However, while the CBD boom would have us thinking it's a panacea for every possible ailment, there's been a great deal of controversy over giving CBD to children: Schools are threatening to charge children with misdemeanors for possessing it, Child Protective Services are challenging parents' custody for giving their kids CBD oil, and still other parents have been duped by snake oil retailers masquerading their products as healing solutions.
But if CBD can help with deficiencies in the endocannabinoid system of adults, if children take it as a supplement to their vitamin regimen, would that help prevent endocannabinoid deficiency later in life? And more importantly, if they did in fact take CBD simply as a supplement (as opposed to a necessary medication such as for epilepsy), would it be safe for them?
Some cannabis-friendly medical professionals like Dr. Junella Chin don’t think so, unless the child has a health issue that requires CBD as part of the treatment. Dr. Chin, founder of MedLeafRX, treats patients with extreme cases of intractable epilepsy, seizures resulting from traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injuries, as well as children with cancer and colitis.
“In most healthy children, their endocannabinoid system is functioning. The brain contains abundant cannabinoid receptors reacting to anandamide [an endocannabinoid known as the 'bliss molecule']," says Chin. "So, adding cannabis to the functioning endocannabinoid system may actually interfere with developing brains and flood these receptors with an enormous amount of CBD, THC and other cannabinoids." The brain may react to all these externally sourced cannabinoids by downregulating its own natural production of endocannabinoids throughout the body's endocannabinoid system, she adds.
There's already some debate around the efficacy of multivitamins and supplements in children: Certain camps believe that multivitamins and supplements are unnecessary if a child has a healthy diet, while others feel supplementation is crucial for proper development. Like with any supplement, parents have to consider the quality of the product, but CBD also requires they pay close attention to the extraction method.
Naturopath Dr. Lakisha Jenkins advocates for whole-plant or full-spectrum CBD products, which contain a host of other beneficial phytocannabinoids (the hundreds of naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant). Jenkins considers all phytocannabinoids to have benefit, though she notes that how they affect each symptom through nutritional supplementation depends on the individual.
Jenkins says she doesn't believe in using isolated CBD unless treating an acute medical symptom. As a naturopath, she also recommends getting our vitamins and minerals from the foods we consume, as opposed to supplements.
Regardless of the outcome (negative or positive), she says we must be cognizant of the impact that adding a new compound can have in the developmental stages of adolescence.
“The endogenous cannabinoid system regulates a number of systems that influence development, including endocrine, digestive, and cognitive function," says Jenkins. "We must consider the delicate balance of endocannabinoids in the system and how phytocannabinoid supplementation influences that." While most people don't have access to measurement tools that would determine the appropriate levels of endocannabinoids (and phytocannabinoids) required to maintain optimum endocannabinoid system function, she says it's better to present a full-spectrum cannabinoid profile (through food), rather than an isolated cannabinoid.
In the 1600s, North American landowners were indeed required to grow hemp, so it was a regular part of everyone’s diet. Because hemp was so widespread, its compounds were thus present in breastmilk. Samantha Montanaro, co-founder and COO of Tokeativity, believes that CBD can enhance a child’s life; she says the fact that hemp was a daily part of our lives for so long gives her confidence in making CBD a part of her family’s diet.
“In my family we eat hemp hearts, add fresh cannabis leaves in smoothies, and use CBD bath products and tinctures," she says. "As we start to learn more about how our endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid deficiency affects how we absorb other nutrients, we can possibly adjust what our multivitamin intake is. But, for now, I am not supporting replacing multivitamins with CBD — they should work in conjunction with one another.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a healthy child with a well-balanced diet doesn’t need vitamin supplementation above the recommended daily allowance. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports over 4,600 cases of children who ended up in the emergency room on account of dietary supplements — mainly because child-resistant packaging isn’t required for them.
While there are areas for concern when it comes to vitamins, overall, it can benefit many children to supplement. Children who have poor appetites or chronic conditions like Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance need additional vitamins in their diet. Moreover, children with vegan diets or those who eat a lot of fast food aren’t getting enough protein or omega fatty acids.
Because of this, Marissa Fratoni, a holistic registered nurse and clinical director of CannaMommy, recommends that children get their nutrients from whole foods and adding hulled hemp seeds or hemp hearts as a superfood. While she does believe that hemp is a complete source of protein and amino acids, she doesn’t believe that CBD should be part of a seemingly healthy child’s regular routine. (It's important to note, however, that most hemp-derived CBD products come from the bud or resinous parts of the plant, whereas hemp food products come from the seed, which contains little CBD, at all.)
"At this point, the data and evidence do not support the use of CBD as a supplement that can replace a multivitamin," says Fratoni. “[But] if a child is struggling with a mental health condition like anxiety, behavioral issues related to attention deficit hyperactivity, pain, seizures, [and] sensory processing disorders, for example, then CBD may very well be indicated."
She maintains that she is in favor of a child supplementing with CBD if medically necessary and says that parents should work with a qualified health provider who is knowledgeable in cannabinoid therapeutics. Working as a team, Fratoni says, a dosing schedule and treatment plan will develop over time to benefit the child. One of the biggest misconceptions about CBD is that it is intoxicating, she points out.
That misconception is what leads to the stigma that keeps parents from even considering CBD as a possibility. A lack of peer-reviewed research and age restrictions on CBD products (derived from marijuana, as opposed to hemp) make it seem like an illicit drug instead of a safe alternative, which is why parents choose not to give it to their children. Other parents, however, may choose not to supplement with any vitamins or alternate therapies, at all.
Tina Montalvo, a parent and schoolteacher, says that while she doesn’t judge those who do give their children CBD, she would not consider giving it to her daughter, unless her diet was lacking in something for which CBD could compensate. “For me, personally, I want to raise my child without the need of any supplement, if possible," she says. "I want the nutrients to come from the foods that she eats.”
As CBD becomes more mainstream, we will learn more about the possibility of supplementing a child’s vitamin routine with this increasingly popular, non-intoxicating cannabinoid. In the meantime, parents who want to experiment with adding it to their children's diets should look for companies that are transparent with their lab test results.
It’s important to look out for if any mycotoxicin (the toxic substance created by fungus) exists in the sample, if there are any pesticides or heavy metals present, and if there are any residual chemical solvents left over from extraction. Additionally, be careful to check with your medical provider to ensure that pharmaceutical contra-indications are avoided.
The most important thing is transparency in whatever brand you choose. As Fratoni points out, not all CBD is created equal. “There are a lot of products on the market that are not only junk, [but] contain contaminants like lead, cadmium, bacteria, and mold," she says. "It's really important that parents carry out their due diligence in choosing quality CBD products that are manufactured by companies that prioritize good manufacturing processes, lab test their products, and are accessible to their customers to answer questions about any and all of the above concerns. “