People across the world are discovering the power of CBD for relief of their chronic and temporary ailments. It’s a product and a topic that has reached popular culture and has found its way across many different demographics. But many people wonder about its potential to help children who also suffer from many of the same chronic issues as adults. Is it a safe option for them? What are the potential risks and benefits?
What is CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid molecule produced by the cannabis plant that can be naturally consumed in marijuana or hemp products. It is often removed from the plant through a process of extraction and made into a variety of CBD products like oil, edibles, or salves.
CBD is already known for its ability to help people manage their pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep, but it’s also being researched for its ability to target and reduce risks associated with drug relapse, drug cravings, and managing behaviors triggered by drugs .
How does it do this? CBD is able to work by directly influencing our endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the part of our body that is responsible for controlling our mood, behavior, sleep, and even appetite. It strives to create a perfect state of homeostasis within our bodies.
One area that researchers are especially curious about is CBD’s potential to help neurological conditions, especially in regards to children. With research compounding and new studies being regularly conducted, scientists are finding more intriguing benefits of CBD and learning more about the way it interacts with children’s brains. Understanding how CBD and other cannabinoids function in the brain is complicated because the brain itself is incredibly involved and contains a wide variety of receptors handling a multitude of interactions every single second.
What is the Endocannabinoid System
The ECS is responsible for maintaining a constant state of homeostasis in the body. This is an important function because all of our internal systems need to be in equilibrium to work effectively. When any sort of instability is registered, the ETS kicks in and rushes to the location of the issue to stabilize the condition.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids. The chemical compounds the body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
- Cannabinoid receptors. Found on the surface of cells throughout the body, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes. Proteins that work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. Enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are similar to naturally produced compounds in the body, it’s possible for CBD to attach to the receptors just as endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and once attached acts as a blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
How it Can Help Children
Interestingly enough, the only FDA approved medication made from CBD is used for treating seizures in children. The drug is called Epidiolex and is used primarily for controlling seizures in children suffering from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These are both very rare forms of epilepsy that are notoriously difficult to treat, even with medications that already exist on the market for them.
Epidiolex is an oral solution that comes from the Cannabis sativa plant and is made of purified CBD extract. During the clinical trials for the drug, researchers organized three randomized, double-blind trials that included more than 500 patients, all of whom had Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These studies proved the medication to be effective at reducing seizure frequency, especially when compared to the placebo .
Being an FDA approved and regulated drug, Epidiolex is manufactured and administered carefully by all parties involved.
Over the years there have been several studies analyzing the use of CBD or medical cannabis on children with autism. In all the studies, the conclusion has been that there is the potential for improvement in the symptoms of autism with the use of cannabis products. In these studies, test subjects saw improvements in seizures, restlessness, and rage attacks after just one month of use. Most participants saw these symptoms continue to lessen over the next 6 months of use .
There haven’t been many studies conducted specifically on children using CBD to treat their anxiety issues, but previous studies on CBD’s effect on stress and anxiety have been positive and it could stand to reason that it could help children struggling to overcome anxiety issues.
One study conducted on a 10-year-old patient suffering from PTSD found that the CBD oil not only helped improve her feelings of anxiety, it also reduced her insomnia .
Because CBD interacts with two specific ECS receptors found in the central nervous system, studies show that CBD may alter serotonin signals, particularly the receptor that has the largest role in anxiety disorders . This could help assist in neural regeneration  which is important as stress and anxiety for prolonged periods of time can cause damage to the neurons and the brain. In order to correct that damage, new neurons must be formed and new connections made. CBD helps boost this corrective process and stimulates growth of new neurons, resulting in reduced anxiety.
There is very little research on the effects of CBD on children who have ADHD, however anecdotally some parents have reported a reduction in their children’s symptoms of ADHD after giving them CBD oil. However some parents also report there was no effect at all.
There isn’t currently enough data to suggest CBD can help with ADHD, but it is something scientists and researchers are pursuing and something that — based on results from previous studies for other conditions — has the potential to show its benefits once it has been more closely researched.
Marijuana as a consumable has been around for a long time, however CBD is a relatively new product with new information being continually released. For that reason, it has not seen much in the way of specific testing in regards to its effect on children. Some children who use CBD for their chronic conditions report side effects including diarrhea, lethargia, rash, insomnia, lack of appetite, and even some issues with reflux.
Parents should also be aware that CBD could interact with other medications the child is taking. In the same way grapefruit often interferes with certain enzymes needed to properly metabolize medications in the human body, CBD has been found to also impede proper breakdown of certain medications. Parents should always talk to their doctor before giving their children CBD and they should be especially cautious about prescriptions that warn about mixing them with grapefruit juice.
As mentioned earlier, there is so far only one CBD medication that is FDA approved and regulated. That means every other CBD product available is unregulated and therefore should be researched carefully before purchase or use. Some reports have shown that many labels of CBD products are inconsistent with the product inside, so it’s important for consumers to do their own research and ask lots of questions when making their purchase decisions .