Marijuana, for the Children

Why the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to change the drug's illegal status

Glenn Maughan, who has epilepsy, receives marijuana treatment in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

The parents of 9-year-old Sam Saretti have tried everything to help his epilepsy. Various drugs helped a little, but they added 40 pounds to his frame. Not even an implant that zapped his vagus nerve has stopped him from frequently dropping to the floor and convulsing with seizures. So this year, the Sarettis opted to try something a little unorthodox: pot.

The Florida legislature last year passed a law allowing doctors to administer low-THC cannabis to patients with certain medical conditions. The Sarettis are still in limbo, however, because a judge recently invalidated a system for choosing marijuana growers, so no one in the state is currently authorized to cultivate the stuff, ABC News reported.

There's some very early, and largely anecdotal, evidence that marijuana might be an effective treatment for some forms of epilepsy in children who haven't responded to traditional medications. It's partly to help bolster these types of clinical studies that the American Academy of Pediatrics today recommended that the government re-classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a category that includes other addictive, yet still therapeutic, substances like oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, along with things like heroin and acid, which are thought to have no medicinal value.

“By placing this on Schedule II, it would allow the FDA to be involved [in pediatric research] as the agency is in any study," Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor in pediatrics at Stanford University and the author of the AAP's policy statement, told the Wall Street Journal. "Unless scheduling changes, this won’t happen. And there could be therapeutic benefits."

The rest of the AAP's statement is not as liberal. Because marijuana has shown to be damaging to young brains, the AAP said it still opposes full legalization, and it supports strict laws against selling pot to minors in the states that already have legalized. It also said adults should not consume marijuana in front of children, and they advise against smoking pot because of the possible risks of secondhand smoke.

Though 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, the drug is still illegal at the federal level. That leads to a lack of solid medical research and the sort of logistical confusion currently reigning in Florida.

"There are many parents across the state who are waiting with bated breath [saying] 'When is this going to be available for my kid?'" Saretti told ABC.

Given the AAP's heft in the public-health community, she may not have to wait much longer.