Why Won't We Consider That Cannabis May Not Be Good for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers? - RxLeaf

Why Won’t We Consider That Cannabis May Not Be Good for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers?

Lydia K. RN
cannabis, developing fetus, brain development, fetus, cannabinoids, THC, CBD, health risks, pregnancy, fetal development

Cannabis helps newly pregnant women keep their biscuit down and it helps new mothers fend off postpartum depression. Cannabis even helps mom deal with stress and anxiety and so much more. But, do we know if it’s good for baby?

Over the past decade, there has been a lot of change surrounding the consumption of cannabis. The best part of this change has brought legalization and more widely available access to cannabis medicine.  But, with that access, comes controversy, especially for pregnant and nursing mothers. It is accepted that some medications are flat out contraindicated for this demographic, such as Accutane, some anti-depressants, Thalidomide, and Fluconazole. But, no one wants to consider that cannabis could be dangerous for developing humans and newborns.

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The truth is that cannabis medicine is not as well researched as pharmaceuticals, simply due to the injustice of prohibition. This means that we’re not entirely sure what the risks and benefits are for the fetal and infant stage. There was a small (44 children) longitudinal study done in Jamaica, which many cite as evidence that cannabis use is safe for pregnant and lactating mothers.  In fact, this is “the” study that cannabis activists go to.

But, would we accept these results if there were reversed; if the study said, “24 kids were damaged from mom’s cannabis use.” There would likely be an uprising of epic proportions and denouncing of the legitimacy of the results. Stay with me here.

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Summary of What We Know So Far

A study documented in the Obstetrics and Gynecology journal confirmed the presence of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its metabolites in the breast milk of lactating mothers who consume cannabis.  Other studies have corroborated these results indicating that cannabis from the mother’s bloodstream can be transferred to the baby through breast milk. So, we know it gets through as THC.

Interestingly, the CB1 receptor has been identified as needed in the development of a feeding response in mice. Endocannabinoids and THC both activate the CB1 receptors. This study suggests that endocannabinoids play an important role in feeding in newborns. So perhaps THC also ignites the feeding mechanism and helps newborns thrive? We don’t know yet, but that would definitely be a positive.

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For fetuses, studies have shown that THC rapidly crosses over the placenta from mom’s bloodstream, BUT that the fetus may not be able to metabolize it. That is a concern as the psychoactive component will continue to circulate in their rapidly developing bodies for longer. What are the consequences? We don’t know, if any at all.

And therein resides the very best reason to pause….we don’t know.

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Why You May Want to Reconsider the Use of Cannabis While Pregnant or Nursing

Impaired Fetal Growth and Development

With all the positive hype about medicinal cannabis going round, many pregnant women have been compelled to carry on with their vaping habits far into their pregnancies. In one self reporting study, the number of pregnant women using cannabis increased from 2.4 to 3.9 percent between 2002 and 2014. However, some studies showed that the use of cannabis during pregnancy and lactation can impair fetal growth and neurodevelopment well into childhood.

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Delayed Brain Development

In a study conducted by Baker & Datta in 2018, lactating mothers were cautioned against using cannabis during pregnancy or lactation. This is after it was proved that breastfeeding infants get 2.5% of the maternal dose of THC.

There is significant brain growth occurring during a baby’s first months of life as they lactate; the presence of cannabis may interfere with this process, just as any psychoactive medication would.

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Delayed Motor Development

One study showed that prolonged exposure of cannabis during pregnancy and lactation caused delayed motor development during the first year of life. This means that your child may not achieve their milestones as they should, if you are using cannabis medicine on a daily basis.

During the first five years of life, motor development is vey key and is a predictor of how well a child will be able to cope with the responsibilities of adulthood. Can they sit up? Can they hold a tooth brush? Can they tie their shoe lace? Delayed motor development means that a child falls behind their peers in mustering age appropriate tasks.

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Slow Weight Gain

When your baby is exposed to even a small dose of cannabis via breastmilk, they may become drowsy and sleep longer that they ordinarily should. This also means that they will be awake less often to feed and this will impact negatively on weight gain.

Decreased Milk Production

Some studies have shown that cannabis can suppress a hormone called prolactin which is responsible for milk production. When a mother is not able to produce enough milk during the first six months of life, the child’s overall health will be greatly diminished. It can be difficult to gauge how much milk a mother produces and these things are typically not investigated unless the baby has “failure to thrive.”

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In the end, it is still very unclear whether children exposed to cannabis during these critical stages of development will be negatively impacted. There are anecdotal reports that “my kid turned out great! Very smart. Milestones were reached way ahead of schedule.” There are zero anecdotal reports attesting to the opposite. Is that because it is human nature to engage in a little confirmation bias or because it doesn’t exist?

Again, the real hard answer is: we don’t know. So, until such a time that long term studies with appropriately sampled populations come to fruition, is it worth the risk?


Lydia Kariuki

RN, Expert medical writer who is passionate about cannabis!

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