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CBD Oil for Kids: 13 Things All Parents Should Know

The use of CBD oil (cannabidiol, extracted from marijuana) for kids is growing in popularity. We chatted with experts and real parents to get the scoop.

*Please consult your doctor before making any decisions about trying new products for your child’s health.

Could CBD (cannabidiol) oil be the new go-to for calming kids down? With states green-lighting the green stuff one after another, there’s a new wave of marijuana-using millennials and open-minded parents in general who are more curious than ever before about giving marijuana- and hemp-derived oils to their kids and babies.

In one of the private mom groups I belong to on Facebook, there have been more than 100 threads since October of 2017 around incorporating CBD into families, and there was an honest conversation unfolding between parents about an article that featured a CBD-infused hot chocolate recipe. Moms wanted to know if it was safe or not to serve it to their kids before bedtime, and shared their opinions that it’s okay to use in smaller doses or for children with autism and anxiety who medically need it. There was a lot of curiosity around the topic — was it safe for all children or not?

The attitude around pot and CBD oil is constantly evolving, too. Federal advisers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously voted on April 19, 2018 to approve of the drug Epidiolex, and on June 25, 2018 the medicine was officially approved. This is the first prescription cannabidiol medicine to be recommended by the FDA committee for its effective treatment of certain forms of epilepsy.

While previous generations may have just accepted the first line of treatment recommended by a family physician, there is truly a new wave of parents who recognize there might be life-changing benefits from using CBD to treat a child. More than ever before, parents are initiating these conversations. And don’t forget that parents (yes, even those who don’t personally use marijuana!) legally advocate for and use CBD oil as medicine for their children who truly need it.

Dr. Frank Lucido

To find out the real deal on CBD oil for kids, we chatted with cannabis expert Frank Lucido, M.D., of Berkeley, California, who has been consulting individuals and families regarding alternative cannabis therapies since 1996. We also turned to canna-parent Melissa Hilt of Albany, New York, whose daughter Hailey suffers with multiple seizures daily and Lelah Jerger of Huntingburg, Indiana, who is facing issues with Child Protective Services after treating her daughter Jaelah with CBD for her daughter’s epilepsy.

things to know

1. THC and CBD are different.

They’re the two main compounds in the marijuana plant, but THC is psychoactive, and CBD is not. In other words, THC can get you high (and maybe even make you feel paranoid), but CBD can not. The oil used to medically treat a child will often be legally sold through a dispensary and contain a CBD-to-THC ratio, such as 19-to-1. Since the oil sold over the internet doesn’t contain THC, you should keep in mind that plenty of medical professionals argue that CBD loses its efficacy when it’s not used in conjunction with THC.

2. CBD oil can change lives.

There are incredible testimonials from families who have found relief after incorporating CBD oil into their daily lifestyle. Melissa Hilt’s 11-year-old daughter, Haley, was having more than 100 seizures a day. Surgery, alternative diets, more than 15 medications — nothing could effectively limit the amount of her seizures.

A prescription dose of 19-to-1 (CBD-to-THC) oil is given to her at breakfast and dinnertime, and Melissa told us she finally feels like she’s “met” her real daughter as her daughter began to experience seizures only twice a month at the start of treatment. Her kiddo is no longer in a constant “haze” from all of the different medications she was trying. Now, Haley smiles and plays with her sister. Melissa told us, “It’s been the greatest gift to our family to be able to finally ‘meet’ her.” Now, that’s powerful .

3. It’s not cheap to use CBD oil on a regular basis.

For parents like Hilt who’ve found CBD oil to be the only remedy for their children, they’ll pay up to $500 a month out of pocket (since CBD oil is not covered by insurance). The price will vary depending on what you’re getting, where it’s from, and what the state tax is.

4. Families move across state borders to legally access it.

Of course not all states have legalized the use of CBD oils. And for parents whose children have a medical diagnosis (like a form of epilepsy or autism) for which CBD oil is one of the only things that seems to help, it’s worth it for them to move their lives to a state where they can access it legally. Hilt told us she would “absolutely” move if she no longer had access to the oil in Albany, New York.

5. Families are dealing with CPS issues where it’s not legal.

When Lelah Jerger’s 3-year-old daughter, Jaelah, was diagnosed with epilepsy in Huntingburg, Indiana, they had no idea that a nightmare was about to unfold. Jerger was offered CBD oil during an appointment with a chiropractic neurologist to treat her daughter. She purchased the oil from him, though she was simultaneously getting other opinions from doctors and surgeons at traditional treatment centers. But the CBD oil was the only thing to bring her daughter’s visible seizing down from 30 times each day to twice each day.

She purchased more CBD oil from a company online to continue treating her child. When one of the hospitals she was seeking treatment from alerted Child Protective Services about the alternative treatment, an invasive investigation was conducted, including blood tests.

