Friday June 16, 2017

By Morgan Smith

Why Marijuana is Helping Kids with Epilepsy, Autism & Cancer Health/Science

You don’t have to go far to find a cannabis organization or business that was started by a mom or parent.

Just check out the story behind CannaKids. Sophie Ryan was born on October 3, 2012 and diagnosed with a brain tumor in June 2013. Her parents were told that the only option was for Sophie to undergo 13 months of chemotherapy, but quickly learned about how cannabis oil was killing cancer in pediatric patients.

Sophie took high-concentration THC and CBD cannabis oil for a year and in November 2014, saw a 90% shrinkage rate.

Through their own research, first-hand experience and teamwork with oil makers and cannabis experts, Tracy and Josh Ryan created CannaKids to inform and provide cannabis-infused oil to caregivers of kids with cancer and other ailments.

There are a multitude of kids and parents with stories like this: Lillyann Baker, Charlotte Figi and Harper Howard to name a few. After hearing stories and talking to parents in similar situations, hundreds of families have relocated to Colorado for the state’s medical marijuana availability to give their kids the best chance possible.

Despite the nearly 57% of U.S. adults who are in favor of legalizing marijuana, many have issues with children having access to it. Much of the opposition lies in the unknown. We’re not sure what doses or forms are appropriate for what disorders or how marijuana impacts cognitive development in adolescents.

And because there is still no clear scientific evidence to prove that marijuana is an effective treatment for any of these ailments or diseases, many people find it controversial and are skeptical of the process and ethics behind it.

But here’s what we do know when using cannabis to help treat children with autism, cancer and epilepsy:

Cannabis & Autism

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children in the U.S. is affected by autism. This developmental disorder—which is caused by a mix of genetic mutations and environmental factors—can impair communication and social skills, causing repetitive and compulsive behaviors.

Currently, the only two medications approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration to help children with autism are antipsychotic drugs. These drugs are not always effective and tend to have severe side effects.

Autistic children who have taken CBD or hemp oil have gone from being frustrated and unable to communicate to being calm and talkative.

Anecdotes show kids being able to effectively express feelings, make more eye contact and improve social behavior.

Studies have already found links between the overexpression of specific compounds, like the CB2 receptor, and an autism diagnosis. A 2013 study found that a genetic mutation linked to autism, neuroligin-3, also affects endocannabinoid signaling. And since cannabis directly affects our body’s endocannabinoid system, it makes sense that a connection exists between the two.

In Israel, the first clinical trial of its kind from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem is currently testing the benefits of medical marijuana for young people with autism. (It’s one of three countries with a government-sponsored medical cannabis program alongside Canada and the Netherlands, which makes research much easier to conduct.) So although we have a long way to go, work is being done to learn about the correlation and potential benefits cannabis has in the treatment of autism.

A father administers a dose of cannabis oil to his son A father administers a dose of cannabis oil to his son. photo credit

How Cannabis Helps Treat Cancer

Although less than 1% of all diagnosed cancers are in children, that still equates to nearly 10,380 children under the age of 15—a number that’s been on the rise for the past few decades. The good news is that advances in treatment have improved the five-year survival rate up to 80% in children.

Cancer treatment is often a long, painful process. Studies show, however, that cannabis works to relieve nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. It can help treat neuropathic pain, improve food intake and reduce the need for high doses of pain medicine.

Oftentimes, this is the main case made for the use of cannabis during cancer treatment – to help relieve symptoms associated with the disease or treatment. But there’s more.

Further studies show that cannabinoids can inhibit or stop the production, spreading and growing of cancerous cells, as well as kill off tumor cells and prevent blood vessel production to the tumor.

This is because cannabis contains active cannabinoids which affect our endocannabinoid system and receptors throughout our body that cause cancer growth and symptoms.

It’s highly unlikely that marijuana will cure cancer, but a child can certainly live a happier life while undergoing treatment or experience a tumor shrinkage as a result. If you don’t believe us, just check out the American Cancer Society’s website.

Cannabis & Seizure Treatment

Nearly 400,000 children live with epilepsy – and marijuana has a long history of effectively treating seizures. At the Children’s Hospital Colorado, 1 in 3 children of the more than 75 children who have received a marijuana derivative for seizure treatment have shown improvement based on anecdotal reports from parents. Some epileptics who cannot tolerate anti-seizure medicine can effectively control symptoms and seizures with marijuana.

Again, this is where more research is needed. Only when scientific testing measures the brain’s electrical signals and outputs will we know the true safety and effectiveness of the drug for epilepsy treatment.

Before and after pic of Charlotte Figi, who went from 100 seizures a day to one a month with cannabis oil Before and after pic of Charlotte Figi, who went from 100 seizures a day to one a month with cannabis oil. photo credit

But there is growing evidence that chemicals within the plant can effectively treat epileptic patients, which goes back to cannabinoid receptors within our endocannabinoid system. According to a 2016 article in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, “the brain’s endocannabinoid system provides on-demand protection against convulsive activity, having a major role in regulating the central nervous system.” The study goes deep into the science but essentially, seizures affect CB1 receptors and cannabis influences the same neuro-active components.

This is especially true to CBD – as opposed to THC – as it’s been shown that high-CBD products act as an anticonvulsant. However, we still don’t know if pure CBD is best or what ratio of THC to CBD is most beneficial for children. Regardless, more and more research shows that cannabis reduces seizures in epilepsy patients.


There’s more than enough evidence to show the effect medical marijuana has as pediatric medicine. There’s hope for symptom relief in cancer patients, reduction in epileptic children and behavioral improvements in autistic kids. But until the marijuana climate in the U.S. changes, we’ll have to rely on stories from parents about how they’re finally finding medicine that works.


Morgan Smith Morgan Smith

A born and raised Hoosier and Indiana University alumna, Morgan Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in the Denver area. Morgan has worked with B2B, nonprofit and regional publications, but especially enjoys learning and educating others about the inner-workings of the cannabis industry. Her freelance writing supported her recent six-month solo backpacking trip to South America where she climbed volcanoes, played with llamas and jumped off a bridge.


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