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Protecting youth from the potential harms of cannabis has been paramount to any other theme as reform has become a reality in jurisdictions, states and countries around the world. A healthy dialogue has formed in recent years around the real ramifications of cannabis use in youth, but also the prospective benefits of cannabis treatment for children dealing with specific medical conditions.

From a public-health standpoint, most voices stand unequivocally against cannabis use before the age of 25. And perhaps for good reason. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience revealed that cannabis was responsible for major brain changes when used ritually by people under 25, the age at which the teen brain is considered to be fully developed. The study reported that smoking cannabis, even once a week, was linked to a loss of motivation, increased anxiety, and cognitive impairment in that cohort.1

One of the most-widely used and abused substances amongst youth, cannabis is well to be eschewed by that demographic, one that needs especially to abstain until the brain has developed. Some researchers have called cannabis use in youth a, “serious health issue.” As cannabis science evolves, so too are researchers calling for more insight into what, if any, behavioural and neurobiological conditions are correlated to chronic cannabis use by young people.2

Given the fact that cannabis preparations of various forms are presently used by children of many ages, scientists consider it evidently important to determine how cannabinoids affect the developing brain. With medical cannabis beginning to transcend almost every aspect of medicine, health and wellness, researchers are eager to figure out if cannabis use in early life leads to neurobehavioral alterations or neuropsychiatric issues in later years.

Another concern that some parents may have is the age-old notion that cannabis is a gateway to other drugs. While there remain two distinct schools of thought on this point – one ascetic, and the other that believes cannabis poses virtually no harm to children and teens – the science does suggest a correlation between heavy cannabis use in youth, and the propensity to turn to other illicit drugs. A trend that has been observed in the U.S. for 30 years, cannabis is, by some accounts, said to be more likely than alcohol or tobacco use to lead to the use of other drugs.

Counterweight: Cannabis and the Developing Brain
In Canada, where cannabis is now legal for adult recreational use, the government has taken a strict approach to protecting children. Public awareness campaigns have been established, while cannabis products require child-resistant packaging and warning labels. Cannabis products and promotion appealing to youth are outlawed, while selling or giving cannabis to a youth is cause for up to 14 years in prison.4

Still, the counterweight to any discussion about the risk of cannabis use in youth is the prospect that some forms of cannabis treatment may well hold the key to trumping insidious and egregious maladies and symptoms in sick children. In the context, namely, of the treatment of epilepsy and cancer in children and youth, cannabis has been shown to be an incredibly effective tool.

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto recently conducted an experimental study using a cannabis-based oil to treat a rare form of epilepsy that can produce upwards of 1,000 seizures a month. Researchers used a cannabis preparation that included both THC and CBD, and found that most of the 20 children that were tested experienced a significant drop in the number of seizures they suffered from.5

Counterweight: Cannabis and the Developing Brain
Somewhat unique for its use of THC, the Sick Kids study is affirmed by many others that have tested, primarily, the merits of CBD in pacifying epileptic seizures in children. In addition to being celebrated for its use in children with various types of epilepsy, CBD is also being suggested as a treatment option for autism and anxiety in youth and teenagers.6

Like many topics that are explored daily under the medical cannabis banner, the prospects and potential pitfalls of cannabis use in youth is a theme that will, in time, be ironed out by the truth of science. Though some studies claim abstinence is the only answer, others continue to tout the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of serious medical conditions in children. In coming years, it will be crucial for scientists to draw consensus, and deliver an answer, on this important public-health question. 

  1. "Casual marijuana use linked to brain changes in young adults." https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201404/casual-marijuana-use-linked-brain-changes-in-young-adults
  2. "Cannabis and the developing brain: Insights from behavior." https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299908002999
  3. "Is cannabis a gateway drug?..." https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/30805509/Hall___Lynskey_%282005%29_Is_cannabis_a_gateway_drug_-_Testing_hypotheses_about_the_relationship_between_cannabis_use_and_the_use_of_other_i.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1555596499&Signature=WS4IUMctezeBKXfvpgJvUZ2DRsM%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DIs_cannabis_a_gateway_drug_Testing_hypot.pdf
  4. "Legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis: youth and adults." https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/cannabis/legalizing-strictly-regulating-cannabis-youth-adults.html
  5. "Cannabis oil with THC may help treat kids with severe epilepsy." https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/cannabis-oil-with-thc-may-help-treat-kids-with-severe-epilepsy-1.4035970
  6. "CBD for children." https://www.cbdforlife.us/blogs/articles/cbd-for-children/

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