A Parent’s Guide to Using CBD Oil in Hard to Treat Pediatric Conditions

By Mary Sauer
Bruno Nascimento, Unsplash

For the parents of children experiencing specific difficult to treat and debilitating conditions, Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, feels like a source of hope. Watching your child experience the symptoms of a debilitating illness with few options for improving their quality life is heartbreaking, but CBD is becoming a popular alternative treatment all around the country.

The use of CBD for children might still seem unusual or even alarming to some. However, because of the mild side effects and emerging research suggesting its effectiveness for use as treatment for very specific conditions, its use is becoming more widely accepted in adults and children.

Specifically, CBD is being considered as a promising option for children experiencing seizures, anxiety, the side effects of cancer treatment, and the symptoms associated with autism. The attitudes and laws concerning this once taboo medication are constantly changing, and staying informed can be overwhelming.

Related: CBD and Autism

If you’re considering CBD oil as a treatment option for your children, here are some of the things to consider, including questions you can ask your child’s physician before you make up your mind.

How effective is CBD oil?

Even though CBD oil is being used to treat a wide variety of childhood conditions, much of the research is still incomplete on its potential and safety. When it comes to the effectiveness of CBD, research indicates that it is most promising when used to treat epileptic seizures, while use for minimizing the side effects of chemotherapy and decreasing anxiety is still limited.

Specifically, CBD has been found to help reduce seizures in children with two specific diseases that are incredibly difficult to manage—Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In light of this research, the FDA has recently approved the first marijuana-derived medication, Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a CBD oil that does not contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the component of marijuana that is responsible for creating a high in users.

Read More about the benefits of CBD

In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics published their findings on a large research review of the topic of CBD oil use in children. Examining 21 articles, they concluded that there was encouraging evidence that CBD could be used not only for treatment of seizures but also for management of nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy in childhood cancer.

In regard to anxiety in children, there is still much research to be done. One 2016 case report published in The Permanente Journal recorded the outcomes of use of CBD in a girl with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from sexual abuse. In her case, traditional medication had provided some relief from her anxiety and insomnia, but only for short periods of time. When CBD was added into her treatment plan, she experienced increased quality of life, less insomnia, and reduced anxiety.

Is CBD oil safe for children?

One of the first questions parents have about the use of CBD oil is whether or not it is safe for children. Although the AAP raises concerns about the negative effects of medical cannabinoids because of research pertaining to recreational use, much of the research suggests that well-monitored use of CBD oil at the right dosage is safe for both children and adults. In fact, the official stance of the World Health Organization is that CBD oil free of THC is believed to be safe and well tolerated.

Epidiolex does not contain THC, which eliminates one of the biggest concerns for parents. But some over-the-counter CBD oils may include THC, so always discuss their use with your doctor first.

One study published in Neurology closely observed children ages four to 10 as they were given increasing doses of CBD oil over the course of four weeks. Although the children in this study were said to have tolerated the different doses well, adverse effects like decreased appetite, sedation, and fever were experienced.

Additionally, a 2017 research review published by Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found that, although side effects like changes in appetite, diarrhea, and fatigue did exist in children prescribed CBD oil, these side effects were fewer and more mild compared to conventional medications used to treat the same conditions.

Related: CBD and ADHD

One concern that has come up is interaction with other medications. If your child is taking anti-seizure medication, for instance, it is important to discuss with your doctor what research has been done to examine the safety of taking these two drugs at the same time.

Discussing CBD as an Option for Your Child

If you’re considering CBD for your child, work with your doctor to make a decision that is in the best interest of your child. There is still a lot to be learned about this alternative treatment, but these questions may help guide your discussion with your child’s pediatrician:

  • Is prescription CBD oil an option for my child? Epidiolex is only indicated for use as treatment for seizures related to two specific conditions. If your child has another condition, like anxiety, or is experiencing chemotherapy side effects, a prescription might not be an option for your child.
  • Will Epidiolex be covered by my insurance? Since this prescription CBD oil has only recently been approved by the FDA and only for specific conditions, your insurance company may not cover its use. Your doctor, or their support staff, can likely help you research what paying out-of-pocket could cost you.
  • Is over-the-counter CBD oil legal? The answer to this question is more complicated than you might expect. Certain forms of CBD oil are legal in all states, like CBD oil derived from hemp, but many states still have laws prohibiting the sale of CBD oil derived from marijuana.
  • How can I choose a safe over-the-counter CBD oil for my child? Speak with your doctor about finding a CBD oil that is free from THC.
  • What dosage is appropriate for a child? The safety of CBD oil has only been studied in very specific dosages, make sure you are clear on what is and isn’t appropriate for your child.
  • Will any of my child’s current medications negatively interaction with CBD? Remember that concerns do exists about the interactions between CBD oil and other anti-seizure medications. Talk with your doctor about your child’s specific situation before making a decision.
  • When should I discontinue use of CBD oil? Although CBD oil is generally considered to be safe, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for side effects and to understand when they’ve become severe enough to warrant discontinuing use of the oil.

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