Certainly the majority of articles on the potential benefits of cannabis as a treatment for sick children have focused on a possible link between the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD) and alleviation of symptoms with certain forms of childhood epilepsy. (For a compelling, optimistic and heartwarming example of such an article, watch the Tilray-produced video, Patient Story: Brandon.)

Doubtless due to the large and fast-growing body of anecdotal evidence suggesting a link between cannabinoids and effective treatment of a wide range of illnesses, attitudes are evolving among a large portion of the healthcare community.

Evidence for this powerful trend was quantified recently in a report released through the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) at their annual meeting in June.

The report presented results of a 2016 survey sent to 654 paediatric oncology providers at three United States cancer centres. Over 300 providers participated, all of whom practiced in states which have legalized medical cannabis (specifically, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington). The survey was intended to reveal attitudes and awareness regarding the application of medical cannabis in children with cancer.

Among the findings:

·      92% of respondents said they would be willing to assist paediatric cancer patients to obtain medical cannabis. 

·      88% agreed that medical cannabis would be appropriate in palliative (end of life) cases, while only 34% thought it appropriate for treating early stages of cancer.

·      30% of respondents had received requests within the past 30 days

·      for medical cannabis. Half of those requests were facilitated.

·      46% said the main reason they were reluctant to recommend cannabis was the lack of standards regarding formulations, potency and dosage.

Despite a lack of directly comparative data, it is apparent that attitudes among childhood cancer care providers regarding medical cannabis—at least in states that have legalized medical cannabis—have changed significantly. Fully nine out of ten now have an opinion positive enough that they’re willing to assist patients in obtaining cannabis. 

What also seems clearly evident is that recommendation of cannabis as medicine will increase if and when the substance can be standardized in a manner similar to conventional medicines. Most doctors demand verified, consistent and controlled specifications such as potency and dose. This issue may be at least partially addressed through the growing availability of precisely manufactured and tested cannabis extracts. Indeed, standardization may convince more doctors to consider cannabis among the first line of treatment options (rather than just for relief in palliative cases).

This study shows that, increasingly, caregivers’ (both physicians’ and parents’) minds are opening to the potential cannabis may hold in the treatment of symptoms of childhood cancer. More research and development is, of course, necessary, but it’s clear that hope and optimism are growing (and justified!).