In recent years, the use of medicinal cannabis to treat sick children has increased, although questions about the benefits and safety of such treatments remain. Now, a team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) has conducted a first-ever meta-analysis of pediatric patients treated with medicinal cannabis to better understand the risks and benefits of cannabis use in young patients.
The meta-review was led by Professor Ilan Matok from the HU School of Pharmacy and the David R. Bloom Center for Pharmacy together with PhD student Nir Treves. They will present their results at the 31st Annual International Cannabinoid Research SocietySymposium (ICRS), which is being held in Jerusalem for the first time this week. The conference is hosted by the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research (MCCR) at HU, a leading research center for cannabinoids, endocannabinoids and medicinal cannabis.
Matok and his team found that medicinal cannabis was particularly effective in treating severe epilepsy and the harmful side effects of chemotherapy. However, the side effects of these treatments in children are still an open question. As Matok explained, “Because medical cannabis is not widely recognized as an accepted or regulated drug, there simply haven’t been enough studies to know if it’s suitable for children.”
The team examined seven clinical studies involving approximately 500 young patients (under the age of 18). Despite the limited number of participants, they were able to identify both positive and negative effects of medicinal cannabis use on the mental and physical health of children.
For example, the team found that CBD (cannabidiol) was effective in reducing the number of severe seizures in children, especially those with difficult-to-treat epilepsy. However, CBD also greatly suppresses their appetite. They also found that several cannabis plant components used in medicinal treatments impaired children’s mental health, causing fatigue, apathy, dizziness, and lethargy.
Children are not little adults. Medical cannabis affects children differently, and doctors need to pay close attention to these differences. “
Ilan Matok, Professor, School of Pharmacy, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Medical cannabis, on the other hand, has been found to be very helpful for children undergoing chemotherapy as it reduced the severity of the nausea and vomiting that often accompanies this treatment.
Research into medical cannabis in children is still in its infancy. Because cannabis is not registered as a drug, it is often prescribed to children as needed with limited clinical evidence. “While Pfizer and Moderna have conducted clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine in children, there are few top-notch clinical trials for cannabis use in children. The goal of our meta-analysis is to shed light on this area and provide clinicians and parents with a better informed view of the potential of cannabis to help or harm their young patients, “concluded Matok.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem