Medical Pot: Fit for a Kid?

By Tony O'Neill 11/26/12

The less-than-hysterical reaction to the story of a seven-year-old using medical marijuana reflects changing attitudes.

Mykayla Comstock, age seven Photo via

Would you allow a seven-year-old to use medical marijuana? That’s the crux of an interesting—if mildly alarmist—report over at the Oregonian, detailing the ongoing cancer treatment of Mykayla Comstock. She's been a medical marijuana patient ever since she was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia last spring. Currently undergoing chemotherapy, she is one of 52 children registered for MMJ treatment in Oregon—a state which rejected full legalization earlier this month but has permitted medical use since 1998. According to Mykayla's mother, Erin Purchase, pot has been vital in helping her daughter manage the pain, nausea, vomiting, depression and sleep problems that come with her treatment. The controversy—such as it is—originally stemmed from Mykayla’s father, who was apparently so “disturbed” to learn that his daughter was a medical marijuana patient that he contacted child welfare officials, police and Mykayla’s oncologist in an effort to put a stop to it.

He and Mykala’s mother are separated; he claims that during an August visit with his daughter she was “stoned out of her mind,” wanting to do nothing but “lay on the bed and play video games" (which frankly doesn’t sound all that unusual for a kid, and also sounds a lot better than “laying in bed all day being violently ill”). However, Oregon law requires no monitoring of a child's medical marijuana use by a pediatrician—it instead instead invests authority in parents to decide the dosage, frequency and manner of a child's MMJ consumption. "It helps me eat and sleep," Mykayla says of her medicine, which she takes in pill form. "The chemotherapy makes you feel like you want to stay up all night long."

While certainly pushing all the right buttons, Mykayla’s story failed to get the think-of-the-children! crowd as excited you might expect. Perhaps, now that most Americans believe pot should be legal, it’s getting a little harder for journalists to rustle up those “reefer madness” quotes. The voice of dissent in the Oregonian's article is provided by Dr. Sharon Levy, who authored a resolution for the American Academy of Pediatrics opposing the use of marijuana in children. Her position is that since “marijuana isn’t a medicine,” it shouldn’t be used to treat childhood illnesses. To judge by the comments sections of the various news outlets covering this story, the general public sees it differently. “It seems like there would be some developmental risks with administering such doses to a child,” says one typical post. “On the other hand, the leukemia, chemotherapy, and associated toxins plus opiate based pain relief drugs likely are many times worse for the child. As other posters have pointed out, this whole thing seems like an overstated hype story meant to undermine all the good medical marijuana has done.” Erin Purchase says that medical marijuana has helped her daughter to fight past the chemotherapy and return to a sense of normalcy: "She's like she was before. She's a normal kid."

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.