In January 2019 Kieley Beaudry, a cannabis educator, was introduced to a family with a six-year-old-boy who had been diagnosed with medulloblastoma — cancerous brain tumors. He had eight tumors, one of which Beaudry describes as “the size of a mandarin orange.”
After going through extensive chemotherapy and radiation, he is now cancer-free. However, what helped him get through these rigorous treatments was cannabinoid therapy.
“Multiple times the medical team said we can’t believe how healthy he looks, in comparison to the other kids,” Beaudry says. “And we can’t believe how fast he’s healing from certain things, or how much faster he is getting through some of those processes.”
Although Beaudry stresses that cannabis is not a cure, she believes that “cannabis is a tool that can be used as a complementary therapy to other therapies that helps the body heal.”
The use of cannabis-derived products are growing more popular each year due to its legalization.
However, the debate continues surrounding the use of these products on children. As a parent to an eight-year-old with cystic fibrosis, Beaudry hopes to change the way people think about treating children who live with an illness or disease with cannabis.
Its use in medicine has increased substantially since it was legalized for that purpose in 2001. According to a report by the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, only 255 individuals had an active federal license for medical marijuana in 2002. By comparison, according to the Government of Canada, in 2019 close to 370,000 individuals had an active license.
But Beaudry says how we have really only scratched the surface in finding out all the ways cannabis can be used.
“We're starting to realize that it may be one of the most important things just for bringing homeostasis to the body, and reducing anti-inflammatory diseases and autoimmune diseases,” Beaudry explains.
For example, Danielle McInnis, another cannabis educator, uses cannabis-derived products to help with her chronic pain.
“It helps to reduce pain and inflammation, helps with anxiety, and insomnia,” McInnis says. “These benefits help me combat Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.” This disorder affects and causes pain in connective tissues that support skin, bones and blood vessels.
However, the use of cannabis on pediatric patients is still highly controversial.
“It's been fought against. It's been demonized,” Beaudry says. “It has been painted with a brush that is not at all what the purpose of it is.”
In part, McInnis says that’s because of the lack of research in the area.
“There are still many unknown factors when it comes to children consuming cannabis and the effects versus benefits that it has on them,” McInnis says.
But despite those unknowns, some parents have been looking to cannabis to try to help their children.
Kieley Beaudry, a cannabis educator, hopes to change the way people think about using cannabis on paediatric patients. Photo by Kieley Beaudry
For example, in an article from the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, the authors David Isaacs and Kilham Henry explain how thanks to social media outlets, parents of children with seizures are seeing other children with similar issues successfully being treated by cannabis.
“These parents argue with some justification that the medical profession has not been able to treat their child’s intractable epilepsy,” the article said.
Children who may be candidates to use medical marijuana or cannabis-derived products need a prescription from a medical professional, just like adults. However, some professionals are hesitant to do so.
In a questionnaire conducted in the spring of 2017 held by the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, a Quebec City pediatrician reported that “316 doctors said that they had been asked by a parent or adolescent patient to prescribe cannabis…only 34 doctors said they had done so, [due to many] reservations about efficacy, impacts to developing young brains, and concerns about abuse and dependence.”
In contrast, through personal experience Beaudry believes that cannabis can be very beneficial for individuals, including children, struggling with different conditions.
“My daughter has a chronic lung condition called cystic fibrosis,” Beaudry says. “There’s a lot of needles, a lot of aches, a lot of pains.”
Beaudry says that she mostly uses CBD for her daughter to help her relax.
“When you’re eight-years-old and you have to do four hours of treatment a day and you have to take a lot of medications and go to a lot of doctor appointments, it creates anxiety that healthy kids and parents don’t have to deal with,” Beaudry says.
She argues that despite the controversy surrounding pediatric cannabis use, she looks at the risk, in comparison to what the benefit is.
“What I would really like to see is that it's not the last line of treatment,” Beaudry says. “It should be looked at in the very beginning when it can really help to accelerate that healing process.”
- By Cassidy McKay