Is it safe?

Amid surge in marijuana use, health experts raise concerns about breastfeeding

A woman breastfeeds her baby, during a public event to promote the benefits of breastfeeding, at a park in Bogota on November 3, 2017. (RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A new study has shown that the primary mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, THC, can be detected in the breast milk of nursing mothers. The results come amid evidence showing more U.S. women are using pot during pregnancy — sometimes to overcome morning sickness — and afterward. Experts wonder if infant brain development could be adversely affected, although there is a lack of solid evidence to support that concern.

The study, conducted at the University of Southern California and published on Monday in Pediatrics, examined breast milk samples from 50 nursing mothers who were using pot. Small amounts of THC — responsible for getting “high” — was found in 34 of 54 samples, up to six days after they were submitted. Another form of THC and cannabidiol were found in five samples.

The research team will study the children of the mothers involved in the breast milk study, to try to determine if these traceable amounts pose any risk. Co-author Christina Chambers said pot use is not recommended during pregnancy or nursing — advice that conflicts with the broader promotion by pediatricians of breastfeeding for its health benefits.

“We still support women breastfeeding even if using marijuana but would encourage them to cut down and quit,” said Dr. Seth Ammerman, a report co-author and Stanford University pediatrics professor. Caution makes sense, he said, given the remaining uncertainties about developmental outcomes for the children of nursing pot users.  As more states legalize marijuana use, its popularity is on the rise along with the “false impression” that it is safe, the report says. (Marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 31 states.) A study undertaken in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, estimated almost 20 percent of breastfeeding mothers among women in a government supplemental food program were using pot.

Keira Sumimoto runs an Instagram account @cannabisandmotherhood, which aims to present factual information about marijuana that assists women in making their own choices. “The fear is taking over and the need and want to understand this plant is being ignored by the stigma,” Sumimoto said.

Sumimoto briefly used marijuana during her pregnancy and while nursing, for medical reasons, with no perceived ill effects. She told The Associated Press her 8-month-old daughter is healthy and advanced for her age. Sumimoto also urges breastfeeding moms to be cautious about pot use, but worries that the tone of the language in the report on the latest study “is just a little too much.”

Below, watch Sumimoto’s YouTube episode on “Cannibis & Breastfeeding,” which she just posted on YouTube about a month ago. She explores the differences between endocannabinoids, which naturally occur in humans and are already present in a mother’s breastmilk, and phytocannabinoids, which are plant based and found in marijuana. She cites a recent study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology that showed mothers who smoke pot and breastfeed their babies only transfer about 2.5 percent of the THC that’s been ingested by their bodies.

In another video, Sumimoto discusses the differences between the effects of cannabis and alcohol and why she believes the effects of pot use makes a mom feel “more present and more engaged” with her child than the effects of alcohol — a conclusion she’s reached based on talks she’s had with other mothers who are active pot users. It’s an interesting perspective to be sure, but also underscores why health experts are raising red flags about pot use and breastfeeding.

Read the full story at CBS News.

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