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August 18, 2019

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The evidence is there’: Medical professionals say pot an expanding part of children’s medicine


Steven Senne / AP

In this Thursday, July 12, 2018 file photo, a newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in pots at a medical marijuana cultivation facility in Massachusetts. Medical marijuana is increasingly embraced as a legitimate treatment for children with epilepsy and autism.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the marijuana industry expands to a greater role in mainstream medicine, doctors across the country, including in Las Vegas, are promoting the plant in the treatment of sick children.

“Cannabis is safe, especially under medical supervision,” said Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based pediatrician, on Tuesday at the Cannabis Science Conference. “People worry using cannabis would make kids worse, but we’re finding the exact opposite is true.”

Goldstein for a decade has operated Canna-Centers Wellness & Education in Southern California. The practice has exploded in recent years as parents of youth patients from across the country have sought pot-based treatments for extreme conditions like epilepsy, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, cancer and Tourette syndrome.

Nevada law does not allow minors under age 18 to apply for a medical card. But adults can apply for a card on behalf of a minor, and legally have the authority to purchase medical marijuana products and serve them to that minor. Medical marijuana is legal in 30 states.

Instead of swallowing pills or forcing down liquid prescription drugs, Goldstein’s patients are given cannabidiol oils (CBD) to drop under their tongues or, for patients who can’t swallow, to serve through a gastronomy feeding tube.

Cannabidiol, which is also used by elderly patients as a pain reliever, satisfies a part of the brain called the endocannabinoid receptor, Goldstein said. The California pediatrician says she rarely suggests high doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana that provides users with a psychoactive high, unless the patient has trouble sleeping or suffers from high anxiety.

Goldstein, who started in the medical industry as an emergency room doctor, says she has prescribed cannabis medication for more 600 children, as young as 6 weeks old, from across the United States. While her youth patients are treatment resistant — meaning regular pharmaceutical prescription drugs designed for their medical conditions haven’t worked — Goldstein says she has seen success rates of more than 85 percent when switching to pot.

“The results have been incredible,” she said. “The evidence is there.”

Medical professionals emphasized that marijuana is often a last resort for child patients with life-threatening disabilities. For children in good health looking to improve their overall sense of wellness, Bernstein said brain-altering substances are not a responsible option.

“There’s no reason to mess with a system that’s already functioning,” she said. “If you’re well, just leave your brain alone”

Research on the plant is limited because the federal government classifies it as a Schedule I narcotic, which means institutes can’t receive grant money to study weed. Goldstein said the negative stigma of marijuana remains, especially from parents who bring their children to her office for the first time.

Jan Roberts, a New York City-based psychologist, founded the International Research Center on Cannabis and Mental Health last fall with a goal of advising medical professionals on how to recommend cannabis for the mental well-being of their young patients. Roberts, like Bernstein, said the plant helped treat diseases in young patients who did not benefit from prescription drugs.

Roberts in a speech during Tuesday’s conference described a teenage patient suffering from years of extreme anorexia, who with cannabis developed a desire to eat and maintain a regular weight within six months.

“I’m a huge proponent of talk therapy, but cannabis in conjunction with talk therapy has changed this young woman’s life,” Roberts said.

Robert Cohen of the Cohen Medical Center in Las Vegas said the need for cannabis as part of youth medicine is “definitely there.” The center sells CBD-rich oils for a younger clientele and tablets for older patients who are more used to digesting them.

“We’re trying to change the perception of this. It’s medicine,” Cohen said. “Too many professionals still don’t know enough about it to steer people in the right way.”