In recent years, Canada’s medical marijuana population has been growing. As more research becomes available, physicians and patients alike are seeking to determine what cannabis can do to help them treat and manage the symptoms of many different health conditions.
In general, it is not recommended for people under 25 years of age to use medical cannabis because the brain is still theoretically developing until this age. It’s one reason why a recent study of pediatricians is so shocking. About half of those doctors surveyed said at least some of their young patients had already used cannabis to treat or manage symptoms.
Medical Cannabis: Boon or Bane for Youth?
The study is shocking to many people because much of the available literature on medical marijuana suggests it may not be helpful for young people. In particular, there are concerns that cannabis use negatively affects the normal development of the brain.
Some studies have shown young people who use cannabis experience psychotic symptoms at a higher rate than the general population. These symptoms are usually more severe and longer lasting, sticking with the patient into their adult years. This supports the theory cannabis use may be detrimental to normal development. However, the data is conflicting because some new research shows the harms might be overstated.
Like almost every other area of medical cannabis research, however, there are some studies that show medical marijuana use could help some patients under 25. A good example is in cases of some particularly difficult-to-treat childhood epilepsies. Medical marijuana seems to provide effective relief for these young patients when other treatments cannot.
Is Youth Use Authorized or Unauthorized?
The survey questioned 835 pediatricians across Canada about cannabis. Of the survey participants, 419 said they had encountered a patient who had used cannabis for a medical reason.
The survey didn’t ask some key questions, such as the age of the patients nor whether their cannabis use was authorized or unauthorized. It’s important to follow up on this study and ask these key questions.
One major concern, both for recreational use and medicinal use, is access by patients under 25. A parent may legitimately be authorized medical cannabis, but a young person could access it. Many parents and youth advocates are concerned about how many young people could have unauthorized access to medical marijuana.
It’s also possible many of the patients the survey respondents were treating had been authorized to use medical cannabis. In some cases, the use of cannabis may have been authorized by the responding pediatrician or by another doctor.
How Young Is Too Young?
The survey raises another concern. How young should be considered too young for medical marijuana?
Currently, there are no restrictions on physicians authorizing medical marijuana to persons under 25 in Canada. Health Canada does recommend physicians exercise caution when authorizing medical marijuana for patients under 25 given that the research indicates there could be negative health effects.
Physicians, of course, should always be acting in the best interests of their patients. In some cases, medical marijuana may be the right choice, even if the person is young.
Nonetheless, many people have concerns about patients under 25, especially children, being authorized medical marijuana. Some worry it may lead to health issues later on, while others cite potential behavioural issues or difficulty in school as concerns.
More Research Is Needed
What the results of this survey show is that medical cannabis use is not necessarily uncommon in the pediatric field. It also illustrates the need for more research in the area. It’s important to note the pediatricians who said they had patients who had used medical marijuana did not say how many patients they had or if these patients were all currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes.
There are also still many questions about how medical cannabis can help patients under 25 with certain health conditions and what effects it has on the developing brain. All of these questions remain, and so more research is needed.