New Research Shows Chemicals from Marijuana Use Linger in Breast Milk

Though not much is known about how smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana affects pregnancy or breast-feeding, a new study published in Pediatrics shows chemicals from marijuana can be found in breast milk nearly a week after a mom last smoked or had an edible.

Researchers wrote that levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, were found in several moms’ breast milk up to six days after they said they’d last consumed marijuana in some form. “Whether this means that some level—or any level—of these metabolites can negatively influence child development is unknown at this point,” senior study author Christina Chambers told CNN. “This is a call to action to take the next steps to study long-term outcomes in these children.”

So far, there isn’t a ton of solid information on how marijuana use affects developing fetuses or newborn children who are breast-feeding. Some existing research suggests that chemicals like THC readily cross the placenta if consumed during pregnancy, and that these chemicals may adversely affect a developing fetus. Researchers warn of health risks from preterm birth to higher likelihood of admittance to a neonatal intensive care unit.

As Chambers says, none of what’s yet known is enough to warrant tobacco-level warnings against marijuana use during pregnancy. But she says further research on how chemicals like THC and cannabidiol, another chemical in cannabis that was found in trace amounts in breast milk in this study, is needed to figure out potential health outcomes.

“The question is, does it matter? Is it possible that even low levels in breast milk may have an effect on a child’s neurodevelopment?” Chambers told CNN. “And we don’t know the answer to that.”

The most notable finding in this study is that it seems to prove that chemicals in cannabis can enter breast milk. Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, a professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas University Hospital in Dallas, told CNN the study results were important, but not necessarily surprising to her.

“THC is very soluble in fat, and since breast milk has a high fat content, it isn’t surprising to see these results,” Horsager-Boehrer said. She added that THC can enter breast milk because blood vessels in the breasts allow access to glands where milk is produced.

As research continues to fill the gap in how marijuana use affects pregnancy and breast-feeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations along with this latest study. Also published in Pediatrics, the recommendations say marijuana shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, and discouraged use throughout breast-feeding.

As Broadly reported in May 2017, previous guidance against marijuana use during and after pregnancy have been more definitive, and seemed to target low-income women. But in this latest recommendation, the American Academy of Pediatrics simply discourages use, and further counsels women to review the latest research themselves before making a decision—giving new moms a bit more agency over their decision, and acknowledging the lack of information on any negative affects of marijuana use.

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