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August 27, 2018

Marijuana study finds THC lingers in breast milk of nursing moms

Results raise concerns about the effects of breastfeeding infants ingesting the psychoactive compound

Women's Health Pregnancy
Breast feeding Photo courtesy/Pexels


The levels of THC found in the breast milk of moms who use marijuana is raising concerns following a report released by the University of California San Diego on Monday.

Researchers with UCSD School of Medicine set out to quantify the lingering levels of THC – the primary psychoactive component of marijuana – detectable in breast milk up to six days after a mother had used the drug. The study did not probe into the health or neurological impacts that THC can have on a nursing infant, but rather called for more research noting a significant lack of data this area. 

Fifty women who use pot were selected to provide 54 samples daily, weekly or sporadically of their breast milk. Researchers found that 63 percent of the breast milk samples collected from women who had used marijuana within the previous six days contained traces of THC.

“We found that the amount of THC that the infant could potentially ingest from breast milk was relatively low, but we still don’t know enough about the drug to say whether or not there is a concern for the infant at any dose, or if there is a safe dosing level,” said Christina Chambers, the principal investigator of the study. “The ingredients in marijuana products that are available today are thought to be much more potent than products available 20 or 30 years ago.” 

Researchers worry that, with the marijuana industry growing and more states legalizing the drug, some women will choose not to breastfeed in favor of smoking marijuana. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce risk of obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome as well as improve immune health and performance on intelligence tests, the study notes. 

Pediatricians also worry that they will discourage mothers from breastfeeding if they warn mothers about marijuana use, even though there's no data to substantiate the claim.

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in nine states and Washington, D.C., although it still remains illegal under federal law.

Moving forward, Chambers said this research is a stepping stone for more information on the drug and its lasting effects for nursing mothers and their babies.

"These are critical areas where we need answers as we continue to promote breast milk as the premium in nutrition for infants," she said.

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