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Overview

Marijuana contains the active chemical compound known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which causes muscle relaxation and euphoria in people who use this drug.

Although there are no clinical studies performed due to the ethical issue of having breastfeeding mothers use marijuana for research purposes, data from random breastmilk screening appear to suggest that small amounts of THC are excreted into breastmilk. 

How much THC ends up in breastmilk and the child?

The results in studies where random breastmilk was collected found a varying amount of THC in women with and without drug histories.

For example, one mother admitted to smoking marijuana once a day and another seven to eight times a day with the concentration of THC in the latter mother's milk being only three times higher than the formers.

The data also showed that THC was present in breastmilk within one hour after smoking marijuana.

The amount of THC that ends up in the breastfeeding child is estimated to be around 0.8 percent of the weight-adjusted THC dosage present in the mother.

Does marijuana affect lactation and breastfeeding?

A long-term effect of marijuana includes increased prolactin production by the pituitary gland in the brain which results in increased production of breastmilk.

The use of marijuana doesn't seem to affect the time when children are weaned off breastmilk.

Effects of marijuana on the baby

One study demonstrated that daily or near everyday use of marijuana by the mother had a negative impact on the motor development of the child by the time they were one year of age, but there was no impact on the growth or intellectual development of the child. This was found to be the case in mothers who admitted to smoking marijuana on more than 15 days during the first month of breastfeeding. 

Occasional use of marijuana by the mother though didn't seem to have any noticeable effect on the breastfeeding child but the study that demonstrated this wasn't adequate enough to rule out any long-term issues caused by the drug.

The issue though that seems to be a bigger problem is not so much the THC itself but other chemicals, drugs, and toxins that may be present in the marijuana the mother uses. These can cause more harm to both the mother and child than the marijuana on its own so one needs to be cautious about this possibility.

Suggestions regarding marijuana use during breastfeeding

Marijuana use by nursing mothers should be avoided and at the very least minimised, not only for what effects the drug can have on the breastfeeding child but also due to the fact that marijuana can impair one's judgment and ability to care for the child.

There is evidence to suggest that the use of marijuana by parents may result in sudden infant death syndrome in breastfed children. They are exposed to the drug by inhaling its smoke and this seems to be a factor that plays a role here. 

Conclusion

The argument could be made that the available data doesn't show that marijuana causes severe issues to breastfed children, but this can be countered by asking why would one want to take that chance.

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