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Cannabinoids Are Transmitted through Breast Milk [Study]

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Study finds cannabinoids are transmitted in breast milk.

With cannabis becoming legal around the globe, it’s no wonder that more new parents are turning to cannabis for one reason or another. Considering this fact, a new study conducted by Washington State University set out to find out both if cannabinoids were transmitted through breast milk and also if there was a point where the amount transmitted peaks similar to alcohol and some other substances.

Not surprising to many, the study found that cannabinoids, including THC, were absolutely transmitted in breast milk. However, it also concluded that, unlike alcohol, where concentrations in the milk will peak after a few hours and slowly diminish, the small amount of THC found was the same even 12 hours after consumption.

WSU Study Finds THC and Other Cannabinoids are Transmitted in Breast Milk

“Breastfeeding parents need to be aware that if they use cannabis, their infants are likely consuming cannabinoids via the milk they produce, and we do not know whether this has any effect on the developing infant,” said Courtney Meehan, a WSU biological anthropologist who led the project and is the study’s corresponding author, per the WSU press release on the study.

The study was conducted using milk donated by 20 breastfeeding moms with infants who were six months old or younger. Those moms who donated milk resided in either Washington or Oregon and purchased the cannabis on their own and provided milk pumped 12 hours after consumption as a baseline and then at set intervals between 8-12 hours after initial use.

Researchers found that, on average, infants were consuming roughly 0.07mg of THC via breastmilk. They pointed out this is considerably low compared to the average low dose of edibles, which is 2mg, and the average dose of any edible is 5-10mg on the low end.

How Long Does THC Stay in Breastmilk After Smoking Cannabis?

Possibly more interesting, the study found that tracking when cannabinoids like THC are most prevalent in breast milk has a lot of variation and is hard to truly determine. They also found that there were still traces of THC in breast milk even after abstaining from cannabis for 12 hours.

However, since THC is fat-soluble and tends to bind to fat cells, it makes sense that THC would remain in milk for an extended period when compared to substances like alcohol.

“Human milk has compounds called lipids, and cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in those lipids. This may mean that cannabinoids like THC tend to accumulate in milk — and potentially in infants who drink it,” according to Meehan.

The study found that with lower consumption rates, THC seemed to “peak” anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 and a half hours after consumption, while more frequent consumers didn’t see as influential of a peak or tapering off. Unfortunately for breastfeeding moms, this means it can be difficult to medicate using cannabis without at least minimal cannabinoid transference through breast milk.

Is Cannabis Use During Breastfeeding Dangerous for the Baby?

Since cannabis has been (and remains) illegal in so many parts of the world, there is very little research when it comes to how cannabis use in pregnancy and breastfeeding can affect the infant. Many moms choose cannabis, believing it to be a safer alternative for them and their babies when medication of some type is necessary, but right now, there isn’t a ton of research to back this up.

“Our results suggest that mothers who use cannabis are being thoughtful in their decisions,” said co-author Shelley McGuire, a University of Idaho professor who studies maternal-infant nutrition. “These women were mindful about their choices. This is far from a random lifestyle choice.”

The same participants, along with a control group who aren’t cannabis consumers, will be participating in further research with WSU to determine what, if any, long-term side effects cannabis use during breastfeeding may have for infants. As a mom of a 2-year-old who is also a medical cannabis patient, this is certainly research I’m excited to see more of.

“This is an area that needs substantial, rigorous research for moms to know what’s best,” McGuire concluded.

No doubt there is a lot more research needed before we can definitively say how this small amount of THC exposure could affect the development of infants. However, it’s important now more than ever, when more parents are choosing cannabis over alcohol or prescription medications, for us to know how this choice affects not only us but our children as well.

Julia Granowicz-Johnson is a founder, copywriter, and journalism blogger with a passion for the cannabis plant and its uses in personal wellness and medicine. She advocates for the reform of cannabis laws around the globe through her writing and aims to bring attention to the negative impacts that prohibition has left in its wake.