AMA: Medical marijuana’s last taboo,the under 18 patient?

By CHRISTINE S. MOYER amednews staff — Posted March 25, 2013

Seattle physician Leslie R. Walker, MD, has patients as young as 10 who request medical marijuana. They often want the drug to ease alleged chronic pain, curb insomnia or enhance their ability to focus.

Dr. Walker has never given in to patients’ demands for medical marijuana. But she’s among the doctors worried by the growing number of young people who are seeking the substance for so-called health reasons.

“What’s concerning is children are coming into the doctor now and saying, ‘My back hurts. Can you write me a recommendation for a medical marijuana card?’ ” said Dr. Walker, chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

She doesn’t believe in recommending the drug to youths, but there are some health professionals who do recommend the substance.

In Arizona, for instance, 29 people younger than 18 are active medical marijuana cardholders, according to the state’s Dept. of Health Services. Arizona is one of the few states that report online the ages of its cardholders.

Although that constitutes a small percentage of the more than 36,000 Arizona residents using cannabis for health reasons, some medical experts say this is just the beginning.

They worry that as more states approve medical marijuana laws and the concept of medicinal marijuana becomes more mainstream, an increasing number of youths will attain the drug for health purposes.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., permit doctors to recommend marijuana for certain conditions, which can include anorexia, cancer, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, seizures and severe pain, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. The Washington-based nonprofit is the nation’s largest marijuana policy reform organization.

Only Connecticut and Delaware prohibit the use of medical marijuana by youths younger than 18, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Delaware’s policy, however, has not yet been enacted.

Eleven states have pending legislation legalizing medical marijuana, and two of those states — Illinois and New Hampshire — probably will enact the measure this year, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a Washington-based lobbying organization working to legalize marijuana.

“The history of medicine is just filled with stories of therapies that appeared promising initially and later were found to have devastating consequences,” said Sharon Levy, MD, MPH, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse. “That’s what’s really frightening about this idea of medical marijuana” for young patients.


American Medical News

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Concierge Medicine Journal (CMJ) curates breaking concierge medicine news, and editorial opinion on a wide variety of topics relevant to the practice of Concierge Medicine.

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