Pubdate: Tue, 15 Mar 2005
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano, AlterNet
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Could the human body's own "marijuana" hold the key to a healthy and happy 
childhood? Scientists in Israel have posed the question, and their answer 
may surprise you.

Recently, researcher Ester Fride of the Behavioral Sciences Department of 
Israel's College of Judea and Samaria published a pair of scientific papers 
stating that the brain's cannabinoid receptors (receptors in the brain that 
respond pharmacologically to various compounds in cannabis as well as other 
endogenous compounds) and the naturally occurring messenger molecules that 
activate and bind to them (so-called endocannabinoids) "are present from 
the early stages of gestation" and may play "a number of vital roles" in 
human prenatal and postnatal development.

Writing in Neuroendocrinology Letters and the European Journal of 
Pharmacology, Fride suggests, "A role for the endocannabinoid system for 
the human infant is likely."

She notes that in animals, the endogenous cannabinoid system fulfills 
several important developmental functions, including: embryonal 
implantation (which requires a temporary and localized reduction in the 
production of the endocannabinoid anandamide), neural development, 
neuroprotection, the development of memory and oral-motor skills, and the 
initiation of suckling in newborns.

A dysfunctional endocannabinoid system, Fride speculates, may be 
responsible for certain abnormalities in infants, particularly 
"failure-to-thrive" syndrome, a condition in which newborns fail to 
properly grow and gain weight. (In animal studies, mice fail to gain weight 
and die within the first week of life when their cannabinoid receptors are 

Nevertheless, the author does not recommend that pregnant mothers consume 
cannabis, noting that a handful of studies have observed subtle cognitive 
deficiencies in offspring with prenatal exposure to pot. (At present, there 
exists little consensus within the scientific community as to whether 
infrequent cannabis use may impair postnatal development, as various 
studies have yielded conflicting results.)

Fride does, however, strongly recommend the use of cannabinoids in 
pediatric medicine. She notes that "excellent clinical results" have been 
reported in pediatric oncology and in case studies of children with severe 
neurological diseases or brain trauma, and suggests that cannabis-derived 
medicines could also play a role in the treatment of other childhood 
syndromes, including the pain and gastrointestinal inflammation associated 
with cystic fibrosis.

Because the development of the cannabinoid receptor system appears to occur 
gradually over the course of childhood, "children may be less prone to the 
psychoactive side effects of THC or endocannabinoids than adults," Fride 
writes. "Therefore, it is suggested that children may respond positively to 
the medicinal applications of cannabinoids without [psychoactive] effects." 
She concludes, "The medical implications of these novel developments are 
far reaching and suggest a promising future for cannabinoids in pediatric 
medicine" for conditions including cachexia (severe weight loss), cystic 
fibrosis, failure-to-thrive, anorexia, inflammation, and chronic pain.

"It's clear that the cannabinoid system is essential for complete human 
development, and that cannabis medicines have a great potential to help 
sick children," says University of Southern California professor Mitch 
Earlywine, author of the book, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the 
Scientific Evidence. "Given the well established safety of the medication, 
clinical trials for other disorders, particularly cystic fibrosis and 
'failure-to-thrive,' seem a humane and essential next step."
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