It’s all over social media: The Stir, The Bump, Babycenter, even breastfeeding advocate sites like Breastfeeding Mama Talk. Mommy confessions pleading for no judgement and for understanding. Throngs of people behind them encouraging them and applauding them for being so brave to “come out.” Quoting psedo-science or poorly understood misconstrued facts. Giving examples of how modern they all are; and quickly shutting down anyone who is a buzzkill by disagreeing. How judgmental and “sancti-momious” art thou who doesn’t agree!
Whats the newest Mommy Confession that’s got everyone going? Using marijuana and other cannabis products while pregnant and/or breastfeeding.
With all the new information we have coming out about medical uses for cannabis, I decided to put on my tolerance hat and research the science myself with an open mind. I am of the mind that my opinion is allowed to change on something should there be sufficient proof that it should change.
After doing some internet research, and getting a very incomplete understanding of the newest research into cannabinoids as well as decades old studies, I decided the only way to get information that was not decades old or agenda driven would be to actually talk to an expert myself.
I emailed several scientists I found after reading a few research papers and finally one emailed me back. He was currently very busy organizing a convention; however he steered me towards one of his collaborators. Dr. Joseph Morgan was gracious enough to give me a phone interview and answer a few questions. Dr. Morgan has been an independent consultant for the pharmaceutical industry for twenty-five years. He has trained in cannabinoid medicine. I also emailed a woman named Rosie who works at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Colorado. She has also worked at a medical dispensary. Most of the technical information contained in this article (unless otherwise sited) is from these two sources.
First, I feel a few definitions are needed.
Cannabinoid: A unique chemical that interacts with the Endocannabinoid system found in animals. Can be found in the cannabis plant, as well as other places. There are anywhere from 70 to several hundred known Cannabinoids; including synthetic ones.
Endocannabinoid: A system in the body that interacts with other systems and has been discovered in the past 25 years. The receptors of this system vary widely in density and shape and that is largely dependent on genetics. The number of receptors found in each person also fluctuates as the body attempts to maintain balance. For example; if someone uses cannabis often they would have less receptors then a person who never uses.
Clean Cannabis: Medical grade marijuana that should be grown under specific conditions. Often grown hydroponically or using coconut bark ideally.
Recreational Cannabis: Marijuana, grown at home or from a dealer or dispensary. Growing conditions may or may not be known. May or may not have traces of pesticides, mold, fungus, bacteria. If grown in soil may contain unsafe levels of heavy metals; at least unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as fetus/baby.
THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol. The cannabinoid found in marijuana that is responsible for much of the “high” feelings many people experience while using recreational marijuana. It causes the body to react and respond in a similar way to cannabinoids found in our bodies, however is NOT the same as the cannabinoids found in our bodies. THC bonds to the naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors (see term Endocannabinoid) in our body.
Synthetic THC: Created by people, this substance is purely THC.
CB1: A relevant cannabinoid receptor in our body; part of the endocannabinoid system. Is activated by THC and Synthetic THC. CB1 receptors decrease with persons who use cannabis heavily.
CBD: Another cannabinoid found in cannabis; a lot of research into this compound. This may be very helpful especially for future medical research. Does not have psychoactive properties of THC, and blocks the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system.
So what does this mean for moms? Specifically breastfeeding moms?
For medical use, using should not be taken lightly. It may or may not be able to help with certain issues. Dr. Morgan specifically sited sufferers of Crohns Disease, saying that medicinal cannabis use may improve the health of the mother overall and reduce the need for more toxic medicines; therefor would be beneficial to the baby in that way.
Essentially: the benefits in a circumstance like that would outweigh the costs. It is for a well-informed doctor to make this decision with the patient; not a decision someone should just decide on by themselves.
Dr. Morgan was very clear about possible harm from recreational use of cannabis not only to the mother but also being transferred to baby via breastmilk or umbilical cord. He spoke about toxins on the plant or in the plant that would cause harm to mother and child. Specifically we know the effects of pesticides, fungus, bacteria, and mite infestation. He especially warned against “neurotoxicity pesticide contamination issues.” One thing he spoke of that I did not already know was that the plant itself draws in heavy metals from the soil which then goes into the mother’s body and the baby’s. This includes mercury and lead as well as others.
Many of the compounds found in cannabis are fat soluble, which means they do end up in breastmilk, including whatever “tag-alongs” are in it. It should be noted that concentrates (such as oils and wax etc…) will also contain the pesticides of the plant it was derived from.
I also specifically asked Dr. Morgan the difference between cannabinoids found in cannabis and cannabinoids found in the body naturally. He explained that they are not at all the same. He explained the ones the body makes are used for on demand purposes, they remain in the body a few seconds at a time. Those found in cannabis can be active in your system for hours and can be detected in your system for weeks. He also said that on a chemical level they are structurally different. The similarity, he says, is that they both activate the receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
We all know that people react differently to cannabis use. I myself do not find it enjoyable and never “got into it” spare a few experiments in college. I asked Dr. Morgan how we can know if use will effect a mothers ability to care for her child coherently. He said that the receptors for everyone are genetically coded and vary in shape and density and number. At this time their is no way to accurately say how it will effect a mothers ability or not since everyone reacts so differently. Dr. Morgan specifically stated that minimum amounts should be used for medication.
Dr. Morgan did have some very interesting theory’s about cannabinoid deficiency’s in the mother being a possible explanation for why some infants are termed as “failure to thrive.” If you are not familiar with this term; here is a link. If this was the case a prescription of cannabis could possibly help he says. This would require further study of course; of which is currently difficult given the strict government regulations and restrictions on the topic.
I think out of everything I have learned during this project, that is the biggest flag for me. The uncertainty of it all. The bottom line is we do not have a lot of current studies on this subject. The answers are still unclear on exact effects of THC and other cannabis compounds on the developing fetus and nursing child, positive or negative. As I mentioned earlier; in a medical necessity situation the doctor must go over the benefits versus the costs with the patient.
Here is where it gets a bit tricky. As I mentioned earlier, I also interviewed Rosie who has worked at medical and recreation dispensary’s in Colorado. I do not know a lot about whats going on at a consumer level so her insight was very interesting.
In Colorado it is legal to sell cannabis products to pregnant and nursing mothers. Rosie said she has sold to pregnant moms and said, “I assume it will be used responsibly.” She tells me that from what she knows both medical and recreational dispensary’s grow product in soil. She prefers the taste of cannabis grown hydroponically. I myself was quite alarmed at the information that medical dispensaries grow product in soil considering what I now know about heavy metals in the plant. She says the main differences between a medical dispensary and a recreational dispensary are the amounts being sold and the amount of taxes for each sale.
From what I have learned it seems more regulation is needed on a local level. More research is needed which means less regulation on a national level. More awareness is needed. More education on the subject.
Dr. Morgan hopes that in the future of this research we could see a higher quality of research and a better safer cleaner product being used. This means a lot of the government restrictions that has held up the last few decades are actually causing more harm than good at this point.
One thing is very clear it seems; no matter where this research takes us in the future, RIGHT NOW, unless medically nessisary, pregnant and nursing moms should not use cannabis products. The know effects of cannabis with “dubious purity” are known for sure and none of it is good.
Who knows; a few years down the road our understanding of this might become clearer. In the meantime, why take any unnecessary risk?
Dr. Joseph Morgan is currently working on “legal and safer plant mimicking for FDA approval” in response to some of the issue mentioned above.
Rosie is newly engaged and living life! Congratulations Rosie!
A GIGANTIC THANK YOU to both Dr. Morgan and Rosie for helping with this post!!!! It is truly appreciated!