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Can You Give Your Kid CBD?

Short answer: It’s complicated

There’s weed to get you high, and weed to treat hardcore pain or nausea, but there’s also a third category of weed usage we’re only just beginning to understand: self-medicating by people who don’t want to get high and who are otherwise “healthy,” but who want to manage low-key pain, anxiety or insomnia. Or just relax.

It’s the weed porridge that Goldilocks would use — not too hot, not too cold. We’re talking about CBD or cannabidiol, a weed compound that can be ingested orally, applied topically or sublingually, or vaped. And given that a lot of adult people now evangelize for the pain-relieving chill effects of CBD products, it’s only natural to ask:

Can you give this stuff to a kid? Let’s figure this out!

First, the adults: A piece at the Washington Post calls CBD the new “it” drug for “Generation Anxious,” a new salve for the stressed-out office worker that, because it lacks the actual trippy high, but cools everything down to a functional, focused, side-effect free, manageable chill, is a big disappointment to actual stoners. And a lot of regular non-stoner people swear by it. Lavanya Ramanathan writes:

Devotees whisper about CBD as a soothing remedy for racing thoughts and aching extremities. CBD for those restless nights. Also, somehow, CBD for those listless mornings.

Suddenly, you can find sugarcoated CBD gummies to gnaw on, and balms to rub onto pulse points. There’s CBD for your dog (gluten-free and pumpkin-flavored!) and CBD for your aching feet. You can buy bottled CBD water in trendy, seasonally driven fast-casual restaurants, and bags of CBD-laced coffee in shops on busy thoroughfares in Washington, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas and dozens of other cities.

Elsewhere, adults say they are replacing over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and antidepressants with CBD, and opting out of the liver-shredding side effects of those drugs. A recent debate on Reddit wonders whether CBD is ultimately better and safer than aspirin (a scientist made this claim in 2000). It’s increasingly being used by athletes for pain and inflammation, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) just removed CBD from its list of banned substances.

Okay, but what about children? Though Ramanthan doesn’t address CBD use for kids in the WaPo piece, a quick search for whether or not it’s safe for kids turns up a number of queries by parents who wonder if it’s not a better, safer, more natural pain reliever for anxiety, pain or hyperactivity for their spawn. A post this month on POPSUGAR claims that giving your kid CBD oil “could be the answer to some of their biggest struggles,” claiming it can help them with anxiety or sleep issues. Other sites document successful experiments in treating ADHD in children with CBD oil.

Most of the excitement in treating kids with CBD for a variety of ailments comes from the success story of Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old with Dravet Syndrome who experienced multiple daily seizures, who only found relief from both the seizures and the heavy side effects of pharmaceuticals after two doctors were willing to give her CBD oil. Other children with similar issues have also reported success managing otherwise untreatable seizures. It has been studied and found effective in treating pediatric anxiety and/or insomnia related to PTSD. It has been studied and found to have a “favorable safety profile” with regard to side effects. (Compare this to the side effects of children’s ibuprofen even.)

A professor of pharmacy tells Ramanathan at the Post that there are the two aforementioned reputable studies on CBD in effectively relieving seizures, but all the other stuff, like treating anxiety or insomnia, simply doesn’t have the scientific backing or rigor to trust it. Plus — and this is a critical point — without government regulation to supervise dosage and ingredients, it’s difficult to know what you’re getting. (Here is a High Times guide to finding high-quality CBD oil.)

In a piece at the Phoenix New Times looking at the CBD oil boom, they put the overarching issues on CBD like this:

Not only is its legality uncertain, but so is the proper dosage. Questions remain whether it should be combined with THC or other cannabinoids, what originating cannabis strains are best, whether adding terpenes (aromatic oils) is beneficial, or what ailments it’s best used to treat. Sometimes it even may be unclear whether a product has any CBD in it all, or whether it contains contaminates. Unlike, say, aspirin or ibuprofen, CBD seems to work differently in different people. In other words, not everybody can expect positive results.

CBD doesn’t get people stoned and has the same, safe reputation as marijuana in general — as in, nobody’s ever died from taking too much of it. In fact, it’s said to take the edge off a THC high, and lessen any sensation of paranoia. But CBD may occasionally produce side effects. Some studies suggest that CBD may cause cottonmouth, drowsiness, or even vomiting and diarrhea in sensitive people. Other studies show it’s probably more likely to reduce nausea and other problems than cause them.

And while, again, there are success stories for those extreme situations (like kids who have 100 epileptic seizures a day), just dosing your kid with a CBD gummy to calm them down or help them sleep, when you aren’t sure of the maker of the stuff, the ingredients, the side effects, or the legal ramifications, is too risky.

And about that legality: The makers of CBD and its enthusiasts argue that hemp-derived CBD is allegedly legal because it contains none or little THC; marijuana-derived CBD is legal in the states where it’s authorized. The DEA says this is “creative interpretation” of the law and that CBD is illegal and still a schedule 1 drug because even trace amounts of THC mean it qualifies.

In other words, you wouldn’t need to be smoking anything to be confused about all this. Add to this that some parents have dealt with Child Protective Services nightmares in even extreme seizure cases and that’s reason enough to give you pause. (To say nothing of the added confusion of instances of kids accidentally ingesting actual THC-laced foods or the fact that there’s now a synthetic form of marijuana that makes people literally bleed out their eyes.)

For now, unless you’re a smart, cautious, concerned parent with a very sick child willing to do the research and take the risk — and definitely loop in your doctor about all this — it’s probably best if adults stick to the experimenting with CBD oil until we have better information about how it might impact children.

So let’s recap: This pain reliever that doesn’t actually fuck you up and has very few side effects works great for some people, for some things, and great for some children, for some things. For kids, the only real research is about its effectiveness in treating seizures. Some people love it; for others it does very little.

The fact that this sounds as good as or better than most established household drugs you already take is reason why we should at least demand more research. Or if nothing else, hope that the legalization wave everyone is now jumping on is going to bode well for the rest of us, including our pets and children.