One of the most taboo subjects in our society is pregnancy and what women can and can’t do while carrying a baby. When you compound that with a conversation about cannabis and its place in a pregnant woman’s world, you have quite a controversial topic on your hands. Marijuana and breastfeeding pose questions that are difficult to answer. The question of whether or not a woman should consume marijuana while she is breastfeeding is a big one for which women across the country are seeking an answer with very little satisfaction in the results.
3 Research Papers on Marijuana and Breastfeeding
The real problem is a total lack of research on the subject. Elephant Circle is a group that is focused on reproductive justice as well as care, protection and education for mothers and health care providers. Their deputy director, Dr. Heather Thompson, claims that only 3 papers have ever been written on the subject. Only 1 of the studies, which was done in 1982, measured THC levels in breast milk, although the study only evaluated 2 subjects. There was a study led by Katherine Tennes of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in the 1980s that examined the effects of consuming marijuana and breastfeeding. The findings revealed that it had no effects on an infant’s growth, mental or motor development.
Stifled Research on the Subject
Marijuana is still classed a Schedule I drug making it federally illegal and legally viewed alongside heroin and LSD as one of the most dangerous, high risk drugs having no medicinal value. This extreme classification of the plant and the fact that it is rendered illegal as a result has made marijuana and breastfeeding research impossible to conduct. For many years it has been against the law to study marijuana and its effects and, for this reason, the truth is that no one actually understands the effects of consuming marijuana and breastfeeding or whether any effects exist.
Estimates of 10% – 15% of Expecting Mothers Use Marijuana
Dr. Thomas Hale and the Infant Risk Center at Texas University Health Sciences are conducting a study on marijuana and breastfeeding as well as how the plant effects women in each phase of pregnancy leading up to the stages of the child’s infancy. His office receives calls daily, asking how a pregnant woman who just screened positive for marijuana should be handled. ”The need in this field is just enormous. It varies all across the United States how the hospitals respond, so we want to get some good, decent data on marijuana,” he explains. “Right now, the current estimates are that somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of mothers use marijuana while they’re pregnant, so we know they’re probably going to use it while they’re breastfeeding…. We just need to know with some good hard data if there are risks to the baby.”
Erring on the Side of Caution
As it stands, doctors are firmly against women combining marijuana and breastfeeding. They warn of symptoms that there has simply not been enough research to confirm. There has been no hard data collected to illustrate the plant’s impact on women and infants. The drug classification from the DEA has made any long term study impossible. Nonetheless, doctors have come down on the side of caution, making their stance firmly against it. This may not stop women from using marijuana and breastfeeding but doctors taking this stance are protected by the cautious position.
Amy Whited, who is the manager of public relations and digital media for Kaiser Permanente Colorado told The Cannabist, “Kaiser Permanente agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics that pregnant women or nursing moms should not use marijuana. Marijuana use in pregnancy has been linked with decreased birth weight, leukemia and neuro-behavioral changes in newborns and adolescents.” She goes on to say that “THC and its metabolites are absorbed into breast milk and are passed on to the infant during breastfeeding. In addition, due to varying concentrations of THC in products people use, it can be unclear exactly how much THC is being absorbed. There is also a concern that THC use can worsen the effects of alcohol exposure in pregnancy.”
A Staggering Amount of Variables to Consider
There has not been nearly enough research done on the many potential benefits of marijuana in all areas of health due to its stance legally. With so many strains and varieties of marijuana available, it’s possible that different types and different dosing could have an impact on all manner of factors when it comes to marijuana and breastfeeding as well as its impact on health in general. This is why it is so important that studies be allowed to be conducted. Last year, several Senators requested that the DEA reschedule or deschedule marijuana. The DEA refused stating that not enough research had been done to prove marijuana’s medicinal purpose. The reason for the lack of research was because of the DEA making medicinal studies of the plant illegal. So in August they announced that they would allow some legitimate studies to be conducted by those willing to go through their process.
Details of the Current Trial
Hale’s study involves giving new mothers a specific strain of marijuana at specified time intervals and then the women are asked to provide breast milk samples to researchers. From there, Hale’s team can investigate the milk and find out definitively what the effects of marijuana and breastfeeding are on infants. They are still looking for people to participate in the study and it has been stated that it will be completely confidential. One of the groups Hale is working with is the Elephant Circle, who have been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about the work and its impact on the future of pregnant women. The researchers most specifically need women who have just given birth and are in the first 6 months of breastfeeding. After this time, milk production begins to go down so the time frame is important to the work. You can find out more about his work and choose to participate in it by going to the research study’s webpage.
In the meantime, it’s good to exercise caution and good judgement and make the decisions that feel best for you and your body. With the help of doctors like Hale, more and more information is bound to be known in the future.