With its reputed ability to manage medical issues like chronic pain and mood disorders, cannabidiol (CBD), has become an informal cure-all for life’s curveballs. Yet given its unregulated status by the Food and Drug Administration, there is a lack of research about the safety of CBD, its medicinal benefits, and its side effects.
The problem is even more pronounced for CBD products consumed by children, and for a growing number of parents wondering if those products can help their kids.
A new report by the CS Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan set out to study parent attitudes about CBD for children. The report surveyed 2,020 randomly selected parents with at least one child in the household between 1 and 18 years old.
The poll found that, despite parents who never considered offering their child a CBD product were in the majority, three in four surveyed appeared to be receptive to the notion when other medications don’t work.
“I really think parents are pretty open-minded about this,” says Mott poll co-director Sarah Clark. “Societally, we have changing and evolving attitudes, so you would think that the community of parents might be a little more inclined to be open-minded about CBD than the general public. That includes older adults where I think they’re inclined to be more, ‘Oh yeah, that’s marijuana, we can’t have that.’”
CBD is a chemical compound naturally found in marijuana and hemp that may contain up to 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive part of marijuana that makes you feel high.
CBD products are most commonly seen in oils, but also are sold as extracts, topical ointments, gummies, edibles, and capsules, and are increasingly found in marijuana-infused beverages.
The Mott report highlighted the lack of consistent information parents have about CBD. For example, the report showed that a third of surveyed parents believe taking CBD is the same as using marijuana, revealing a major gap in parents’ overall knowledge about CBD products.
Clark believes some lack of awareness can stem from previous information that may no longer be true or accurate. “For the one-third that had that misinformation, I think it’s more continued exposure and explanation until they get up to speed,” says Clark.
Despite a third of surveyed parents misunderstanding the difference between CBD and typical marijuana that provides a feeling of euphoria, Clark is optimistic that three-quarters of surveyed parents have some basic knowledge of CBD.
“Parents realize that there isn’t always a medicine that magically works for every condition or for every kid,” explains Clark. “You can’t necessarily go to the doctor and expect that they have a magic pill that they can prescribe, and everything will be better. Sometimes different people need to try out different options.”
Currently, the only FDA-approved prescription medicine containing CBD is Epidiolex, an oral solution that has managed to significantly reduce the frequency of seizures in patients.
The Mott poll showed that 83 percent of parents believe CBD products for kids should be regulated by the FDA, and 74 percent say a doctor’s prescription should be necessary.
Clark believes the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance has gotten in the way of scientists doing necessary and legitimate research on marijuana and how it might help kids and adults. With the federal prohibition, investment in the research of CBD is not as robust as it should be, especially given its widely accepted usage.
Felicia Castro, the owner of AZ Hemp Health in Mesa, notes that numerous customers are parents purchasing CBD for their children, many of them inquiring in regard to autism. “I ask a few of my customers, ‘What do you see? How is it helping?’ And the two main things are their mood and the focus,” Castro says.
With the country entering Year Three of home and school disruptions that began with the pandemic, evidence points to a behavioral impact on kids that has been detrimental to their mental health.
“When they’re forced to stay at home due to illness or forced to stay at home due to school shutdowns, it obviously disrupts that social part of growing up,” says Dr. Andrew Carroll, a pediatrician who runs a medical behavioral clinic in Chandler.
“We’re still hesitant to advise or suggest that CBD should be used in children under the age of 18,” says Carroll, who believes cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling have had the most impact on children’s behavioral health, “especially in conditions like ADD or ADHD.”
Still, the questions come and the interest grows.
Castro mentioned a customer who purchases CBD oil for her two older autistic boys. “They’re bigger boys and they can actually get kinda physical, so it can help for the people watching and taking care of them,” she says.
Despite the lack of hard research, it’s hard to deny millions of testimonies from patients who use CBD to treat various ailments including high blood pressure, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Clark contends the jury is still out on CBD because there’s still so much research to be done. “You want to be able to say, “We looked at this in a rigorous fashion and we have data to support those testimonies,’” she states. “We also can have data to say, ‘All right, we looked really hard to see if there are negative effects and what those are and how often do they occur and what are the signs that they are occurring so that people can stop using a product if it looks like it could be harmful.’”
Robin Couch, the owner of Your CBD Store in Prescott, points out that her customers purchase CBD for all kinds of ailments.
“They use it for pain, inflammation, neuropathy, just about anything you can think of,” Couch says.
Regarding CBD usage for children, Couch is also hesitant to advise it. “We do not endorse anyone under 18 using the product,” she says, adding the decision should be made by the parent and guidance from the child’s physician.
Carroll agrees that involving a pediatrician early in the conversation is helpful, to talk through their benefits, side effects, and dosage as a best practice before using them.
“When you knee-jerk and start using any type of substance whether it be homeopathic, naturopathic, CBD, or even prescribed medications, you have to be careful,” he adds. “We understand how natural therapies work, just like red yeast works for cholesterol and St. John’s wort works for depression.” He believes natural substances can be beneficial if proper dosage is applied and other studied measures have already been discussed with parents.
In the end, the experts are in unison on one major takeaway: There is too little data to be dolling out CBD as a quick fix for any ailments.
“We should be funding studies so we can better understand how it works, how it can benefit kids and adults, and what the side effects might be, and what are the right doses for people,” says Carroll. “That really needs to be done.”
Clark is hopeful for the future of CBD and eager for more data involving its benefits in children. “I hope it gets done, I hope money gets put towards it because I think in certain situations it could be a really good alternative.”