(New York Times) Dr. Jean Talleyrand, who founded MediCann, a network in Oakland of 20 clinics who authorize patients to use the drug, said his staff members had treated as many as 50 patients ages 14 to 18 who had A.D.H.D. Bay Area doctors have been at the forefront of the fierce debate about medical marijuana, winning tolerance for people with grave illnesses like terminal cancer and AIDS. Yet as these doctors use their discretion more liberally, such support — even here — may be harder to muster, especially when it comes to using marijuana to treat adolescents with A.D.H.D.
“How many ways can one say ‘one of the worst ideas of all time?’ ” asked Stephen Hinshaw, the chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley. [Uh, "War on Drugs", "Drug-free America", "marijuana prohibition", hmmm, there's three ways right there...] He cited studies showing that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, disrupts attention, memory and concentration — functions already compromised in people with the attention-deficit disorder.
Advocates are just as adamant, though they are in a distinct minority. “It’s safer than aspirin,” Dr. Talleyrand said. He and other marijuana advocates maintain that it is also safer than methylphenidate (Ritalin), the stimulant prescription drug most often used to treat A.D.H.D. That drug has documented potential side effects including insomnia, depression, facial tics and stunted growth.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, however, patients and doctors have been reporting that marijuana helps alleviate some of the symptoms, particularly the anxiety and anger that so often accompany A.D.H.D. The disorder has been diagnosed in more than 4.5 million children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Berkeley, Dr. Frank Lucido said he was questioned by the medical board but ultimately not disciplined after he authorized marijuana for a 16-year-old boy with A.D.H.D. who had tried Ritalin unsuccessfully and was racking up a record of minor arrests.Within a year of the new treatment, he said, the boy was getting better grades and was even elected president of his special-education class. “He was telling his mother: ‘My brain works. I can think,’ ” Dr. Lucido said.
“With any medication, you weigh the benefits against the risks,” he added.
It’s always a thorny discussion when you’re talking about kids and marijuana, because on every parent’s list of nightmares for their kid’s future is “hopeless drug addict”. Our side has the anecdotes about the teenagers who smoke pot and get straight A’s and turn out to be wonderful adults; many of my colleagues speaking on the summer hemp festival circuit publicly trace their cannabis use back to as early as age 12. Then their side has the anecdotes of the teenage doobie puffer who became either a listless slacker or a recovering heroin addict. Both sides have their studies and enough personal accounts to make compelling arguments.
I didn’t try cannabis until I was 22 years old. I wouldn’t recommend its non-medical use by anyone under age 18, even though politically I know that any re-legalization effort will require and age 21 limit. It’s not even that I’m so worried about any physical or mental harm that might befall a teenage pot smoker. It’s more that I think those teenage years are when your personality and character are formed. You’re experiencing so many emotions for the first time – love, jealousy, anger, frustration, accomplishment, loneliness, and so on – these things should be felt fully and unaltered.
However, I say this as a teenage drinker. I first drank at age 16. I blunted many good and bad times with alcohol, up until, not-coincidentally, I first smoked marijuana. Looking back, alcohol led to far worse outcomes for me as a teen than had I been a marijuana user… assuming I wouldn’t have gotten caught. So I’m always curious about our society that is so quick to demonize the idea of teenagers smoking reefer when teenage use of alcohol seems pervasive and socially encouraged. Couple that with our pediatricians who seem more than willing to throw powerful pharmaceuticals at every troubled teen and I’m left perplexed.
In this case, I trust the doctors who are carefully treating young patients, like Dr. Frank Lucido in this story, or Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who helped his young son through cancer treatments with cannabis.