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Pregnancy, Nursing and Marijuana: What’s the Real Story?

By Trevor Storrs, Alaska Children’s Trust Executive Director

With the passing of the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska nearly two years ago, there has been a lot of conversation regarding the potential impacts, good and bad. One of the controversial topics discussed has been pregnant and nursing mothers using marijuana and its potential effects on newborns.

First, let me say that I’m neither a doctor nor a medical expert of any kind. Rather, this post is to inform you about the main arguments for and against marijuana use while pregnant and nursing. There are so many conflicting opinions on the topic that the sheer amount of information can make it difficult to determine how much merit to afford any of the research. So, rather than you looking through countless disparate articles, I’ve collected the main research that seemed to be accepted as true across the many articles reviewed.

It is important to note that all the literature published on the topic is based on research methods like surveys, self-reported data, and tertiary forms of testing (infant development and levels of THC in breastmilk) (Beckett, 2016). The most valid research would involve controlled human studies; however, this would be unethical. Marijuana is equated with heroin in regards to its potential for harm, so researchers can’t expose pregnant or nursing mothers to cannabis to test its effects. This isn’t to suggest that the research conducted thus far is invalid; it just means there are other research methods that could better control confounding variables.

Research has shown correlations between cannabis use during pregnancy and fetal harm:

  • There have been reports documenting a decrease in fetal growth (Merritt, Wilkinson, & Chervanak, 2016).
  • It’s also been found that pregnant women who use cannabis are at a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth (Abuse, n.d.).
  • In addition, prenatal exposure has been correlated with a two to three times increased risk of subsequent child maltreatment (Merritt, et al., 2016).

This data was collected from the states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington).

There’s no safe amount of cannabis to consume during pregnancy, despite the reason for using and the method used to ingest it (Good to Know, n.d.). Some women think that since it’s legal, then cannabis must be safe, but the legality does not constitute its safety.

Additionally, people discount cannabis’ harm because it’s a naturally occurring substance (Good to Know, n.d.). The issue with that argument is that it suggests that all naturally occurring things are safe to consume. Since that’s not true, it can’t be used to support the lack of harm that cannabis poses. There are several naturally occurring substances that are harmful for you and your baby: lead, tobacco and poisonous berries are a few (Good to Know, n.d.). The bottom line is that the potential for harm from cannabis use during pregnancy is high.

If the risks of cannabis use during pregnancy do not pose enough of a threat, there have been even more negative effects found from cannabis use while breastfeeding. The reigning opinion is to avoid cannabis for the entire time you choose to breastfeed your child. Even though it’s preferred that you breastfeed for a year, doctors recommend that mothers breastfeed for a minimum of six months (Conover, 2016). In just one feeding, an infant will ingest 0.8 percent of the weight adjusted maternal intake of one joint, and the infant will excrete THC in their urine for two to three weeks after (Merritt, et al., 2016).

Research has found that infants exposed to cannabis through breastmilk exhibit decreased motor development and executive functioning, and poor sucking reflex. Meanwhile, mothers who use cannabis have a reduced milk supply. When you consider the poor sucking reflex and reduction in milk supply in conjunction, you get an infant with an increased risk of what’s officially called “failure to thrive,” which occurs when the infant is undernourished and fails to meet milestones in his or her first year of life.

This is a fairly new topic that has been assigned a lot of stigma and misconceptions, and the last thing I want is to add to that. The facts presented here are simply for educational purposes. What you do after reading them is entirely up to you. I’m not here to pass judgment or tell you how to live your life, but I do feel an obligation to advocate for Alaska’s children.

Children deserve every opportunity afforded to them, and parents sacrifice a lot to give their children those opportunities. However, when you use cannabis while pregnant or nursing, you are putting all those sacrifices at risk. Don’t take away from your child’s well-being before they’ve even taken their first breath. Make the sacrifice, and give your child every opportunity to thrive.

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Help Shape the Next Decade of Healthy People!

healthy peopleThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting written comments on the proposed framework for Healthy People 2030 that was developed by the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 (Committee).

This framework includes the Healthy People 2030 vision, mission, foundational principles, plan of action, and overarching goals — and it will guide the selection and prioritization of objectives for Healthy People 2030.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments on the proposed framework from June 27 through September 29, 2017.

Learn more and submit your comments today!

Why Alaska nonprofits need to pay attention to the healthcare debate

Note from Alaska Children’s Trust: The Foraker Group is a statewide organization dedicated to supporting Alaska nonprofits, including ACT. We wanted to share this article from their blog on why healthcare is critical to many of the nonprofits we as Alaskans support and depend on.

Last night was one of many tense nights in the ongoing debate about healthcare in our country. There is a lot at stake for getting it right, and no easy solution for Alaskans.

One sliver of hope was the impact that many individuals and organizations in our state had when they raised their voices to engage in a way forward to a healthcare solution. I am proud to see so many Alaska nonprofits urge the U.S. Senate to engage in a clear, bipartisan process. We all need to unite in the goal of providing access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage to more Americans.

If your organization has been on the sidelines so far, there are still many opportunities in the coming weeks and months to engage. Here are 3 reasons to come to the table:

  1. Charitable nonprofits make up 12 percent of the workforce in urban Alaska and more than 50 percent in rural Alaska. In short, nonprofit organizations are an economic engine in communities throughout the state – and particularly in rural areas. Healthcare organizations represent the largest employers in Alaska’s nonprofit sector.
  2. Every Alaskan will feel an impact from these decisions. In particular, the people served by health and human services nonprofits are deeply affected by the legislation – especially those who rely on Medicaid or receive insurance through the individual market. Without thoughtful legislation, Alaskans will be in greater need – and we as organizations will not be able to fill the gaps.
  3. The ability of the nonprofit sector to offer health insurance coverage has an impact on every hire we make. Often it is the “make or break” decision for people who agree to take a job or stay in their job. Alaska’s nonprofits need to provide quality, affordable health insurance to recruit and retain talent.

The road ahead is going to be long. We all need to raise our voices to get to a bipartisan solution that benefits all Alaskans. We applaud the efforts of many nonprofits leaders who have raised their voice – it is an issue that affects ALL of us.

Free Screening of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”

Alaska has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States. Without treatment, sexual and physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence or neglect can cause serious health and social problems that last into adulthood.

Join Providence Alaska Foundation, Alaska CARES and Alaska Children’s Trust for a free screening of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” a documentary that chronicles the movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting-edge neuroscience to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease.

The free screening will take place Thursday, August 10 at 49th State Brewery Heritage Theatre at 717 W. 3rd Ave. in Anchorage. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the screening begins at 6 p.m. A panel discussion will follow.

Please RSVP to 907-212-2554 by August 3.

resilience