Pregnant or Breastfeeding? Here’s What You Need to Know About Cannabis Use
If you are currently pregnant, you might wonder what the legalization of cannabis in Canada on October 17th means for you, physiologically speaking. Here is a roundup of the most important information, based on national health guidelines and most current research.
First things first: We know that any substance use in pregnancy has the potential to be harmful. This is also why we are asked to check with our doctors whether or not we can take medications both when we are pregnant and also during the window of time when we are breastfeeding. The two best reasons for following these recommendations are that all toxins we ingest are passed on to our babies through our bloodstream or breastmilk. Also because it is not safe to be intoxicated while supervising children.
Unlike with alcohol, which is metabolized at a slow, steady rate (and actually even slower in women than men), there is no safe timeline for breastfeeding after cannabis use.
Cannabis stays in the body for a very long time: up to 48 hours for infrequent users, and up to six full days for those who use it regularly. It is stored in fatty tissue, of which women generally have more than men. Breast milk, in particular, is very fatty, and therefore a welcome “storage space”. As Dr. Erin Lurie, a specialist for substance use in pregnancy at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, explained: THC is concentrated in breast milk to up to eight times the amount that would be in the same person’s bloodstream.
Experts like Dr. Lurie unanimously advise against cannabis use in pregnancy, because the list of risks to prenatal cannabis exposure is long. It includes decreased fetal growth, preterm birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, and significant long-term neuro-behavioural changes that can impact children in their development up to when they are 22 years of age.
Most significantly, deficits in cognition and attention have been asserted, as well as increased levels of anxiety, hyperactivity, and early onset of substance use in older children and teenagers. Attention deficits and difficulty reading and writing are other potential side effects, a combination of which can lead to academic difficulty that will significantly impact long-term career prospects, chances of success at higher education and socioeconomic status later in life.
Further, if mental illness or heart conditions run in your family, or if you are combining cannabis with alcohol or medications, your risk for experiencing negative side effects from cannabis use is higher still, which also increases the risk for your unborn child.
Unfortunately, these negative effects will occur no matter whether you smoke, eat, or vape cannabis.
While morning sickness and daily stress can be difficult to handle in pregnancy, it is strongly advised to resort to remedies other than cannabis. Those could include, for example, anti-nausea wristbands, doctor-approved medications (please seek advice from your doctor before ingesting), regular snacks, hot bubble baths and a reduced workload to minimize stress.
If you are currently pregnant and unwilling to halt your cannabis consumption until you have stopped breastfeeding, consider lowering your dose as much as possible and smoke as infrequently as possible in order to reduce the risk of unwanted side effects. If you are planning on using cannabis throughout your pregnancy to self-medicate for other conditions, such as anxiety, it is recommended to speak with your healthcare professional first.