Over the past decade, cannabis went from a forbidden narcotic to one of the aspects of a holistic lifestyle. However, while hemp and even marijuana use is now normalized, stigmatization still exists around cannabis plants, affecting how we perceive information regarding its use.
In this article, we will cover the controversial and intimate topic of breastfeeding while using cannabis.
After reading, you will better understand where we are at in the debate and have the resources necessary to make an informed decision. First, we’ll cover some cannabis basics and then discuss the pros and cons of cannabis use and breastfeeding.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis sativa is a plant with over 100 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, the most abundant are THC and CBD. Cannabinoids are produced in the plant’s flowers by resin glands which also contain aromatic oils called terpenes.
The abundance of chemically active cannabinoids and a diverse terpene profile make dried cannabis flowers an expensive cash crop used recreationally and medically.
Pros of Using Cannabis While Breastfeeding
While the available research doesn’t suggest serious short-term consequences resulting in breastfeeding while using cannabis, going against the FDA’s recommendation seems risky for recreational use.
Medicinal cannabis use presents a much stronger argument. Stress is the number one killer of breast milk supply. Inadequate sleep and not eating or drinking enough are also factors that reduce breast milk output. Cannabis can help with sleep and increase appetite creating a healthy environment for milk production.
The dangers of using cannabis while breastfeeding was likely overblown due to the stigmatization of marijuana. Recent research shows little to no risk of exposing newborns to cannabis compounds in breast milk.
Cons of Using Cannabis While Breastfeeding
Mothers using THC while breastfeeding will likely pass the compound along to their newborns; this fact alone is enough to make mothers think twice about using cannabis while nursing.
While misinformation is abundant regarding cannabis use, we are also far from understanding the long-term impact due to a lack of scientific research. In addition, the cannabis products of today are much stronger than in the past.
We cannot say there isn’t any downside to using cannabis while breastfeeding, but we are still in the beginning stages of understanding all the consequences of cannabis use.
History of Cannabis Use
America and the West had a close relationship with medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp until the early 1900s. Then, the plant was demonized using overt racial propaganda suggesting cannabis was a dangerous drug that could lead to psychosis and criminal behavior. Campaigns like “Reefer Madness” continued, leading to the classification as a schedule one narcotic in 1971 by President Richard Nixon.
The war on cannabis raged through the 1980s and 1990s, but marijuana use gained popularity in mainstream culture. Public opinion was shifting, and cannabis users were no longer looked down on as hippies or criminals but as a legitimate way to relieve many medical conditions naturally. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Then, in 2012, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational use.
As more states legalize cannabis for recreational and medical uses, the stigma is fading. By the end of 2022, 52 million Americans will have consumed marijuana.
While cannabis is more accepted today than a decade ago, using it while breastfeeding is still considered irresponsible by most of the population. However, with a history of misinformation around cannabis use, many people are changing their opinion on the issue.
Marijuana Vs. Hemp
In 2018, the United States passed the “Farm Bill” legalizing non-intoxicating varieties of cannabis and separating cannabis products into two categories:
Marijuana – Cannabis containing over 0.3% THC
Hemp – Cannabis containing 0.3% THC or less
The bill paved the way for a new legal industry and gave millions of Americans access to hemp-derived cannabis products. Today the cannabinoid hemp industry is estimated to be worth $4.5 billion globally.
Recent Studies of Cannabis Use and Breastfeeding
The FDA “strongly” advises against using CBD, THC, or marijuana of any form while breastfeeding. But before we get into the pros and cons, let’s look at 3 of the most recent scientific research from a meta-analysis on breastfeeding while using cannabis.
A study analyzed breastmilk from 50 women who were using cannabis. THC was detectable in 66% and below the level of quantification in 32% of the samples. “Preliminary evidence found no differences in infant adverse reactions, postnatal growth, or neurodevelopmental outcomes were found between the groups with quantifiable and nonquantifiable THC in breastmilk.”
Another study observed 68 infants whose mothers’ smoked marijuana while breastfeeding. “Motor development of the marijuana-exposed infants was slightly reduced in a dose-dependent (i.e., number of reported joints per week) manner at 1 year of age, especially among those who reported smoking marijuana on more than 15 days/month during the first month of lactation. No effect was found on mental development.”
Finally, the last study observed 27 participants. Out of the mothers, 12 smoked once per month, 9 smoked weekly, and 6 smoked daily. “Six of their infants were compared at 1 year of age to the infants of mothers who did not smoke marijuana during pregnancy or breastfeeding. No differences were found in growth, or on mental and motor development.”
Research on cannabis use while breastfeeding is complicated and relies on several determining factors to produce an outcome, including frequency and detectable THC in breast milk. The 3 studies above have varied results, but none return any overtly alarming outcomes. In addition, analyzing the infant is a challenge, and it should be noted that none of the studies follow up with development as the child ages.
Using cannabis moderately to reduce stress, increase appetite, and reduce pain is reasonable. However, we don’t recommend excessive recreational use for mothers breastfeeding. At the end of the day, it is up to the mother to decide if cannabis will benefit their well-being enough to take the risk of exposing their newborn child to THC.