After all,” Wolfe said, “we want these kids to feel as well as possible.”

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