Jerger said: “We were terrified to have any allegation of abuse or neglect. I’ve got four other kids (the oldest is 15), and we’ve never been questioned. The fear is indescribable — it’s an agency that has the power to take your children away.” The family is currently suing CPS and awaiting their court date.

6. There’s still research that needs to happen.

Back to the Hilts: Haley’s seizures did start to pick up again after slowing down tremendously for the first month of treatment, but she’s still making wonderful progress developmentally and seizing less intensely overall. Normally, seizures can prevent Haley from reaching new, important milestones, but Hilt says it seems like there’s almost something protective about the CBD oil (which she said her daughter’s doctors in New York and Boston agree with).

“[CBD] oil shouldn’t be used unless it’s to treat a medical disorder in a state where it’s legal.”

Even so, Hilt still thinks the science is still out for CBD’s efficacy in kids without any medical issues. She thinks there needs to be more long-term research to safely use CBD oil on young children regularly, and she suggests that parents use it with caution. Dr. Lucido says that the oil shouldn’t be used unless it’s to treat a medical disorder in a state where it’s legal.

7. You shouldn’t buy the stuff online to treat your kid

For parents, it’s tempting to read about the effects of non-psychoactive CBD oil and mix some into their kid’s hot chocolate at night before bed. But it’s better to stay away from the online options, especially when the intentions are for a small child to ingest it regularly. CBD oils sold online contain even more obscure ingredients than vitamins (which aren’t regulated by the FDA), since companies often won’t disclose ingredient lists, according to Dr. Lucido.

Without accurate dosing and ingredient information, it’s just not the safest thing to use, he warns. He also reminds us that, up until recently, certain companies were receiving warning letters from the FDA regarding their CBD products.

8. CBD oil can be used to treat a variety of children’s ailments.

Dr. Lucido cautions against giving children CBD oil without the recommendation from a doctor. But, he says, if it’s legally purchased from a dispensary with a doctor’s recommendation, CBD oil can be highly effective in treating seizures, autism, ADHD, depression, and anxiety in children. The CBD-to-THC ratio may differ based on the child and what’s being treated.

9. You can serve it mixed into food.

Dr. Lucido says the best way to give the oil to your child is in a tincture placed right under the tongue or on the side of the cheek. If the child is fussy, he recommends mixing it into food. Because it’s fat-soluble, Dr. Lucido warns that dropping a dose into a glass of water will be less effective, as the oil can stick to the side of the glass. The oil mixes better with milk, for example.

10. Shaming is preventing sick children from getting help.

There are so many children with medical diagnoses who suffer daily, rotating different treatment plans, medications, and even surgeries, like Hilt’s daughter. Hilt insists that parents need to not be afraid to talk. She says: “Parents are afraid. There are benefits out there for epilepsy, autism, ADHD, and cancer pains. Parents are simply afraid to ask their doctor, and the best thing I ever could have done was ask my daughter’s neurologist about it.”

“The best thing I ever could have done was ask my daughter’s neurologist about it.”

11. Parents are trying to figure this out on their own.

Check your judgement at the door. There are parents who are desperately looking for healthy answers for their children, and other parents who are just curious. The internet has been a source of experience-sharing for parents. From Facebook groups to Reddit threads, parents are trying to figure this out together. Here’s a Reddit thread on the topic of finding relief for children with autism using CBD oil.

12. Conservative medical doctors acknowledge the benefits and need for studies.

Alexander Kolevzon, M.D., clinical director of The Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, told us that he has a conservative stance and doesn’t think CBD oil should be clinically recommended for kids with autism until studied in the context of rigorous clinical trials.

But he goes on to say: “There are several groups interested in studying CBD-related compounds in ASD (autism spectrum disorder). The pharma company, Zynerba, recently released positive top-line results in Fragile X syndrome. The CBD pathway can regulate nerve-cell excitability, which can theoretically be a good thing, but it’s the very early days and we need to be cautious about getting enthusiastic about the ‘next thing’ and not fall into the trap of many, many other medications that failed in ASD once studied systematically.”

13. Hemp-derived CBD products are now legal, but may contain contaminants . or no CBD at all.

Since CBD derived from hemp is of much lower quality than CBD derived from the flower of a marijuana plant, the risk of toxins released into the product skyrockets during production. The presence of contaminants in CBD products is a real concern. Plus, recent testing shows that plenty of brands advertise a CBD ingredient percentage on the label that is inaccurate, almost always portraying that there is more CBD in a product than there actually is. In fact, certain hemp-derived CBD products were found to contain zero CBD. If you have no idea what dose is included in a product, it likely isn’t the best idea to start giving it to a child regularly. Plus, the fact that the ingredient lists are still obscure is unsettling when it comes to dosing a tot or child.

