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Opinion: Medical 'pot for tots' no different than any other potent drug

With New Jersey becoming the latest state to make it easier for sick children to get prescriptions for medical marijuana, we are clearly seeing a shift in the United States toward acceptance of pot.Eighteen states and Washington D.C. now permit the use of medical marijuana. A number of them provide prescriptions to children, with parental supervision, to treat conditions, including autism, seizure

With New Jersey becoming the latest state to make it easier for sick children to get prescriptions for medical marijuana, we are clearly seeing a shift in the United States toward acceptance of pot.

Eighteen states and Washington D.C. now permit the use of medical marijuana. A number of them provide prescriptions to children, with parental supervision, to treat conditions, including autism, seizures and cancer. A few states have gone even further and decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

But is it going too far? Should children be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes? The N.J. bill, which allows prescriptions of edible medical marijuana for kids, is the absolutely right thing to do.

Before you get an image in your head of some little kid sitting on a corner smoking a joint, keep in mind the medicine is basically syrup containing the active ingredient found in marijuana.

Many kids, some suffering from severe, frequent seizures that don’t respond to other treatments, are getting relief. The problem is, critics, including the American Academy of Pediatricians, say we don't know the long-term cognitive effects on a young child who regularly takes the active ingredient in marijuana frequently. Data show that chronic use among teenagers can be a problem for their cognitive development. Marijuana can adversely affect organs such as the liver. Nonetheless, if there are therapeutic uses for medical marijuana -- and if there is no other option – then, despite the possible risks, it ought to be available for doctors to prescribe to children.

Taking the active ingredient of marijuana and giving it to a child is no different from giving the child any other potent and risky pill that is helpful. Although there is certainly controversy around the idea that we would be prescribing marijuana to a child, the bottom-line issue is: does it work, can it be monitored under medical supervision and is it made in a way that guarantees a uniform dose and quality? 

Marijuana has gotten a very bad -- and a somewhat undeserved reputation -- over the years as a dangerous gateway drug. Many still sneer at the idea of ‘pot for tots’. They are wrong. Carefully regulated it ought to be available to children for whom nothing else seems to work.

Arthur Caplan is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.