Efficacy of cannabinoids in neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders among children and adolescents: a systematic review

A better understanding of the endocannabinoid system and a relaxation in regulatory control of cannabis globally has increased interest in the medicinal use of cannabinoid-based products (CBP). We provide a systematic review of the rationale and current clinical trial evidence for CBP in the treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents. A systematic search of MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Register of Trials was performed to identify articles published after 1980 about CBP for medical purposes in individuals aged 18 years or younger with selected neuropsychiatric or neurodevelopmental conditions. Risk of bias and quality of evidence was assessed for each article. Of 4466 articles screened, 18 were eligible for inclusion, addressing eight conditions (anxiety disorders (n = 1); autism spectrum disorder (n = 5); foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (n = 1); fragile X syndrome (n = 2); intellectual disability (n = 1); mood disorders (n = 2); post-traumatic stress disorder (n = 3); and Tourette syndrome (n = 3)). Only one randomised controlled trial (RCT) was identified. The remaining seventeen articles included one open-label trial, three uncontrolled before-and-after trials, two case series and 11 case reports, thus the risk of bias was high. Despite growing community and scientific interest, our systematic review identified limited and generally poor-quality evidence for the efficacy of CBP in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents. Large rigorous RCTs are required to inform clinical care. In the meantime, clinicians must balance patient expectations with the limited evidence available.