With the CBD boom, it is no surprise that “CBD gummies” is the third-highest ranking search term in food-related Google searches. Many parents ask me if it is safe to give their children CBD gummies or supplements containing CBD to help with their general health, sleepless nights, ADHD, or anxiety. The answer is that it depends on the individual child and the severity of their symptoms.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is our body’s natural regulator of internal processes (“endo” means “within”). This system helps bring into balance both physical functions such as movement, pain sensation, and immune responses, and cognitive or mental functions like perception, mood, and memory. Our body makes its own naturally occurring endocannabinoid molecules like anandamide, often called the “bliss molecule.” Although they’re chemically similar to the cannabinoids produced in cannabis, endocannabinoids are produced naturally by cells within the human body. In most healthy children, the ECS functions correctly — i.e. the brain contains abundant cannabinoid receptors that react to anandamide.
Adding cannabis to a healthy, functioning ECS may interfere with a child’s developing brain by flooding these receptors with an enormous amount of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids. The brain may react to all these externally sourced cannabinoids by downregulating its natural production of endocannabinoids throughout the body’s ECS. Cannabis intake can result in impaired attention, memory learning, and decision-making, particularly in an underdeveloped brain. On the other hand, CBD oil products that lack THC are non-psychotropic (i.e. they don’t make the user feel high), thus minimizing the risk associated with the use of cannabis in children.
CBD Supplements for Children?
While dietary supplements and vitamins can play an important role in supporting health — especially if there are gaps in the diet — I don’t think taking CBD in supplement form for general health and wellness for a child is necessary.
Isolated CBD supplementation does not reproduce the benefits of whole foods found in nature because they are missing the importance of the whole plant “food synergy.” There are synergistic effects of the complex compounds found in plants. Humans are adapted to getting nutrients from whole foods. Most nutrients require organic, naturally occurring food enzymes and co-factors to be adequately absorbed. When you isolate one of those compounds and take it pure form, not only may you not get all the benefits but you may also increase the risk by taking them out of the context of its natural source.
There are other ways to supplement your diet with plant cannabinoids, since phytocannabinoids are not unique to cannabis. These chemical compounds also occur in plants such as echinacea, black pepper, rosemary, maca, cacao, black truffles, flax seeds, and hemp hearts.
Cannabinoid Therapy for ADHD in Adolescents
For children that have debilitating anxiety or ADHD, CBD may be a treatment option. However, treating certain pediatric illnesses with cannabis must be handled with caution because there are little to no long-term clinical studies on the therapeutic uses of cannabis, particularly with children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavior therapy as the first line of treatment for young ADHD patients and those seeking to manage anxiety disorders.
The more common case I see in my medical practice is when parents bring in their teenager who is already self-medicating with cannabis and finding it helpful for managing the symptoms associated with ADHD and anxiety. There’s some scientific evidence that this could be effective: a small study in Germany followed patients with ADHD taking a cannabinoid medication, and the patients had improvements in their ADHD symptoms. The results also suggest that adults who take cannabinoids for ADHD experience the side effects less than children. Adults in this study stated that cannabis helped with energy, focus, and productivity. I advise my adolescent patients to use CBD instead of cannabis with THC to avoid the euphoric side effects.
CBD for Stress in Kids
Preclinical studies show that our endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps modulate endocrine and neuronal responses to stress. The ECS affects how our hormone-producing glands and our brain’s neurons deal with the chemicals released — adrenaline and cortisol — when we’re stressed. When we face stress, our body goes into “fight or flight mode.” Feelings of being overwhelmed can build up and result in debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. When our body faces stressful situations, our ECS also kicks into gear to help us balance our nervous system. Scientists have found that people with higher anandamide levels in their system could tolerate life stressors better.
What also plays a crucial role in helping our body deal with stress? A type of neurotransmitter called GABA — and CBD can help activate it. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a naturally occurring brain chemical that directs neurons to slow down or stop firing. It’s a calming neurotransmitter that helps to induce sleep, relax muscles, and reduce anxiety.
In essence, GABA directs the body to power down, and cannabinoids modulate it. My patients report CBD helping to “take the edge off” and “turn the volume down” on anxiety and paralyzing, racing thoughts. In many cases, CBD can offer stress relief without making the patient feel high.
The Bottom Line: CBD and Kids’ Safety
CBD appears to hold great promise. It may prove to be a useful treatment used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and prescription medication. Its lack of THC — and therefore of the risks associated with the use of cannabis at a young age — its excellent safety profile in humans, as well as its efficacy in clinical studies suggest that it could be a safe and effective drug for managing the symptoms associated with medical conditions like ADHD, sleep issues, and anxiety.
It is important to note that CBD can interact with prescription medications, especially antipsychotic medications, and it can also increase liver enzymes. It is best to consult your specialist and a physician who is experienced in integrative cannabis medicine before you try CBD. To assess safety and efficacy, patients should be continually monitored and re-assessed to develop a personalized care plan tailored to their needs.