The cannabidiol (CBD) market is on the verge of hitting stratospheric levels, and because it is a non-intoxicating compound of marijuana, and is also found in industrial hemp, CBD is effectively legal in all U.S. states (although you should check your state for further details.) The fact that it doesn’t provide a psychoactive ‘high’ means it is legal for minors to use it, and is often given to children with epilepsy.
Yet even these kids are not the youngest recipients of CBD. Some pregnant women are using the cannabinoid without really knowing what impact it may have on their unborn child. Research into CBD’s many potential effects and side effects is still ongoing, yet this doesn’t prevent expectant mothers from using it to treat nausea, pain, and depression; and it is becoming an especially popular method of combating morning sickness.
Is CBD Safe in Pregnancy?
The truth of the matter is that CBD hasn’t been studied long enough to provide a definitive answer. THC has been the subject of far more studies, although as it is deemed to be a muscle relaxant, CBD may prove useful when women have contractions. We know that using marijuana while pregnant is potentially harmful to a fetus because THC possibly disrupts the unborn child’s brain development via interference in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
According to a study by Keimpema, Mackie, and Harkany, published in a September 2011 edition of Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, THC interrupts the formation of neuronal networks in a fetus and causes birth defects related to the nervous system.
There has been enough research to show that CBD acts differently from THC because it is molecularly different. The difference is minuscule but enough for it to make an enormous change in how it affects the body. The fact that the cannabinoid acts on the ECS is extremely relevant because the ECS plays a major role in the development of the fetus during pregnancy.
Our ECS is prone to flaws, and phytocannabinoids may help treat a range of conditions including neuropathic pain, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. However, because the ECS is so crucial in a fetus’ development, there is a chance that it could cause complications such as ectopic pregnancies. This means fertilized embryos remain in the fallopian tube and do not move to the uterus.
A 2009 study* by Fride et al., published in Vitamins and Hormones, found that the levels of cannabinoids in an expectant mother fluctuates at certain times during the course of the pregnancy. In early pregnancy, for example, the blood levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid known as the bliss molecule, drop.
Anandamide is what THC replaces in the body. If the levels of anandamide are excessively high during a pregnancy’s early stages, there is probably a higher risk of miscarriage. According to a small sample of experiments using cells cultured in a lab setting, heightened levels of anandamide during certain stages of pregnancy could hurt the fetus’ growth.
One of the chief concerns amongst scientists and medical professionals is how CBD may artificially increase an expectant mother’s level of the bliss molecule in the blood. It is early days but it does seem as if CBD will have an impact on a child’s development, whether it is good or bad is not yet known.
How Does CBD Impact a Fetus?
Expectant mothers must understand that there is practically no research available on this topic. One of the most recent studies, by Osborne et al., published in European Neuropsychopharmacology in October 2017, was on rodents. The results provided us with one of the first pieces of evidence that CBD could be a useful prenatal treatment.
According to the study, CBD decreased the risk of the rodent offspring developing behavior and memory problems after being exposed to infection while in the womb.
A second rodent study, this time by Callejas et al., published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research in March 2018, found that CBD reduced the symptoms of a birth defect called ‘gastroschisis’ in rodent babies. Gastroschisis causes the infant’s intestinal tract to develop outside the body. To be clear, CBD is NOT a cure for gastroschisis.
However, the study found that when the mother rats were treated with CBD before giving birth, the level of inflammation suffered by the new babies was reduced and their intestinal tract’s condition improved. In other words, it increased the survival chances of infected rodent babies.
As it turns out, the only other semi-relevant piece of research at the time of writing comes from 2010. It was a study by Houlihan, Dennedy, and Morrison, copyright of the Society for Preproduction and Fertility, into how CBD affects women near childbirth. The research team found that CBD could help women with contractions, but the study involved the use of synthetic CBD on cells outside of the body.
Postnatal Use of CBD
Did you know that breast milk and the marijuana plant contain similar molecules? While breast milk doesn’t contain THC, it does contain anandamide. As THC is effectively the plant version of the bliss molecule, it is enough to make you think. Breast milk is loaded with human endocannabinoids.
In a study** by Mechoulam et al., published in the International Journal of Obesity in April 2006, the team found that endocannabinoids stimulated the suckling response in a newborn child. As you probably know, suckling is a crucial response because a baby needs to be properly nursed to eat enough to remain healthy and to grow.
Technically, newborns are consuming cannabis made by their mother when they drink breast milk. If the new mother consumes CBD or THC, it is extremely likely that the molecules will be passed along to the child via the milk. According to a report*** by the American Chemical Society, up to 1.5 nanograms of THC consumed by a new mother will make its way to their baby per 1 ml of milk.
Should I Use CBD While Pregnant?
It would be irresponsible of us to offer a concrete recommendation one way or the other because there simply isn’t enough research to back up any claims. It is tempting for a pregnant woman to turn to CBD after hearing tales of its ability to combat morning sickness, fatigue, pain, and mood changes.
No matter what you decide, make sure you discuss the issue of taking CBD with your doctor before proceeding. At present, there are no regulations regarding the appropriate dosage and recommendations are just educated guesswork at best. As far as pregnant women go, it is best if you use as little CBD as possible as infrequently as possible.
We recommend treating CBD in the same manner as caffeine and alcohol when pregnant. Unlike the latter two substances, however, there are no known ‘safe’’ limits you can use during pregnancy.
If nothing else, we believe it is best if you don’t smoke your CBD if you decide to use it. Smoking is believed to be one of the primary contributing factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). It may also increase the risk of delivering before full-term and is associated with reducing a baby’s birth weight.
You can choose to use a vaporizer, but even this process could extract potentially damaging chemicals. One of the ‘safest’ methods of CBD consumption is via edibles – as long as they contain zero THC. Perhaps the best method, however, is to use CBD in oil/tincture form, or through capsules or softgels.
These are easy methods of consumption. You swallow softgels or capsules in the same way you would any pill. As for oils or tinctures, place a few drops beneath the tongue, hold for 30-60 seconds, and swallow.
Overall, we cannot say whether it is safe for pregnant women to use CBD because of the lack of research. We will need to wait for years, if not decades, for there to enough data to provide a proper recommendation.
There was a study by Dreher, Nugent, and Hudgins, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in February 1994, that looked at the children of 44 women in Jamaica; first at three days old, and then at three months. 24 of the women had used weed regularly during the pregnancy, while the other mothers did not.
It turned out that the kids belonging to the women that used cannabis during the pregnancy performed better in a group of selected tests. While the study didn’t check out health issues, it found that the ‘weed kids’ scored better on quality of alertness, autonomic stability, self-regulation, and irritability.
It is a surprising discovery, but since the study didn’t check out the health status of these newborns, it is not a good idea to take what the data shows as a clear indication that it is safe to use cannabis while pregnant. As further studies are conducted, we fully expect there to be even greater confusion due to contradicting evidence. Once again, we recommend speaking with your doctor before using CBD while pregnant.