The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released its first-ever guidelines on marijuana use for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
These days marijuana has momentum. But pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers should be very wary of marijuana use. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been studying the effects of marijuana on developing embryos and nursing babies. This is what you need to know.
Burgeoning news about marijuana is splashed all over social media
Nine states formally approve of recreational cannabis use. New York is on the verge of allowing its citizens to burn a blunt just for the fun of it.
Thirty states allow medical use of marijuana and its constituent components (THC and CBD). And big business loves weed. Huge multinational corporations are investing billions of dollars in sprawling marijuana factory farms.
The golden glow around marijuana is even being burnished by the medical establishment. The National Cancer Institute has announced that, according to several controlled clinical trials, marijuana has a beneficial effect on the nausea and vomiting that chemotherapy induces in cancer patients. The NCI website lists 37 studies demonstrating how cannabis ameliorates most of the negative consequences of chemotherapy.
In addition to relieving the harmful effects of chemotherapy, marijuana has also begun to show potential as an effective cancer fighting agent. Cannabinoids have been found to reduce the incidence of both liver and colon cancer in mice. In another study, cannabidiol killed breast cancer cells, while having little effect on noncancerous mammary cells.
Properties that endow cannabinoids as potential cancer fighters are a serious threat to a baby growing in the womb
Today the internet teems with sites advocating the use of marijuana by pregnant women who suffer from moderate to severe nausea. After all, if it cures the nausea of cancer patients, it must be equally beneficial for about-to-be-moms with the same symptoms, right? Well, in a word, no!
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the component of marijuana which produces marijuana’s mind-altering effects. When a pregnant woman uses marijuana, THC passes through the membranes surrounding the placenta and enters the bloodstream of her fetus just as readily as oxygen and nutrients do.
G. Ian Gallinaco was the lead investigator of a recent Georgetown University Medical Center study of marijuana use by pregnant women. In his summary he concluded: “We know from limited human studies that use of marijuana in early pregnancy is associated with many of the same risks as tobacco, including miscarriage, birth defects, developmental delays and learning disabilities, but animal research suggests the potential for many more developmental issues linked with the drug.”
The emerging research shows that cannabinoids inhibit the growth of cancer cells, restrict their mobility and, in some cases, kill cancer cells. But it appears that cannabinoids can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and the cells of a human embryo. Both might seem equally alien to the limited perceptive abilities of cannabinoid molecules.
As noted in the Georgetown study, “By the same mechanism that cannabinoids show promise in the field of cancer treatment, they prove equally dangerous to the viability and health of a developing embryo.”
A new study from the AAP confirms the earlier findings of potential harm to babies
On August 27, 2018, the AAP issued the results of new research. The academy analyzed data from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It showed that 4.9% of pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 44 used marijuana in the month before the survey, compared to 11% of nonpregnant women in the same age range. (This is an increase over the 2015 percentages of 3.4% and 10.3%, respectively.)
After noting that THC readily crosses the placenta on its way into the baby’s system, the AAP study concludes that, “Given the known effects of marijuana on the placenta and placental transport, it is biologically plausible that marijuana use during pregnancy could affect both maternal and fetal outcomes.”
The AAP report emphasized one reputable meta-study, which reviewed 31 studies conducted from 1982 to 2015. That study found that women who use marijuana during pregnancy were more likely to deliver an infant with lower birth weight or lower Apgar scores. They were also more likely to experience stillbirth. The authors stated that “the increasing frequency of marijuana use during pregnancy may play a role in risk for adverse neonatal outcomes.”
The AAP study concedes that the available evidence is limited, because of the difficulty in isolating the effects of marijuana apart from the consequences of use of other substances, such as tobacco and illicit drugs, like cocaine and ecstasy. Much more research is needed before any hard and fast conclusions can be reached. However, as the report concludes, “The evidence from the available research indicates reason for concern, particularly in fetal growth and early neonatal behaviors.”
Mothers who use marijuana should not stop breastfeeding – they should stop using the drug
Instances of technology superseding nature have become commonplace. So it’s reassuring to learn that one hyper-natural phenomenon is still the undisputed champion. Mother’s milk continues to trounce all of its competition. As noted by the AAP study, “breastfeeding is recognized as the ideal feeding method for infants because of the numerous short-term and long-term benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and the infant.”
In addition to its research on marijuana use during pregnancy, the new AAP study also attempts to analyze the consequences of marijuana use by breastfeeding mothers.
When THC is introduced into mother’s milk, their combined chemical characteristics facilitate the transfer of THC into the nursing baby. While there’s little reliable data on what the THC does once it’s in the baby’s system, Mary O’Connor, one of the authors of the AAP study, expresses concern. “We don’t know how much is absorbed by the baby, or what the effects might be.”
Given the lack of knowledge about the consequences of THC in a nursing mother’s milk, O’Connor advises that, “Mothers who use marijuana should not stop breast-feeding – they should stop using the drug.”
The AAP advises physicians to counsel women of childbearing age about the potential negative consequences of marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding
“Because the potential risks of infant exposure to marijuana metabolites are unknown, women should be informed of the potential risk of exposure during lactation and encouraged to abstain from using any marijuana products while breastfeeding.”
Telling mothers to stop using marijuana during pregnancy and breastfeeding isn’t asking for an unreasonable sacrifice. Given what’s at stake, mothers-to-be and breastfeeding women need to be upfront with their doctors regarding marijuana use for any reason. Thaïs
About Dr. Thais Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading OB-GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecological and obstetric care. Together with her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor. We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.
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