WHAT WE

Kids with different diagnoses can genuinely benefit from CBD oil to relieve their negative symptoms. The problem is, there aren’t enough solid long-term studies to know what kind of effect daily use will have later on in life in someone whose use started at a young age. The other problem? Kids who get serious relief from the CBD oil, like Hilt’s daughter Haley, need to live in a state where it’s legal. Plus, parents need to be able to afford it.

There’s still so much more to be found out about the long-term effects of the oil.

Meanwhile, buzz is floating around the internet that might lead other parents to start giving their kids daily doses of CBD oil before bed when there’s still so much more to be found out about the long-term effects of the oil. It’s also apparent that some of the CBD oil online contains obscure ingredient lists and doesn’t always inform the consumer of accurate dosing measurements. If you’re still tempted to bring home some CBD products for your tot or child, go with organic products from Wash With Water. The brand promises a transparent ingredient list and they were the first to release a legal skincare CBD line for little ones.

So, let’s support the research and the parents whose lives have changed for the better once they had safe, legal access to CBD oil for their kids. If you’re a parent who’s not sold on using CBD oil for your little ones but still need natural relaxation alternatives, use some lavender essential oil, a white-noise machine, and consult your pediatrician if that’s not cutting it.

ALTERNATIVES TO CBD

Here are some alternatives to CBD to help safely calm your kiddo down before bedtime:

The use of CBD oil (cannabidiol, extracted from marijuana) for kids is growing in popularity. We chatted with experts and real parents to get the scoop.

Should You Give Your Kid CBD?

More Americans are using the hemp (or marijuana) extract on their kids, but experts aren’t sold on its efficacy.

Priscilla Batista is stuck at home in Charlotte, N.C., with a highly emotional 4-year-old.“Every toddler obviously is emotional, but she’s a pretty constant, volatile child,” she said. “It doesn’t allow her to focus. She’s just struggling.” Batista doesn’t yet have an official diagnosis for her daughter, but, suspecting an attention deficit disorder, she has turned to CBD (cannabidiol) for help.

CBD is one of the more well-known components of cannabis, along with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Both chemicals affect the brain, but while THC makes users feel high, CBD doesn’t, though it does make some users feel more relaxed. CBD products have become hugely popular around the world, from oils that can be eaten or rubbed on skin, to soaps, gummy candies and even pet treats.

A 2019 Gallup poll found 14 percent of more than 2,500 Americans surveyed use CBD products, mostly for pain, anxiety and sleep problems. Statistics for kids are much harder to come by, but there are Facebook groups with thousands of followers where parents discuss giving CBD to their kids for conditions including the autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In April, a cannabis-focused magazine published a survey of more than 500 parents and found that 40 percent had given CBD products to their children for behaviors related to the autism spectrum.

Very little controlled research has been done with CBD and kids. There is only one approved drug based on CBD for any age group, and that’s for rare kinds of epilepsy in children. There are promising hints — but little proof thus far — that the compound might work on some other conditions in children too, including other kinds of seizures, autism and anxiety.

“When you’re desperate, you want options,” said John Mitchell, clinician at Duke ADHD Clinic in Durham, N.C. “I’m a parent myself. I get it.” But, he cautioned, for now the enthusiasm is running ahead of the science. “I’m very hesitant to say anything promising about it. It’s an open question.”

The medical community considers pure CBD relatively safe: The World Health Organization, for example, has said there’s no evidence of anyone abusing CBD recreationally, or of any public health problems. But there are still some risks, especially for kids.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration wrote that CBD has the potential to cause liver injury (in users of any age), and suggested it might affect the developing brains of children. No one knows the long-term effects of giving CBD to kids, said Arno Hazekamp, Ph.D., a pharmaceutical researcher and cannabis consultant in the Netherlands. “Those kids are still kids,” he said. Researchers will have to wait until they are older to assess long-term effects. Also, since most CBD products aren’t regulated, he added, they can be tainted with dangerous additives.

Hints of help

The only drug containing CBD that has been approved for adults or children is Epidiolex, which is currently the only known treatment for two rare and devastating forms of childhood epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Epidiolex, approved in 2018, was developed after the high-profile case of Charlotte Figi, whose desperate mother used CBD to dramatically control her debilitating seizures.

The way that CBD acts on the brain makes it a good candidate for controlling seizures caused by other conditions too. The Epilepsy Foundation said that early evidence from animal studies, anecdotal reports and small clinical trials suggest that CBD could potentially help with seizures. Dozens of trials are underway to test if, why and how CBD might work for kids and adults suffering from seizures of various kinds.

There are also hints CBD might work for some autistic kids. Dr. Gal Meiri, M.D., clinical director of the National Autism Research Center of Israel at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, has studied CBD oils and autism. In a study that Meiri co-authored in 2019, 155 autistic kids aged 18 years and younger tried CBD oil for at least six months. More than 80 percent of the parents reported significant or moderate improvement in their kids. “Some of the parents reported benefits not just with seizures but also behaviors, like self-harm,” he noted.

