TODAY   |  July 10, 2013

Pediatric pot: Do benefits outweigh risks?

Marijuana is legal in 17 states when used as medicine, and now some parents are using it to treat their children. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports on the controversial treatment, which some believe helps alleviate symptoms of autism, cancer, epilepsy and more.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the controversy tied to medical marijuana . it's legal in 17 states and some parents are using it to treat their very young children. dr. nancy snyderman , good morning to you.

>> we talked about it for adults for a long time but doctors, parents and communities are getting behind this for children. it's a controversy that is not going to go away. this mother is making a drug deal, buying marijuana.

>> is this all for you today.

>> yes.

>> reporter: but this sale is not for her. it's for her ten-year-old son and it's all perfectly legal . this pot is being grown specifically for zaki jackson in colorado by a team of brothers that legally grow medical marijuana and process it for him into a special syrup for sale at their drugstore. she says this is saving his life. when she was six months old he was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy that causes life threatening seizures.

>> he was having 60 to 250 seizures a day. he would stop breathing. you know, all the air leaves his lungs and he does not take another breath until that seizure is over.

>> reporter: she tried 17 medications and treatments. nothing worked. desperate heather made a tough decision to try one last doctor's recommendation.

>> we are christians. we are conservative and we're using medical marijuana . so that is a big hump for people to get over.

>> reporter: heather says the results were immediate.

>> i probably stared at him for a good three hours after his first dose and then i fell asleep. i didn't feel any seizures after his first very dose.

>> reporter: he has been seizure free for nine months. in 17 states, kids are able to get medical marijuana to treat everything from autism to cancer to seizures.

>> their lives are changed. they can eat, they can put on weight. they can sleep and have a normal childhood.

>> reporter: the marijuana plant, also known as cannabis can dive down nerve cell stimulation and stop seizures without getting kids stoned. and that's because medical marijuana can be bred with a low level of thc, the compound that gets you high. but critics include the american academy of pediatrics which says that growers are jumping the gun because this remedy has not been clinically tested.

>> it's not enough just to believe that something is going to be a good medication. you need to test it. a couple of generations ago people were recommending tobacco. even physicians as a good method of relaxation seems unbelievable now.

>> is your concern that if someone has a medical problem in their child and they turn to marijuana they're swapping one problem for another.

>> i think that they are putting their child at risk of long-term consequences of marijuana use that we don't fully understand.

>> reporter: still heather says it's worth it because after a decade she can finally get to know her son.

>> we never really got to meet zaki because he started having seizures so early. zaki is funny and charming and loving. it's been nice to see him come awake.

>> no one is saying this is a first line drug of choice but increasingly as children need the solutions for problems, the traditional medicine isn't treating, increasingly parents are turning to this avenue. we won't see the fda step in and have clinical trials but it's not going to go away. because it's in 17 states this is a trend in this country.

>> thought provoking piece. thank you