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Myth or Fact: Can CBD Oil Help Your Child?

From online dispensaries to health food stores and even some retail pharmacies like CVS, cannabidiol, better known as CBD, can be found just about everywhere these days.

CBD has become very popular as a treatment for certain ailments—including some that occur in children. It’s purported benefits include helping people with sleep issues, anxiety, attention problems and even more serious matters like aiding children suffering from epilepsy.

As a parent, you’ll do whatever it takes to help your child. But is CBD the answer and is it really safe to give to your child?

With the help of a pediatric neurologist, we unpack some common myths about CBD and what you should know before giving it to your child.

Myth: All CBD is the same.

While the market is flooded with CBD oils and tinctures, it’s important to know that not all of them are created equal. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate CBD products in the same way they regulate drugs or dietary supplements, which means the quality, potency and amount of CBD contained in any product really can depend on the source—even identical bottles from the same manufacturer can have very different doses of CBD oil.

“There was a study done at New York University that showed this,” said Tamara Zach, MD, a pediatric neurologist with Banner Children's. “Your child can be getting a very high dose one month and a very low dose the next without you knowing it.”

Myth: CBD is a cure-all.

Beware of anything that promises it can help anyone with everything. These claims are simply misleading.

Although CBD does have potential benefits for seizures, pain syndromes and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, it is still a drug and should be used cautiously. The most research done on CBD is for its use in treating epilepsy, while studies for other conditions have been largely anecdotal.

“There is no known literature, to my knowledge, regarding CBD oil for autism and ADHD,” Dr. Zach said. “There are adult self-reported studies, but they haven’t conclusively shown benefit. There are studies and clinical trials looking at CBD/THC for autism, but there has been no definite recommendation.”

In 2018, the FDA did approve an oral medication with CBD for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, in children two years and older who have up to 100 seizures per day.

“The FDA-approved CBD oil is different, however, than what you’ll find in a dispensary as it’s purified and grown in a separate field without pesticides and nothing is mixed into it,” Dr. Zach said.

Myth: Hemp seed oil and CBD are the same.

Since neither are regulated, some companies will use hemp oil instead of CBD without letting you know. This means you may not be getting what you bargained for. Why?

CBD oil is extracted from the leaves, stalks and flowers of hemp, whereas hemp seed oil comes exclusively from, well, seeds. While hemp seed oil contains nutritional benefits like omega fatty acids, it has minimal or no CBD, which means it can’t offer your child the same effects.

“Hemp oil hasn’t been studied as much as CBD oil and the products out on the market aren’t regulated either, which has made it very hard to study them,” Dr. Zach said. “But to date, hemp oil hasn’t shown any benefits for conditions like seizures.”

Myth: CBD doesn’t have side effects.

Virtually everything we consume can cause side effects or become toxic in high doses. CBD is no different. CBD oil may produce significant side effects that may be similar to the conditions you’re trying to treat.

“CBD hasn’t shown that it improves concentration or learning, and may, in fact, cause sedation and fatigue,” Dr. Zach said. “For teens that are driving this can cause them to be impaired. Diarrhea and decreased appetite are two other side effects which can cause dehydration and slow development if the patient is not growing well.”

CBD oil can also affect liver function and interact with certain medications your child is taking. This is especially important to know if your child is taking medications or supplements with a “grapefruit warning,” as both interfere with some of the enzymes your body needs to metabolize drugs.

“The liver is so busy digesting CBD oil that it is overwhelmed and does not digest other medications well,” Dr. Zach said. “This causes the child to be toxic in other medications – such as Clobazam.”

Important tip: Before you buy CBD for your child, check with their provider

It is very dangerous to start your child on a treatment that is unproven. Talk to your child’s provider first regarding risk and benefits before adding CBD oil to your child’s medication regimen.

“Providers are becoming educated in the many benefits of CBD, so we’re more open to its use when the situation calls for it,” Dr. Zach said. “This enables us to monitor your child’s labs and watch dosage closely. If side effects come up, then we can address these appropriately. Especially with seizures, which can cause sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, trying an unproven drug at the wrong dose can put child in grave danger.”

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