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Cannabis and Women's Health

September 2017

Designed as a teaching tool for health care consumers, I found this to be a great resource. Entitled "Risks of Cannabis on Fertility, Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Parenting", it is a product of Beststart.org; http://www.beststart.org/resources/alc_reduction/RisksOfCannabis_A30-E.pdf

seedling-cannabis

There are "more than 700 chemical compounds" in the cannabis plant, with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the active ingredient that causes the "high" renown for marijuana. Cannabidiol (CBD) is known for its medicinal treatment for pain, inflammation, and anxiety, without the mind-altering component. It has been well documented that the marijuana plant has been genetically engineered over the years to increase the amounts of THC and CBD.

As healthcare professionals in women's health, you may encounter patients who are using cannabis, whether illegally or medicinally for chronic pain and prescribed by a physician. Both will create a positive urine drug screen.

Are there risks? Here are some risks that have been documented:

  • Effects on short-term memory, attention, and coordination
  • Anxiety and mild to acute paranoia
  • Increased appetite (which can be beneficial for some clients, such as those receiving chemotherapy)
  • Impact on physical health, including risk of cancer (there may be a higher risk of lung cancer for those who smoke cigarettes and smoke cannabis)
  • Impact on mental health
  • Impact on fertility, pregnancy, and parenting
  • Heavy use is defined as more than one joint per day. "Evidence is showing a possible association between heavy regular cannabis use and the risk for developing, or worsening mental health symptoms", Beststart.org. Changes in fertility include changes in the menstrual cycle for women and poorer sperm quality in men. Use during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth as well as decreased oxygen and nutrients to the fetal brain. With breastfeeding, the THC passes through breast milk and accumulates in the infant brain and fat cells, affecting motor development.
  • Long-term effects for the infant include decreased ability to self-soothe, exaggerated startle reflex, and sleep disturbances. As the child grows, she/he may have poorer memory and verbal reasoning skills, hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, difficulty making decisions, difficulty learning, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

What type of policy does your facility have for mother's who have been found to be positive for either THC or CBD? Is breastfeeding interrupted, monitored, or continue without intervention?

Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, BSPsy, RN, IBCLC, RLC, FILCA

Professional Development Educator

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