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The High Life of Breastfeeding: Breast Milk with a Side of THC

The High Life of Breastfeeding: Breast Milk with a Side of THC

Motherhood is hard. Marijuana can help. Long lauded for its medicinal properties, the mind-altering chemical Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) contained in the flowering bud of the Cannabis Sativa plant produces mental health benefits.

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Whether smoked in a bong or digested from a friendly gummy bear, marijuana can temporarily reduce symptoms of anxiety and make even the most aggressive tantrum seem kind of funny. As more states legalize marijuana and THC becomes more available in friendly, edible forms, more parents are using it to numb the anxiety that comes with raising children. For the one in seven women who develop Postpartum Depression, THC can be a tempting solution. However, unlike alcohol, which is undetectable in breast milk 2-3 hours per drink after it is consumed, recent research on THC in human milk following cannabis use revealed that traces of THC remain in breast milk even 12 hours from consumption with no clear peak point. 


Last month, Washington State University led research published in the Journal of Breastfeeding Medicine, where they observed 20 breastfeeding participants who frequently used cannabis, defined as more than 1 time per week. The women were less than 6 months postpartum, feeding their infants breast milk five or more times per day, and were not using any other illicit drugs. Participants shared a baseline milk sample after 12 or more hours from abstaining from cannabis and five milk samples at set intervals over 8-12 hours after initial cannabis use. 


The goal of the study was to understand the life cycle of THC concentrations in human milk, as well as to identify possible associations between the THC concentrations and body mass index (BMI), rate of postpartum weight loss, time postpartum, and the frequency, amount and type of cannabis used. After processing the data, the overarching headline reads: It Depends.


Due to the study’s small sample size and the observational nature of its methodology, researchers cannot point definitively to individual factors that contribute to variation in the peak of THC concentration in milk after cannabis use. However, some insights surfaced. 

Peak Concentration is Variable

Among participants who used cannabis more times during the 8-12-hour study period, THC concentration was unsurprisingly greater. For those who only used cannabis once during the study period, THC concentration in milk peaked at variable times. Some peaked after 30 minutes, but most peaked 2 hours after use. More frequent users had greater THC concentrations in milk after abstaining for 12 hours. The results indicate that infants of breastfeeding mothers who use cannabis will consume some measurable amount of THC from breast milk, even after abstaining for 12 hours. 


Is Fat a Cannabinoid Repository? TBD 

As it relates to BMI and postpartum weight loss, interest in this variable surfaced because THC, the dominant psychoactive component of cannabis, is lipophilic, able to dissolve or absorb lipids AKA fats. The study hypothesized that lipid-rich human milk and mammary tissue may be cannabinoid repositories. Although findings on this theory were not statistically significant, the report did acknowledge that rapid weight loss in the postpartum period trended with lower baselines of THC concentration in milk. More research must be conducted to understand the role of mammary tissue in milk concentrations.

Infant Impact and THC: Still Unknown

While concentrations of THC exist in breast milk after 12 hours, the amount of THC detected in milk was low overall. Researchers estimated that infants received an average of 0.07 mg of THC per day. For comparison, a common low-dose edible contains 2 mg of THC. Is .07mg of THC going to harm a developing newborn? We don’t know yet. Current guidance for medical practitioners is to discourage cannabis use during lactation, given the absence of sufficient research.


Final Thoughts

If you are a postpartum woman struggling with depression and anxiety, marijuana can certainly help take the edge off. However, we still don’t know enough about the impact of THC on newborns to give the green light to breastfeeding mothers struggling to cope with the life-altering experience of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. Before you puff and pass, talk with your doctor about more researched solutions. Antidepressant medications are available to mothers struggling with PPD, which studies show can be used while breastfeeding with little risk to the baby. Give yourself permission to prioritize your mental health. A healthy, mentally balanced mother is best



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