Medical Cannabinoids in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review

Pediatrics. 2017 Nov;140(5):e20171818. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-1818.


Context: Legalization of medical marijuana in many states has led to a widening gap between the accessibility and the evidence for cannabinoids as a medical treatment.

Objective: To systematically review published reports to identify the evidence base of cannabinoids as a medical treatment in children and adolescents.

Data sources: Based on Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines, a search of PubMed, Medline, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature databases was conducted in May 2017.

Study selection: Searching identified 2743 citations, and 103 full texts were reviewed.

Data extraction: Searching identified 21 articles that met inclusion criteria, including 22 studies with a total sample of 795 participants. Five randomized controlled trials, 5 retrospective chart reviews, 5 case reports, 4 open-label trials, 2 parent surveys, and 1 case series were identified.

Results: Evidence for benefit was strongest for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, with increasing evidence of benefit for epilepsy. At this time, there is insufficient evidence to support use for spasticity, neuropathic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

Limitations: The methodological quality of studies varied, with the majority of studies lacking control groups, limited by small sample size, and not designed to test for the statistical significance of outcome measures. Studies were heterogeneous in the cannabinoid composition and dosage and lacked long-term follow-up to identify potential adverse effects.

Conclusions: Additional research is needed to evaluate the potential role of medical cannabinoids in children and adolescents, especially given increasing accessibility from state legalization and potential psychiatric and neurocognitive adverse effects identified from studies of recreational cannabis use.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cannabinoids / adverse effects
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Drug Therapy
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / diagnosis
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology*
  • Medical Marijuana / adverse effects
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Nausea / chemically induced
  • Nausea / diagnosis
  • Nausea / drug therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Tourette Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Tourette Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Vomiting / chemically induced
  • Vomiting / diagnosis
  • Vomiting / drug therapy


  • Cannabinoids
  • Medical Marijuana