Study suggests medical marijuana may do more harm than good for kids

The proclaimed benefits of medical marijuana seem to know no bounds. As state governments have finally started to embrace — or at least tolerate — the herb as a legitimate treatment for a range of physical conditions, from glaucoma to Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, scientists have moved on to examining the drug’s effect on the brain.

Whether marijuana can also treat psychological conditions has become the subject of debate. And while recent some studies propose — although not without dispute — that pot can ease adult symptoms of certain mental illnesses, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, a new report in the February Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pedaiatrics essentially puts the kibosh on the suggestion that marijuana might assuage behavioral disorders in children.

A sample of medical marijuana is displayed at a dispensary in Portland, Ore., Nov. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Widespread changes to marijuana policy throughout the country have sparked growing interest in whether pot can be used to treat developmental and behavioral disorders, such as autism and ADHD. But in their paper published this week, four doctors from Boston Children’s Hospital point out that while marijuana’s harmful effects on the developing brain have been well documented, research on pot’s benefits for young patients is practically nonexistent.

Numerous studies have tried to connect the dots between adolescent cannabis use and anxiety, depression, decreased intelligence and even psychosis, suggesting that while pot offers plenty of proven benefits, the developing brain of a young person might be particularly vulnerable to its harm.

Marijuana’s calming effects might seem like an appealing solution to the typically loud and disruptive behavior of children with severe autism spectrum disorders. But in the absence of any real research, the doctor’s write, it’s just not worth it.

“My heart goes out to families who are searching for something, anything to help their child,” wrote John R. Knight. “But in using medical marijuana they may be trading away their child’s future for short-term symptom control.”