Cannabis use - including among women - is up. And a range of questions are now being asked about women’s health and the use of cannabis, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Real scientific evidence, if not general research, is scant. However, the overwhelming data suggests one thing; cannabis is not a substance that should be ingested carelessly by expectant or nursing mothers. Cannabinoids appear to play a powerful, if still poorly understood role in human development. They also appear to play critical parts in ovulation, gestation, and even early life. Endocannabinoids in the human brain are critical to core functions of survival.

However, what level of cannabinoid compounds should exist in the body is another story. And when mom consumes cannabinoids, baby does too.

Cannabinoids can be excreted from the human body. This includes in saliva, blood, and urine. They can also be dissolved in fatty liquids. And breast milk is one way that baby can get a dose of cannabis from mom very easily.

This is not, apparently, always a negative thing. In fact, there are many natural endocannabinoids found in breast milk. What this may mean is that certain kinds of cannabinoids are good for mom and kid. Again, how much and which ones is a very open question.

WHAT CANNABINOIDS ARE FOUND IN BREAST MILK?

The most abundant cannabinoid found in breast milk is called 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). This endocannabinoid also stimulates the same cell receptors that THC does.

Even more interesting is that 2-AG appears to be critical in keeping newborns alive. It stimulates the suckling response and tongue muscles. CB1 receptors in the brain control these functions.

Without these endocannabinoids, babies may develop a disease called “non-organic ability to thrive”. This condition occurs when a baby cannot consume enough food to sustain itself.

Children might even be less prone to the psychoactive side effects of THC than adults.

There is much that is not known, but novel findings suggest that decades of anti-drug “research” might in fact be wrong.

Nursing Mother Cannabis

CANNABINOIDS AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT

A 2004 study also suggested that endocannabinoids are critical both in the pre and postnatal development of babies. High levels of anandamide and cannabinoid receptors are present in the embryo and uterus. Anandamide levels are naturally lowered at the time of implantation. It may be that high levels of anandamide are related to miscarriage.

Studies from the 1980s have consistently been inconclusive in their findings. Cannabis consumption by expecting and nursing moms has never been cut and dry. A 1985 study found there was no significant impact on babies with moms that smoked cannabis during pregnancy.

A much larger 1990 study found otherwise. In fact, this study found significant differences in motor ability in cannabis-exposed children.

That said, the study also made an assumption common to others of the era; cannabis use was lumped in with alcohol and tobacco use.

There has yet to be an extensive study of mothers who exclusively used cannabis during pregnancy or nursing.

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS ON BREASTFEEDING SAY?

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) released a set of guidelines on cannabis use in 2015.

According to the Academy, there was not enough evidence one way or the other. However, they did advise caution when using cannabis both when pregnant or nursing.

A 2015 survey of lactation professionals found that their members used extreme caution when prescribing the drug. In fact, all reports of prescription were on a case-by-case basis.

The survey found that between 10-20% of participants had patients who used cannabis during this period. The vast majority of those surveyed also admitted that they advised against use of the drug while pregnant or nursing.

THE REASON FOR ALL THE GAPS

The lack of knowledge about cannabis and this critical period of human life is due to one thing: lack of real and objective research. The vast majority of studies that have been conducted focus on harm reduction. They have not looked at the role of endocannabinoids in the role of pregnancy and child development. In fact, just this concept was unknown until the beginning of the century.

This “knowledge” is sure to change. Even if slowly. Human trials, of course, cannot be run on test subjects. In the meantime, many of these questions will begin to be answered indirectly. Understanding of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is still in its infancy.

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