Why this doctor wants to test medicinal cannabis on children

An Australian doctor wants to trial medicinal cannabis on kids with behavioural disorders, including ADHD and autism.

Veteran paediatrician Daryl Efron told RNZ on Friday parents have been asking for it so they don't have to give their children antipsychotics and antidepressants.

"These parents are really desperate. The kids are incredibly challenging with their behaviours- we're talking kids with severe intellectual disabilities, severe autism, who are often aggressive, they can self-harm, they can be highly agitated. Every waking moment can be very difficult."

Existing medications have high risks of side-effects, including weight gain which can lead to further health complications.

"Sometimes we end up using a second medication to treat the side effects of the first one," said Dr Efron. "If medical cannabis is a safe and effective alternative - which I believe it well may be - that would be a terrific addition."

He's not talking about getting kids high - the active ingredient which has anecdotal evidence of some efficacy is cannabidiol, which is not psychoactive.

"The main side-effects in that studies that have been done have been diarrhoea and somnolence - some kids get a bit sleepy on it - but it doesn't seem to be as potentially dangerous as THC."

But few trials have been done on adults, let alone children. And as he says, anecdotal evidence has no scientific validity.

"I think it is an option definitely worth pursuing."

Dr Efron and colleague Jeremy Freeman explained their push for child trials in more detail in an article published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health earlier this week.

In the article, they talk about a "10‐year‐old girl with post‐traumatic stress disorder" who got "substantial benefit from CBD oil, with reduced anxiety and improved sleep".

"No side effects were observed over five months of treatment."

Another survey of parents of epileptic children on Facebook found reports of improved "mood, behaviour and alertness" thanks to oral cannabis extracts.

A referendum on cannabis use is expected in New Zealand by or at the next General Election in 2021. Limited medicinal use of cannabidiol has been approved by the Government, but patients have found it's not that easy to get.