Principal investigator Richard Belanger, of Laval University, says he’s surprised by the number of young cannabis users and says it points to the need for more information for doctors and patients. (VERONIQUE COTE / SUPPLIED PHOTO)

Half of pediatricians surveyed say their young patients have used cannabis

About half of pediatric doctors surveyed about cannabis say they’ve encountered a young patient who had used marijuana for a medical reason.

About half of pediatric doctors surveyed about cannabis say they’ve encountered a young patient who had used marijuana for a medical reason.

The questionnaire for the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program found 419 of 835 respondents had a patient who had used either authorized or unauthorized cannabis for some sort of medical relief.

The one-time study did not detail how many cases involved unauthorized use, the nature of the condition being treated nor the ages of the patients. But principal investigator Richard Belanger says he’s surprised by the number of young cannabis users and says it points to the need for more information for doctors, parents and patients.

The Quebec City pediatrician, also a professor at Laval University, notes that more than a third of respondents — or 316 doctors — said they had been asked by a parent or adolescent patient to prescribe cannabis.

Only 34 doctors said they had done so, with many expressing reservations about efficacy, impacts to developing young brains, and concerns about abuse and dependence.

The one-time survey was conducted in the spring of 2017 as part of the surveillance program’s larger look at a host of hot-button issues including Lyme disease, Zika virus and eating disorders.

Belanger says researchers were surprised by how many kids and adolescents appeared to be turning to medical marijuana: “We thought it was less than that.”

“We really want to make clear that cannabis is not only an adult issue, either for recreational but (also) medical purposes,” Belanger said of the findings.

“Sometimes when we look at treatment we tend to forget kids and it should not be the case.”

Related: BC Cannabis stores to start with 150 strains available

Related: From marijuana beer to pot cookies, Canadian companies creating cannabis edibles

He suspected younger kids received authorized use for conditions including refractory seizures, cerebral palsy, and chronic pain, while adolescents were more likely to be unauthorized users and to treat other conditions “such as sleep problems or anxiety.”

Belanger says the higher-than-expected usage could also be because the doctors surveyed generally treat kids with chronic and severe conditions that may require alternative treatments, and because most respondents came from urban and academic centres more likely to handle severe cases.

The survey response rate was also just 31 per cent, which “may under or over represent the knowledge and/or experiences of Canadian pediatricians,” said the study, released Thursday.

Still, the findings raise questions about how impending legalization of recreational marijuana could impact unauthorized medical use.

“We’re a bit anxious regarding that,” said Belanger, pointing to ”mixed perspectives” among doctors.

“From a pediatric perspective there’s seldom reason to authorize cannabis and maybe seizure is one of them but still, there’s no clear, no big evidence regarding that.”

The survey found a clear majority of respondents had no knowledge or minimal knowledge on why cannabis might be prescribed for a child or youth and what products and dosages may be authorized.

“Paradoxically, they have a fairly positive view regarding cannabis use for medical purposes for certain conditions, despite the lack of solid scientific evidence regarding its safety and efficacy,” said the survey, noting that could be due to difficult cases with limited therapeutic options.

Although medical marijuana has been legal since 2001, many questions remain, says Belanger: “It’s a burning issue.”

“There’s a large space for the (Canadian Paediatric Society) or any other association or authorities to give more information on what are the clear facts regarding the possible benefits and the likely adverse events that can be related to medical use of cannabis.”

Belanger notes the data was gathered prior to the publication of a pivotal study evaluating the use of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat epilepsy among children with Dravet syndrome reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the spring of 2017.

Still, he bemoans a dearth of material to offer guidance. While more studies are underway, he says they mostly look at CBD and its effects on seizures and severe conditions.

“There are still problematic issues of studying cannabis with kids,” notes Belanger. “I won’t counsel anyone from entering a study exposing someone to cannabis if they don’t have severe conditions…. On the contrary, in the adult field there are many more studies regarding cannabis either for pain related to arthritis, pain related to fibromyalgia, or spasticity regarding multiple sclerosis.”

In the meantime, many parents and adolescents are asking for cannabis prescriptions.

“I think that everyone right now is aware that cannabis is not a simple thing,” said Belanger.

“When someone starts using cannabis for a long period of time at an early age, it’s probably at that time that the greater impact is likely. But at the same time, if your kids have seizures several times a day, what’s the worse issue? It’s kind of a tricky question for parents.”

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Collection of obsolete pesticides, livestock medication Oct. 15 in Vanderhoof

Clean Farms program offers safe way to dispose of obsolete items

Vanderhoof commemorates Orange Shirt Day with beading workshop

Participants can learn a traditional Métis craft at CNC Sept. 26

College of New Caledonia offers new automotive glass technician program

The program is offered mainly online, allowing more students to take part from across the north

Local business wins snow removal award

K. Leigh Precision Earthworks picked up Rookie of the Year from Western Canadian company

Todd Doherty was recognized today for his life-saving actions during a flight home

Todd Doherty, Member of Parliament for Cariboo-Prince George, was recognized today for… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rare close encounter with whale pod spotted off B.C. waters

Pod of southern resident orca whales breach within arms length of whale watchers

Veterans Affairs ordered to take second look before supporting vets’ relatives

Liberal government ordered officials to adopt a more critical eye

Dead B.C. motorcyclist was member of group that raced down mountain road

Some group members record their rides on Strathcona Parkway and post times to page

Indigenous athletes in spotlight at BC Sports Hall of Fame

New gallery to feature Carey Price, Kaila Mussel and Richard Peter

B.C. couple who went missing on flight from Edmonton named by family

Family released a statement Wednesday saying they’re still intent on finding the two-seater plane

VIDEO: A close look at what you were breathing during the B.C. wildfire season

Electron microscope images show soot and tar particles generated by worst B.C. fire season

B.C. woman donates $250,000 to ovarian cancer research for friends

Two of Patty Pitts’s friends passed away from the disease within a year

B.C. could provide clues as to how New Brunswick electoral results shake out

Premier Christy Clark faced a strikingly similar scenario following the province’s 2017 election

Ottawa working to iron out kinks in public alert system

The alerts are being credit with saving lives during last week’s tornadoes

Most Read