The majority of people and doctors would probably agree that the most important time in a person’s life developmentally is when they’re in the womb and during infancy. Many expectant and nursing mothers today take great care to eat a healthy diet, take their pre-natal vitamins, reduce intake of coffee and other caffeinated beverages, and to also completely discontinue smoking, intake of alcohol, use of non-essential prescription medications, and use of recreational drugs. Of course, this was not always the case as it’s only been in the last century (really the last 20 years thanks to the internet), that mothers have had access to such a massive amount of information about health and early childhood development.
There is a rapidly growing trend in the use of marijuana and hemp products for medicinal purposes. At the same time, many states have now legalized marijuana for recreational use. This has led to a more relaxed mindset about the risks that may come with use of marijuana, with many people likely assuming it’s safe because it’s a plant. But, is marijuana safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers?
Before answering that question, let’s eliminate the confusion about Marijuana and Hemp. Both are forms of Cannabis. Just like a toy poodle and a pit bull are both dogs. The Marijuana plant contains higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the molecule which causes the high. Marijuana plants have been bred to have higher and higher (pun intended) levels of THC. In fact, THC levels in today’s Marijuana plants is up to 3 to 4 times greater than it was 2o to 40 years ago. The Hemp plant contains higher levels of Cannabidiol (CBD). This molecule does NOT cause intoxication. CBD is the molecule which has been linked to helping people with anxiety, pain, inflammation, arthritis, PTSD, tremors, and more.
Getting back to our primary topic, according to a report1 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marijuana use by pregnant mothers has increased and in some cases nearly doubled, between 2009 and 2016.
It is worth noting that the study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente, located in northern California, where views on the recreational use of marijuana are a bit more liberal, thought not quite as liberal as Alaska, where CBS News2 reports that just over 16% of the population regularly get stoned.
So, what is the health impact of marijuana use by a pregnant or nursing mother on her child? In a report3 published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Implications for Neonatal and Childhood Outcomes”, researchers stated,
“…highlighted in the available epidemiological and animal data are concerns regarding both short-term growth and long-term neurodevelopmental and behavioral consequences of prenatal exposure to marijuana. Our current understanding of the Endocannabinoid System and its role in the development of neural circuitry early in fetal life also provides “theoretical justification” for the potential of marijuana substances, particularly THC, to affect neurodevelopment.”
In the afore mentioned study published by JAMA, led by Dr Christina Chambers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, researchers tested breast milk to determine how long after a mother smoked marijuana would THC be present in her breast milk. This study concluded that:
“THC was measurable in a majority of breast milk samples up to ∼6 days after maternal marijuana use.”
Additional research into the long terms effects of marijuana on babies and children is needed. Is marijuana safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers? The current trend among researchers and doctors is that it is not safe and until there is conclusive long term data, abstinence is suggested. In a 2012 policy statement4, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated,
“… it is strongly encouraged that she [the lactating mother] abstain completely from using marijuana as well as other drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.”
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