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Physician Loses License After Prescribing Pot Cookies to Four Year Old

Emily Robertson
Plate of chocolate chip cookies with milk in background

A physician supporting edibles for kids with ADHD gets his license pulled after school nurse calls Children’s Services.

Cannabis legalization has raised a series of questions regarding medical ethics. The largest issue has been whether or not it’s ethical to give cannabis prescription for children, like edibles for kids with ADHD. There have been studies examining the risks of adolescent pot use. Now, in California, a doctor is facing backlash for prescribing cannabis cookies to a four-year-old boy.

The child in question apparently has ADHD and bipolar disorder. Dr William Eidelman diagnosed the child and told his father to give the boy “cannabis in small amounts in cookies.” But contrary to what you may think, it isn’t actually the prescription of cannabis that’s the issue.

The Case of a Four Year Old Cannabis Patient

The case started in September 2012 when Dr Eidelman prescribed cannabis to a four-year-old boy. He had diagnosed the boy with ADHD and bipolar and decided cannabis was the best option. Eidelman had begun prescribing cannabis in 1997 after medical cannabis became legal in California. A good portion of his practice seems to be the prescription of cannabis, or writing letters so patients can get medical cannabis.

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In 2012, the boy was throwing tantrums at preschool. When his father gave him the edibles, his behaviour instantly calmed down and seemed to improve in school. However, by afternoon the effects had worn off. Tantrums continued.

To fix the problem, his father asked the school nurse to give him a dose of his cannabis cookie at lunchtime. She was concerned about the prescription of cannabis to the child, and as a result, called law enforcement agencies and child protective services.

The main investigation was against the doctor. The state medical board decided it was time to look into his practice. Is the issue prescribing edibles for kids with ADHD? Well, no, actually.

What’s the Problem with Edibles for Kids with ADHD?

The problem with the prescription isn’t necessarily that it’s cannabis, though that’s how it started out. While it was the use of cannabis that made the nurse contact authorities, it was the way that Dr Eidelman had diagnosed the child that was the issue.

Dr Eidelman met with the father and son for just half an hour. In this time, he decided that the issue was a “probably combination of ADD/ADHD and bipolar disorder”. After half an hour of meeting with them?

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Secondly, the physician didn’t involve a child psychologist to consult with him on his diagnosis or to meet the boy and his father. Proper duty of care would require a much more thorough examination of the child before making such a broad diagnosis and prescription.

Licensed Revoked For Failing to Provide Proper Duty of Care

After investigations, the board decided to revoke his license as of January 4. The decision explained that, “Although he did not outright suggest a diagnosis … he all but made one up out of whole cloth. Labeling a child with a significant mental condition can be harmful … if those labels are incorrect, pernicious results may follow.”

Tracy Green, Eidelman’s lawyer, claimed to have appealed the decision. She is hoping to repeal the decision before it can come into effect so Eidelman won’t have to have his license revoked at all. Though she claims that there’s a hearing in March to make the final decision, the medical board alleges that they have not been sent a court order to this effect.

Cannabis Was Not The Problem Here

The concern by the medical board is valid. Early incorrect diagnosis of mental conditions can change the way a child is treated and also have severe effects on their personal perception of themselves. It can also cause early prescription of medication without just cause.

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Four years old is quite young for children to receive an ADHD diagnosis. Though it can happen, it often doesn’t take place until a couple years later. His diagnosis for bipolar is an even more problematic one. Diagnosis for bipolar doesn’t usually occur until teens or mid-twenties. While symptoms can appear in childhood, it’s dangerous to make a diagnosis of this kind when a child is so much younger than average diagnosis. His diagnostic practices are called into question. How can you prescribe edibles for kids with ADHD if you can’t even be certain they have ADHD?

And the fact is that a misdiagnosis like this one can have negative effects on the de-stigmatization of cannabis. When doctors rush to prescribe cannabis rather than have legitimate diagnoses and prescription, it can encourage anti-cannabis advocates to point to the situation and say, “look! Doctors who prescribe cannabis don’t know what they’re doing!”

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of doctors are turning to cannabis for completely valid medical treatments. These are the circumstances that should be the focus of cannabis discussion – legitimate uses and legitimate prescription of cannabis for ailments like cancer, anxiety, depression, and epilepsy.

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What is positive, though, is that the medical board wasn’t concerned about the prescription of edibles for kids with ADHD. It wasn’t the use of the edibles for kids with ADHD, but the diagnosis itself. That’s a good step that perceptions and stigma are changing.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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