May 27, 2024
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC

Persistent THC Presence in Breastmilk: Study Reveals Uncertain Peak Points and Infant Exposure

A recent study led by Washington State University (WSU) researchers discovered that THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, consistently appears in the breastmilk of mothers who use the substance. Contrary to alcohol, which has a clear peak point in milk, THC’s concentration in milk does not follow a consistent pattern.

The research team, with Courtney Meehan, a WSU biological anthropologist, as the corresponding author, analyzed milk donated by 20 breastfeeding mothers who had used cannabis. The participants, all with infants under six months, provided detailed reports on their Cannabis use and collected milk after abstaining for at least 12 hours and at regular intervals after use.

The study, published in Breastfeeding Medicine, found that THC was present in all milk samples, even when mothers had abstained for 12 hours. Human milk contains lipids, and cannabinoids like THC are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in these lipids. This may explain why THC tends to accumulate in milk and potentially in infants who consume it.

The researchers also discovered that peak THC concentrations in milk varied among participants. For those who used cannabis only once during the study, THC peaked approximately 30 minutes to 2.5 hours after use and then began to decline. However, for those who used cannabis multiple times during the study, THC concentrations continued to increase throughout the day.

“If you’re trying to avoid breastfeeding when the concentration of THC peaks, you’re not going to know when THC is at its peak in the milk,” said lead author Elizabeth Holdsworth, now a faculty member at The Ohio State University.

The study’s findings are particularly relevant as previous research has shown that cannabis is one of the most commonly used drugs during breastfeeding. The researchers aimed to understand how long cannabinoids, such as THC, persist in breastmilk.

A related qualitative study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research by the same research team revealed that many breastfeeding mothers use cannabis for therapeutic purposes, including managing anxiety, mental health issues, and chronic pain. These mothers often preferred cannabis over other medications due to perceived safety concerns.

“Our results suggest that mothers who use cannabis are being thoughtful in their decisions,” said co-author Shelley McGuire, a University of Idaho professor who studies maternal-infant nutrition. “These women were mindful about their choices. This is far from a random lifestyle choice.”

Breastfeeding parents should be aware that their infant’s exposure to cannabinoids, including THC, occurs through the milk they produce. The long-term effects of this exposure on the developing infant are unknown.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.