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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP urges end to ‘illegal roadblocks’ in solidarity with pipeline dispute

Rob Morrison says protestors across Canada need to remove roadblocks on roads, rail lines

Golden Food Bank looks for community support heading into summer

The food bank will be looking to keep momentum going from a succesful holiday season

Kicking Horse conditions update, Friday February 21

Kicking Horse reports no new snow in the last 24 hours. The… Continue reading

Golden Highway Update, Friday February 21

Watch for slippery sections between Quartz Creek Bridge and the western boundary… Continue reading

Moberly based Northern Silica to close doors

The layoffs come just a month after a temporary layoff over the holidays in December

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

Adapting to love along the Columbia River

One man starts a GoFundme to help his partner with health costs caused on the trip where they met

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Most Read