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Medical Marijuana May Help Extremely Ill Children, Pediatric Group Wants Looser Restrictions

The federal government should relax its restriction on marijuana to allow research on potential medical benefits of the drug, a U.S. pediatrics group says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its journal Pediatrics, says that while it strongly discourages recreational use of the drug among teenagers, it understands that medical applications have grown more popular, including in the treatment of children, and that additional research should be undertaken to better understand when and how such treatments might be of use.

The journal report, an updating of the group's 2004 policy statement of its position on marijuana legalization, says medical marijuana may have a proper place in the treatment of severely ill children.

While reaffirming its strong opposition to marijuana legalization, the AAP says there should be exceptions made for "compassionate use" in treating children suffering from debilitating or life-limiting conditions.

"Given that some children who may benefit from cannabinoids cannot wait for a meticulous and lengthy research process, the Academy recognizes some exceptions should be made for compassionate use in children," the group said in a release.

The group is calling for marijuana to be changed from a Schedule 1 controlled substance -- defined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as having "no currently accepted medical use in the United States" -- to Schedule II, where it would be in a category of drugs including morphine and oxycodone which can be used in patient treatment but must have careful handling because of the "high potential for abuse."

Even while arguing for "compassionate" use in children, the group urges caution in its use.

"While cannabinoids may have potential as a therapy for a number of medical conditions, dispensing marijuana raises concerns regarding purity, dosing and formulation, all of which are of heightened importance in children," AAP policy co-author William P. Adelman said in the group's release.

While remaining opposed to a blanket legalization of marijuana, the AAP is calling for it to be decriminalized, recommending civil penalties or lesser criminal charges than are currently imposed.

For teens especially, the group says policy makers and courts should consider drug treatment strategies instead.

It says it is worried allowing its legal use by adults could result in increased use of the drug among teenagers.

"Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development," said Seth D. Ammerman, another author of the policy statement.

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