• Mothers who smoke marijuana while lactating can put their babies at risk of getting high from their breast milk 
  • Early use of cannabis can cause neurocognitive damage to children that can affect their memory and reasoning abilities
  • In extreme cases where cannabis is badly needed, mothers are advised to consider other options and to carefully weigh the risks involved

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should abstain from using cannabis as much as possible, a doctor recently suggested after noting how marijuana might affect breastfed babies.

The question on whether cannabis is safe to use during pregnancy or lactation is a pressing subject for some women, especially if they have been using the drug for medicinal purposes. According to cannabis clinician Dr. Leigh Vinocur, using cannabis while lactating could put the baby at risk of getting high from breast milk.

“We know cannabis is very lipophilic – meaning it passes the blood-brain barrier easily. And if something crosses the blood-brain barrier, it’s going to cross into the placental barrier, and it’s also going to get into breast milk,” Vinocur told GreenState.

“It doesn’t take a lot of cannabis for a child to become intoxicated, so theoretically the baby could experience a high from the cannabis you consume.”

While there is limited research available on the long-term effects of marijuana on children's development, studies suggest that a child who consumes cannabis before the age of 21 is likely to suffer irreparable damage brought on by the drug.

In a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that cannabis can potentially hinder neurocognitive development and executive function in children. These aspects of the brain are responsible for a person's ability to think and reason soundly, including concentration, memory and speaking.

Marijuana can also affect a child's endocannabinoid system, the part of the brain that deals with immune response and regulates appetite.

Because of the adverse effects cannabis could potentially bring to babies, Vinocur is urging mothers to avoid consuming the drug during lactation as much as possible to prevent health issues.

“Even spicy food can affect a baby’s health when you’re breastfeeding, and we don’t have enough data on cannabis to rule out some really terrible consequences of the drug on children’s health. So why risk it?” Vinocur said. “That’s how I feel as a doctor and as a mother.”

In extreme cases, however, cannabis use is necessary for women with health conditions, especially those suffering from severe forms of epilepsy. In such instances, Vinocur advised exploring other options and carefully weighing the risks before deciding on using cannabis.

“You have to weigh the risk and the benefits, and consult a medical professional before making a decision,” Vinocur explained.

“We don’t have clear-cut data on what conditions require medical cannabis, so you have to consider for yourself: Is this going to positively affect my parenting? If you decide you must use cannabis during lactation, I’d recommend considering formula.”

Herban medicinals touch
Inside Herban Medicinals, a Denver medical and recreational marijuana dispensary on a Monday afternoon. International Business Times/Dion Rabouin