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Posts tagged ‘marijuana’

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.

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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.

Sources:

A Letter to Those Living in a Marijuana Decriminalized State

By Mishelle Nace, MD

cookiesDear Those Living in a Marijuana Decriminalized State,

Now that I am legal in Alaska, it’s going to be a lot easier for children to come in contact with me. For some kids it won’t be a problem; they may not even notice me. For others I could have a much bigger impact and I could lead them to a place they had not planned on going. It is not my intent to harm anyone, so I figure if I want to keep kids safe, it’s best to clarify a few things.

Just because I am legal, it does not mean I am safe for all. To be clear, although the law states I am legal for adults, that does not stand true for those under 21. There are reasons for that distinction:

Some studies show concerning things about me, and how I might affect developing minds. Teenagers’ brains are not fully developed until closer to their mid 20s, and experimenting with a mind-altering substance during this crucial growth period can lead to a less desirable path of maturity. Studies have also shown that adolescents that use me regularly have a more challenging time with school work and have a higher risk of not completing high school. Who wants that outcome? And addiction? Yep, that can happen too. People who start using me at a younger age are more likely to have an addiction problem than people who wait until adulthood to use me.

gummi-bearsSometimes, I make people not care as much as they should. If an adolescent is facing a problem, they may decide in that moment they don’t want to deal with it. If I am accessible, they might opt to use me to escape the problem instead of figuring out a better or longer-lasting solution. Although that might feel better to them in that moment, over time, that can really be a disservice to their developing brain. And if they choose to use me repeatedly during this crucial time of emotional maturing, they very well could miss out on effectively learning how to deal with complex issues that pop up on all of us throughout life. That is not an easy path to fix or rewire once you are in adulthood.

And it is no secret that when I am onboard, I make people approach things differently than they may have otherwise. Teenagers already tend to be bigger risk-takers than adults, in general. When I enter the equation, I can further impact risk-taking behavior. Things that may have been processed as “a bad idea” when sober now have fewer common sense barriers to keep them from being put into action. Things like driving under the influence when reflexes are not as quick, having relationships not in one’s best interest or failing to do something crucial that got overlooked while under the influence.

candyHere are a few things from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ website that you can do to help keep your kids safe:

  • Set clear rules and expectations regarding use.
  • Make it a part of your life to be a part of your children’s social life at home and school by talking with them regularly.
  • Start conversations about marijuana early, even while they are still in elementary school and don’t yet know the dangers.
  • When they do talk, listen carefully and respond without judgment.
  • Coach them on how to say no to marijuana and other drugs.
  • Monitor your own attitude and actions regarding me as this may affect their approach and decisions about me as well.

Want more tips on how parents can help prevent underage marijuana use? Check out this in-depth article from Seattle Children’s Hospital.

I do have to add one more significant concern about me before I sign off – the danger of young children accidentally consuming me because I look like candy or a sweet treat. With my legalization, you’ll find me in new, varied product forms, including edible products of all sorts, and the packaging can be very deceiving, or non-existent even. For example I can be disguised in a brownie, cookie, gummy bear, bread and many other forms.

To help avoid unintended ingestions by children, the State of Alaska website recommends the following regarding safe storage:

  • Out of sight
  • Out of reach
  • Clearly labeled
  • Stored in a child-resistant container
  • Kept in a locked cabinet or box (helps the adolescents not get to me too)

If you are concerned a child has consumed me by accident, call Poison Control immediately (1-800-222-1222).

Now that I am going to be around more, there are many great resources to help families keep safe and make healthy choices for their families including this Alaskan website.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I feel it is my duty to help make you aware of some of my concerns.

Regards,

Marijuana

mishelle_nace_md-2013-smallMishelle Nace, MD, is the pediatric medical director at Tanana Valley Clinic in Fairbanks, Alaska.