Can you give CBD to children?

March 24, 2021

CBD is one of the more widely known components of cannabis, along with THC. Both chemical compounds can have an effect on the body and brain, but while THC makes users feel high, CBD doesn’t. CBD’s beneficial properties have made it tremendously sought after around the world. Today, consumers in the UK can buy CBD products in a growing number of leading health and pharmacy shops, including Boots, Superdrug, and Holland & Barrett. However, while CBD has been declared “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and there has been no evidence to date of any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD, products are prohibited for sale for anyone under 18 in the United Kingdom. 

If under 18’s can’t buy CBD online or in shops, does this make it illegal for them to consume CBD? And can CBD be given to children by parents? 

In November 2018, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, introduced new laws to allow the medicinal use of cannabis in the UK. This change was chiefly influenced by the cases of two children with rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy, whose stories were splashed across British newspapers. The parents of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley found that medical cannabis helped their children’s conditions, and launched high-profile campaigns for access to medicinal cannabis through prescription. 

As it stands, there is only one CBD-based prescribed drug that has been approved for use in both adults and children – Epidiolex. This medication was approved in late 2019 for use in the treatment of two rare and severe seizure disorders, both of which are forms of epilepsy. 

Why do some parents give children CBD? 

Online forums abound with thousands of parents propounding the administration of CBD for their children, the effectiveness of which is particularly pronounced in those with autism. Those with children suffering from ADHD also report CBD to be effective at containing episodes and improving focus. The April 2020 issue of Remedy review, a cannabis-focused magazine, published the results of a survey of more than 500 parents, 40% of whom had used CBD to treat behaviours associated with autism.

CBD is unique in its ability to reduce the instance of seizures related to a wide variety of conditions. As well as autism, it is popularly used to treat seizures related to epilepsy, in sufferers of which it reduces both the frequency and intensity of seizures. There are currently dozens of studies and trials in progress, geared towards pinpointing exactly how, and to what degree, CBD can treat seizures.

As regards the efficacy of the compound in autism trials, one particular study stands out. The clinical director of the National Autism Research Center of Israel, Dr Gal Meiri of the Ben Gurion University at the Negev has presided over some momentous discoveries. A 2019 study of his trialled CBD administration in 155 children for 6 months, and found that over 80% of parents reported behavioural improvements ranging from reduced instances of self-harm, to reduced frequency of seizures. A barrier to progress in this avenue of inquiry exists due to the fact that most such studies base their findings on parents’ perceptions of their child’s behaviour, as opposed to direct comparison with control/placebo groups. The latter is difficult with conditions as variable and poorly understood as autism, but it is clear that a bias may, understandably, affect parents hoping for behavioural improvements in their children.

CBD and anxiety in children

Stress and anxiety among young people is on the rise in the UK, and it is reported to be one of the most common mental health conditions experienced by children and teenagers; It is estimated that 1 in 5  children are affected by anxiety in the UK. 

The causes of anxiety in young people are complex, but some common causes include family history, trauma, personal circumstances or simply biology. Symptoms and signs that a child is suffering from anxiety can vary, so it’s important that you speak with a GP if you believe your child has some form of anxiety.

There have been extensive studies into the effects of CBD on anxiety in humans. In 2015, a review of 49 studies was conducted by a research team from New York University found that “evidence from human studies supports an anxiolytic role of CBD” – in simple terms, CBD has been proven to reduce anxiety in numerous clinical studies.

Simply put, CBD is legal in the UK as long as it does not contain more than 1mg, per container, of THC, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis which is a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. CBD oils that are made from hemp (with less than 0.2% THC) are legal to sell in the UK as long as they are advertised and sold as “nutrition supplements” rather than medicine. 

Whilst people under 18 can’t purchase CBD, this doesn’t make it illegal. If parents want to give their children CBD, that is their choice. It is not illegal to give a child CBD. Whilst the decision ultimately lies in the hand of the parent, it is best to check with a doctor if a child is on other medications for the issue a parent might be trying to treat. 

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) has issued information regarding their stance on cannabinoid oil – essentially understanding and sympathetic yet not able to endorse or allow it. In their information sheet they state: “As clinicians, we value the open and honest discussion with parents/carers about the use of cannabinoid oils and actively encourage all parents and carers to discuss this difficult subject with us. Despite the extreme importance of families informing staff of administration of cannabinoid oil, we are currently in the difficult position of not being able to support administration.”

Giving CBD to children

Many parents have started administering CBD to their children themselves. It is unlikely that parents are going to be enabled and encouraged to do this by medical professionals who are still nervous about the lack of clinical evidence backing up CBD as a treatment for various disorders. 

Even though there is only one health condition that CBD is medically approved for – severe epilepsy – many parents have given anecdotal reports that CBD oil is beneficial for their children, helping with disorders such as ADHD, autism and PTSD. However, when it comes to giving it to your own child, you should consult a medical expert and also make certain that you are buying a pure, organic, certified and reviewed product – some CBD oils may contain traces of THC. With little professional verification that CBD is safe for children (there is a serious lack of studies involving under 18s), if you do decide to give CBD to a child, make sure you are aware of any potential risks, consult a doctor and are vigilant about dosages.

For more support on medical cannabis and CBD for children with severe illnesses, parents and carers can contact MedCan Support, a non-profit community interest company that provides free resources and educational material on medical cannabis, the endocannabinoid system and the positive outcomes cannabis-treatment has had on so many families throughout the UK.

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