Is CBD a Safe Treatment Option for Mental Illness in Children and Teenagers?


There has been a lot of talk lately about the wonderful effects of CBD (cannabidiol) in the treatment of pain management, migraines, and mental illness in children, teenagers and adults. Social media sites, especially Facebook and Instagram are full of posts from parents touting the miraculous effectiveness of CBD in helping their children/teenagers to sleep, to focus and to calm down. In fact, many parents are now giving CBD oil and edibles to their kids to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, ADHD and ASD. But is it safe?

Unfortunately, there is very little research conducted into the safety and effectiveness of CBD in children and teenagers. Most research studies into CBD has been conducted on animals and adults, but no children/teenagers. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that CBD is effective in treating anxiety because it has been shown to reduce stress in animal studies. However, there is no documented research on the effect of CBD on anxiety in adults. One concern is that the information that is available is on social media and is usually of isolated cases and anecdotal at best e.g. a 10-year-old girl with anxiety, or a 17-year-old boy with depression. Whilst I am not disputing the claims and am pleased to hear these kids are feeling much better, the challenge is that we do not know the health and social history of these kids, their ACE score, pre-existing medical conditions, current environment and support system. According to Dr. Paul Mitrani, paediatrician, child/adolescent psychiatrist and clinical director at the Child Mind Institute, “in regard to treating mental health disorders in children and adolescents, there’s a lack of evidence to support its use,” and he urges parents to wait until further research is done before giving a child/teenager CBD.

To date, the only marijuana derived drug approved for children, is Epidiolex, which is used to treat a rare and severe form of epilepsy.

In 2018, clinical research on cannabidiol included preliminary studies on pain, anxiety, cognition and movement disorders.

What is CBD?
CBD or Cannabidiol is one of over 100 chemical compounds (cannabinoids) found in the marijuana plant. It is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of marijuana, and whilst CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is actually derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. CBD by itself, does not contain THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that makes one ‘high’). According to the World Health Organization (2017), “in humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

Forms of CBD

  • CBD oil – usually administered under the tongue or in capsule form
  • Gummies – tastes like chewy candy so great caution must be taken to store them safely
  • Transdermal patches – allow CBD to penetrate the skin and into the bloodstream thereby bypassing the digestive system. Patches provide a consistent level of CBD usually for a period of 96 hours

Possible Side Effects of CBD
Any side effects are usually mild and disappear within the first few weeks. Possible side effects include:

Dry mouth
Changes in appetite

What You Need to Know About CBD in Children/Teenagers

  • Clinical doses of CBD in children and teenagers have not yet been determined
  • CBD may interact with other medications, plus CBD should never be taken with medications that say, avoid taking with grapefruit (has similar reaction)
  • CBD products are unreliable in delivering a consistent amount AND may contain ingredients other than CBD which may be harmful
  • Very little is actually known about how much CBD is actually delivered to the brain and absorption rates of CBD vary depending on method of use e.g. oil, patch, capsule, etc.
  • If CBD is used continually sleep problems, one concern is that the child/teenager may become tolerant to it and may experience worsening sleep problems if CBD is stopped

What Parents Need to Know Before Giving CBD to A Child/Teenager

  • Learn the facts about CBD – the more you know, the better informed you will be
  • Talk with paediatrician, psychiatrist, pharmacist before administering CBD to child/teenager
  • Buyer beware – online options may be unsafe; ensure you purchase CBD from a credible and trusted source
  • Can you afford it? Long-term use is expensive and not covered by insurance
  • If your child/teenager is taking medications for a diagnosed mental disorder, do not stop medications or add CBD until speaking with a physician first
  • If you suspect your child/teenager has a possible mental disorder, do not give CBD until a proper diagnostic assessment has been conducted
  • Is it legal where you live? Some families have been reported to CPS (child protective services) for administering CBD to their kids
  • Ask yourself why you want to give CBD to your child/teenager? What are the concerns? CBD should not be used as a ‘quick fix’ or a replacement for counselling, enhancing life skills, development of coping strategies and/or relaxation techniques
  • If you elect to administer CBD to your child/teenager, please remember to monitor, assess and evaluate its effectiveness. Any sudden changes to mood, cognition, behaviours should be reported to your physician or psychiatrist

Child Mind Institute
World Health Organization (2017). Cannabidiol (CBD) pre-review report.

In my next Blog #34
I Will Discuss Teen Dating Abuse

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