How CBD Affects Brain Development, from Childhood to Adulthood

Apparently CBD oil is great, but how does it affect your child's development?

More adults are using CBD oil as a natural alternative to opioids but do we understand its impact on our children using it?Image Credit: Imageflow on shutterstock

CBD comes from the cannabis plant and is a non-toxic, non-addictive, non-intoxicating compound that’s made into a concentrate. This concentrate is known as CBD oil, and can be used in a variety of ways depending on a patient’s age and personal health needs — which include vaping, using topical lotions, or ingesting forms such as candy or capsules. CBD has had a big year, press-wise, bringing it further into the mainstream and into mainstream scrutiny. Recent widespread research into CBD’s potential for treating health conditions ranging from insomnia to Alzheimer’s along with widespread stories of parents treating their children’s severe health issues with CBD oil, has caused public concern that the cannabidiol could potentially be harmful to patients, especially growing children.

Brain development in childhood is vitally important for a person to live a full life. Recently questions have surfaced about CBD’s impact on a child’s brain because of scientific evidence that says cannabis negatively affects the brains of young people.

However, if we look at conventional treatments for particular diseases in young people, we can raise the same questions. In severe conditions like epilepsy and autism, antipsychotics are prescribed to quell behavioral symptoms, but these medications can impair quality of life or even be fatal, not to mention bring about side effects like tremors or weight gain. Overall, adverse effects from pharmaceutical drugs are the leading cause of injury and sudden death in children and adolescents according to a 2018 report in Pediatrics.

For a particular form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, a CBD drug has already been developed for children 2 years old and up and is in its third stage of clinical trials, suggesting that science has accounted for any disadvantages of CBD, and has approved its use in children.

Does CBD Use in Adolescence Harm the Brain?

During the teenage years, important areas of the brain are still developing, like the prefrontal cortex, and studies have concluded that cannabis use is harmful during this phase of life — these studies mainly focused on CBD’s psychoactive counterpart in cannabis, called THC, which has vastly different, and more adverse, effects.

In a study from 2014, nearly 20 percent of young people (including children) up to age 19 used at least one prescription drug for various ailments, with antidepressants being most common, but new research reveals that the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable to pharmacological disturbance.

Comparative to other drugs, CBD has an “excellent safety profile”, according to Surgical Neurology International, and the side effects reported are minor, like change in appetite or tiredness. In addition, JAMA Psychiatry published new findings that reviewed previous studies’ conclusions which say that intermittent cannabis use in teens had almost no negative cognitive impact.

How Does CBD Affect the Adult Brain?

Recent evidence tells us that CBD can be tolerated by humans at high doses, so fully-grown adults have no risk of overdose, major adverse effects, or any risk of changes to heart rate, blood pressure, motor or psychological function making CBD a promising treatment for many health conditions.

A 2017 survey in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research shows that many patients undergoing treatment for pain choose to use cannabis over prescription opioids due to the adverse side effects that come with these drugs — and they find cannabis to be equally effective.

Even in later adult life, studies suggest that CBD can protect against sudden brain-damaging events like strokes, proving that older adults could benefit from the neuroprotective properties of CBD oil without causing any harm to their bodies. As with any treatment, however, drug interactions should be considered when starting a new or additional regimen with CBD oil.

It’s important to remember — especially in patients undergoing vital periods of brain development — that though preliminary research is promising, the effect of CBD over time and its risks are still not fully understood. Any CBD oil treatment should be approached with care for these reasons, and you should talk to your doctor about your concerns or questions if you think CBD could be a suitable treatment for you or any minor in your care.

The content on cannabisMD is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Megan Solga
Megan Solga
Megan Solga is an international educator and mental health advocate with a background in medicinal cannabis research. She enjoys whiskey, bluegrass, and life in the mountains.

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