Update: Medical Marijuana for Kids

The University of Colorado’s medical community explores the ethical issues surrounding the use of cannabis to treat epilepsy in children.

June 30 2014, 3:00 PM

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

In May’s “Tangled Web” feature, we explored the science, politics, and controversy surrounding a low-THC Colorado Springs-grown strain of cannabis that appears, in some cases, to help control seizures in children with severe epilepsy. 

Last week, the University of Colorado Anschutz medical community explored the ethical and medical questions surrounding the new drug in their hour-long “Ethics Bites” talk. The monthly discussion series is hosted by the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, and takes place at lunchtime on the last Monday of the month. About 50 doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, students, and members of the public attended the discussion, which explored everything from compassionate use to physician and parental autonomy. 

Much of the medical concern focused on the lack of knowledge about potential side effects and drug interactions. Conducting research on cannabis in the United States, however, is extremely difficult, given the plant’s status as Schedule I drug, and the fact that only the University of Mississippi is allowed to provide the plant to researchers (and even then only after a lengthy, rigorous review process). Many of the physicians at the talk expressed a desire to learn more about low-THC cannabis’ application as a treatment for seizure disorders, but expressed great concern over the implication for the hospital, and for doctors treating children using cannabis to help control their seizures. Since marijuana remains a federally illegal substance, does treating these patients, or providing medical advice about potential drug interactions, endanger the hospital’s federally approved DEA license to prescribe drugs? Do the doctors become liable if something goes wrong, even if they aren’t prescribing the cannabis?

While the answers to these questions remain elusive, the medical community’s awareness of the pressure to find them is not. Monday’s discussion opened and closed with a reference to political humorist Bill Maher’s observation that Coloradans “realize they are the Jackie Robinson of marijuana legislation.” With the country’s eyeballs fixed on the Centennial State, it’s encouraging to see our medical community come together to at least ask the hard questions. Perhaps some day we’ll find the answers.

Listen to the entire discussion here. Next month’s Ethics Bites talk will focus on Colorado’s recently passed Right to Try law, which also holds implication for cannabis treatments. The discussions are free and open to the public.