Opponents of legal marijuana love to use “the safety of children” as a primary reason for why marijuana should remain a widely prohibited substance. But according to a recent study, physicians who work with children every day don’t necessarily agree with this rallying point.
The study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, concluded that about 95% of doctors support medical marijuana for children and would be willing to prescribe it to a child suffering from cancer if the option was available.
Of those who are already certified to provide medical marijuana to their patients, a slightly lower but still overwhelming number, 85%, said they would be willing to prescribe child cancer patients medical marijuana. The doctors surveyed also became more willing to use medical marijuana as a treatment option as the child became more likely to die from their condition.
Across the board, these doctors believed that medical marijuana for children should be administered with care, and that smoking it, most of those certified to provide medical marijuana believed, was not the best option. Rather, using oral methods like edibles, oils or capsules, was (unsurprisingly) preferred.
This study was conducted with a “ 32-item, cross-sectional survey,” which was sent to 654 pediatric doctors in the states of Washington, Illinois, and Massachusetts. Of those 654 doctors, 288 responded to the survey, with a median age of 35 years old. All three of these states currently have laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana.
The number of respondents that supported prescribing medical marijuana to child cancer patients is particularly striking considering that only 8% of respondents claimed to occasionally or frequently recommend medical marijuana to their current patients. This may reflect a discrepancy between popular opinions among doctors about medical marijuana and the lack of research around cannabis that makes it difficult for doctors to know exactly what types of cannabis to prescribe.
As the study’s authors wrote, “Given burgeoning interest in medical marijuana, especially in oncology care, it is critical that providers who are routinely approached for access to medical marijuana possess baseline knowledge on regulations, known benefits and harm.”
Medical marijuana for children has caused controversy in the past because of the risks it may pose to neurocognitive development. However, many doctors feel that the benefits of medical cannabis for improving the quality of life of children with conditions like cancer or extreme forms of epilepsy outweigh the potential risks.
The problem with this, according to many of the doctors who responded to the survey, is the current lack of standardization around medical marijuana. Cannabis is a diverse plant, and different ratios of cannabinoids (like THC and CBD), as well as plant species (Sativa and Indica), are purportedly more beneficial for certain illnesses. For certain types of childhood epilepsy, for example, CBD is the primary cannabinoid that can be used to treat the condition. However, a significant number of the survey’s respondents expressed concern over the lack of available information about dosages and types of cannabis that are best for treating pediatric cancer patients.
The authors of the study ultimately concluded that “Randomized clinical trials using such MM [medical marijuana] formulations for supportive care in children with cancer are needed to better understand the therapeutic potential.”
This is a common theme in the medical marijuana world. Doctors are aware that medical marijuana has been found to be a beneficial treatment method for a host of illnesses and conditions, but the plant’s federal Schedule I status prevents researchers from conducting meaningful studies that would allow physicians to streamline cannabis for its optimal medical potential.
One of the most important takeaways from this study is that most doctors think that medical marijuana would be beneficial for child cancer patients, but due to the current government’s baseless opposition to legalizing marijuana, these children may not be getting the treatment they need or deserve.