As Medical marijuana becomes increasingly accepted, there is growing interest in its use for children and adolescents with developmental and behavioral problems such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Despite a lack of studies showing any clinical benefit of cannabis for young patients with these disorders, whereas evidence strongly suggests harmful effects of regular marijuana use in the developing brain.
Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, John R. Knight, MD, and Sion Kim Harris, PhD of Boston Children’s Hospital write, “Given the current scarcity of data, cannabis cannot be safely recommended for the treatment of developmental or behavioral disorders at this time.”
According to him by using medicinal marijuana they may be trading away their child’s future for short-term symptom control. Adolescents with developmental and behavioral disorders — especially ADHD — may be put at risk to early and heavier substance use.
Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence links cannabis to “long-term and potentially irreversible physical, neurocognitive, psychiatric, and psychosocial adverse outcomes.”
Over time, regular cannabis use by adolescents has been linked to persistent declines in intelligence quotient and increased risk of addiction, major depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic thinking. The adolescent brain may be uniquely susceptible to the harmful effects of marijuana, reflecting the role of the cannabinoid receptors in normal neurodevelopment. Brain abnormalities in adults who are heavy marijuana users may have their origin in neurodevelopmental changes starting in adolescence.
A number of online groups are advocating the use of “medical marijuana” for children with autism, ADHD, and other developmental and behavioral conditions. These groups often cite evidence from animal research, or from a small number of clinical reports, to claim beneficial effects of cannabis in children. Those beneficial effects are likely from cannabidiols, which also benefit children with uncommon forms of epilepsy and have limited euphoric effects; rather than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), with its strong euphoric and neurotoxic effects.