Most such studies are based on parents’ perceptions, rather than measured changes in comparison to placebo groups. The placebo effect can be strong, since parents typically want to see improvements. A placebo-controlled trial of CBD for autistic children has been completed at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Israel, but the results aren’t yet published. Another is underway at the University of California, San Diego.

“I’m trying to be very cautious about it,” said Meiri with regards to CBD and autism. “We still don’t have enough research about safety and efficacy.”

Similarly, many parents are trying CBD products for children with A.D.H.D., for which there are no reported controlled trials with kids. One small trial on 30 adults with a mouth spray containing both CBD and THC had inconclusive results.

With no scientific proof that CBD works and is safe for children, Mitchell said stimulant-based medications like Adderall are a better option than CBD. “We know much more about one than the other, so the choice is simple,” he said. But he understands why a parent might consider CBD as an alternative, he said, given that it is typically seen as a gentle drug with few side effects.

That matches Batista’s experience. “My daughter has a beautiful personality; she’s sweet, she’s spunky. I don’t want to medicate her with something that’s going to turn her into a zombie,” she said, referring to parent complaints that some stimulant-based drugs can make their kids seem spacey.

“I don’t want her to fall behind,” she said. Batista has seen other kids with A.D.H.D. struggle academically. “It can really swallow a kid whole; then you have a failure to launch.”

Mitchell added there are signs CBD might help with anxiety: a symptom that sometimes accompanies autism and A.D.H.D. In a 2018 study of CBD for kids with autism, for example, anxiety improved in more than a third of the 60 patients.

Surprisingly, there’s not much evidence that CBD helps with sleep — despite its reputation for causing drowsiness in recreational users. “Something can make you sleepy and have no effect on your sleep quality,” said Hazekamp.

No silver bullets

Even if CBD is someday approved for use against other kinds of seizures, autism or A.D.H.D., it is unlikely to work for everyone.

Kelly Cervantes, a mother and health activist in Chicago, gave CBD to her daughter Adelaide, who suffered from an unidentified neurodegenerative condition with severe infantile spasms. “We were desperate, and we wanted to try anything we could,” said Cervantes. That was when her daughter was about a year and a half old, and before Epidiolex, so she says she got the product online rather than though her doctor. Sadly, Adelaide’s symptoms got worse. “It entirely depends on the child. There is no one pill, one oil, one treatment that is going to cure everyone,” she said.

In addition, Adelaide’s doctors began to see signs of liver failure. Cervantes took her off the CBD. She said CBD, “does not come without side effects, which I think is a major misconception about it.” In trials of Epidiolex, a moderate dose caused side effects in at least 10 percent of the children, including elevated liver enzymes, decreased appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, sleep problems and malaise.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to know what’s in a CBD product without independent testing. One of Hazekamp’s studies in the Netherlands analyzed 46 cannabis oils made by patients or sold online. Only 21 products even advertised the ingredient concentrations and many of those were wildly wrong. Seven didn’t contain any cannabinoids at all. One of them had more than 50 percent more THC in it than the product claimed.

“There can be pesticides, heavy metals and microbes in the plants,” said Hazekamp. It isn’t clear if those are making it into CBD oils, he said.

It’s impossible to overdose on pure CBD, but synthetic knock-offs can be poisonous. In 2019, the American Association of Poison Control Centers put out an alert noting “growing concern” about CBD products, with national calls about CBD rocketing from just over 100 in 2017 to more than 1,500 last year.

“The labels aren’t always right,” said Hazekamp. “If you try it, make sure it is what you think it is.”

Talk to your doctor

When Cervantes tried CBD, she bought it online from what she believed to be a reputable company, but she can’t be sure what was in it. It would help parents of suffering children, she said, if CBD products were more regulated and parents felt they could talk to their doctors about it, rather than worrying about its association with marijuana.

“I had a patient start taking CBD and I only found out a month in,” said Mitchell. “Parents may assume that a doctor will respond in a negative way.” It’s a doctor’s responsibility, he said, to be open to discussing options. “If you shut a patient down, it doesn’t mean you won the argument, it means they’re not going to talk about it.”

Batista said her daughter’s doctors told her to be careful with CBD and didn’t recommend it.

Still, she’s been using it for several months, getting it from a company that advertises independent testing to confirm their product’s contents, and starting with a low dose. She said she can’t tell if it’s doing anything, but holds out hope that a gentle drug with few side effects will be effective for her little girl. “I want to think that it’s helping.”

Nicola Jones is a science writer based in British Columbia, Canada.

More Americans are using the hemp (or marijuana) extract on their kids, but experts aren’t sold on its efficacy.