With virtually no hard proof that medical marijuana benefits sick children, and evidence that it may harm developing brains, the drug should only be used for severely ill kids who have no other treatment option, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy published today in Pediatrics. Some parents insist that medical marijuana has cured their kids' troublesome seizures or led to other improvements, but the AAP says rigorous research is needed to verify those claims. To make it easier to study and develop marijuana-based treatments, the group recommends removing marijuana from the government's most restrictive drug category, which includes heroin, LSD, and other narcotics with no accepted medical use, and switching it to the category which includes methadone and oxycodone.
The switch "could help make a big difference in promoting more research," says Dr. Seth Ammerman, the policy's lead author. The academy's qualified support may lead more pediatricians to prescribe medical marijuana, but the group says pediatric use should only be considered "for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate." Studies have linked recreational marijuana use in kids with ill effects on health and brain development, including problems with memory, concentration, attention, judgment, and reaction time. Most states that allow medical marijuana use also let children qualify. "The cart is so far ahead of the horse related to this drug," says Dr. Angus Wilfong, of Texas Children's Hospital. Marijuana has dozens of chemical components that need to be studied to determine safety, proper doses, and potential side effects, he says. (Read more medical marijuana stories.)