Just about everywhere you turn there’s a new store selling CBD products, and the quality and content can vary drastically by brand. More and more parents are turning to CBD products for their kids, whether it’s to ease anxiety or aid in seizure disorders. However, little is still known about its effects, especially on children. Before jumping on the CBD bandwagon, do your homework.    

What is CBD?

According to David A. Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Division of Pain Medicine and Department of Anesthesiology, Neurological Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of hundreds of “cannabinoid” molecules found in the cannabis sativa plant. 

“Hemp is a class of cannabis with very low levels (less than 0.3 percent) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component found in marijuana,” says Edwards. “CBD oil is primarily derived from the hemp plant, so it’s not considered to be marijuana.”

Why Use CBD?

CBD use effects the body’s endocannabinoid signaling system, says Edwards, and in many ways it’s not fully understood. There are active studies underway in laboratories and clinical trials to learn more about how it works in the body, but most are done with adults.  

CBD is most commonly used for pain relief associated with cancer pain, nerve pain, spasticity-related pain or chronic pain; sleep and anxiety. It’s also prescribed for seizure disorders.
    Edwards says some parents describe the benefits of CBD in their kids as having fewer seizures, improved alertness and behavior, improved sleep, better motor skills and the ability to come off other medications.  

“Obviously, coming off medications should only be done in collaboration with the [doctor] prescribing the medicine,” Edwards says. “Many diseases have effective treatments supported by medical evidence, so a parent should not forgo the best treatments for disease by using CBD instead.”

All the Choices

CBD is sold in oils and lotions, capsules and gummies, along with general hemp products such as shampoos, body wash, soaps and more. Edwards says the most common forms are either ingested or applied on the skin as a cream. “It is generally low risk by any of these routes, but may also be ineffective,” he says. 

While there are no differences in products sold for adults versus kids, individual experts and retailers may recommend use at different doses. Edwards says it remains an individualized approach.

Side Effects & Prolonged Exposure

CBD is usually well tolerated, but Edwards says some side effects have been noted and therefore can be risky — especially with prolonged use, in some children. The most common side effects are increased anxiety and drowsiness; diarrhea; reduced appetite; dizziness; respiratory problems like cough or wheezing; or allergic reactions. 

“Special caution must be taken for children with plant sensitivities or allergies, and also with children who are on other medications that may interact with CBD,” says Edwards. “The greatest concern is actually the impurity of many CBD products that are sold.”

The long-term effects of CBD use in kids is unknown. Because of this, Edwards says medical professionals cannot give a recommendation one way or the other, and there’s a need to emphasize caution. 

“Parents who may want to use CBD products on kids should strictly identify products that have been tested to have zero THC according to reputable third-party analysis,” says Edwards. “The long-term use of THC in childhood does have a detrimental effect on child development, especially on learning and memory, so THC is specifically recommended not to be used in children and young adults.” 

Review the certificate of analysis that should be available online or with any CBD  product where it is sold. Ensure there are no pesticides, microbes, solvents and THC.

“CBD seems to be effective for some kids, but not for others,” says Edwards. “Future studies hopefully will help us sort out who will benefit the most. For now, use of prescription forms should be done in collaboration with a knowledgeable pediatric clinician.”