The growing popularity of CBD for therapeutic uses may have pregnant and breastfeeding women wondering if it’s safe for them to partake in the hype. Currently, people are using CBD for a wide range of health issues, including inflammation, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and its antioxidant effects. With around one in five women experiencing postpartum depression, not to mention the pain, anxiety, and sleep issues many women go through after giving birth, it makes sense that many new mothers have been turning to CBD as a possible solution to these issues.
In general, research has indicated that CBD is safe to use for both children and adults. However, this begs the question: is CBD safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding? Right now, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, and the details are necessary to understand before pregnant and breastfeeding women take the leap and try it.
To fully understand the safety of CBD use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, understanding how the cannabis plant works in general is necessary. Of particular interest are marijuana, hemp, THC, and CBD.
Cannabis is a species of plant that includes both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana and hemp are quite similar, not even different enough to be considered subspecies of the cannabis plant. Instead, their primary difference has more to do with government regulation than anything else. For a cannabis plant to be classified as hemp, it must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. All cannabis plants with more THC than that are considered marijuana.
THC is the most prominent natural compound (known as a cannabinoid) found in the marijuana plant. It is well-known for making users feel intoxicated or “high” due to its psychoactive properties. CBD is the plant’s second-most prominent cannabinoid. Unlike its cousin THC, CBD does not have psychoactive properties and is therefore non-intoxicating.
CBD can come from both marijuana and hemp. For legal reasons, namely that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp in all 50 states and THC remains a schedule 1 illegal drug on a federal level, CBD usually comes from hemp.
Because hemp-derived CBD is legal nationwide in the US, an influx of CBD-based products has hit the market in the last few years. These include CBD oil, CBD-infused food (such as gummies, baked goods, and chocolate), and CBD dietary supplements.
The Effects of Cannabis Use During Pregnancy and While Breastfeeding
The main focus of cannabis studies with regard to pregnancy and breastfeeding has involved THC, not CBD. The US Surgeon General has stated, based on the data available, that the use of marijuana during pregnancy can lead to increased risk for fetal brain development issues, low birth weight, premature birth, and stillbirth.
Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers using marijuana can pass low levels of THC to their baby through breast milk. Another study found that babies whose breastfeeding mothers regularly use marijuana consumed around 2.5 percent of their mother’s THC intake at three to five months old.
Because the chemicals in cannabis can stay in the system for weeks after consumption, “pumping and dumping,” does not work either. One study found that low levels of THC can appear in breastmilk for up to six days after consuming marijuana.
While the majority of studies looked at the effects of THC rather than CBD use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, medical professionals and other experts fear that cannabinoids at large can negatively impact infant brain development.
Can You Take CBD While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
Comprehensive research looking into how specifically CBD use can impact a developing fetus or breastfed infant is currently nonexistent. As such, the FDA strongly cautions against using any cannabis product, including CBD, while pregnant or breastfeeding. So far, what research does exist related to these topics has raised concerns among experts.
For example, animal studies have shown that high doses of CBD in pregnant animals have resulted in issues with reproductive development in male fetuses. Is CBD safe while breastfeeding knowing this risk?
Furthermore, it is unlikely that pregnant or breastfeeding mothers can use CBD without transferring it to the fetus or breastfed infant. As CBD products have been known to be contaminated with unlabeled substances, including THC, pesticides, bacteria, and dangerous heavy metals like lead, this adds even more risk to a fetus or breastfed baby.
CBD research in general remains relatively new, with not much conclusive data out there showing verified medical benefits. There are still many unanswered questions regarding CBD at large on top of how it can affect fetuses and breastfed infants.
This does not categorically mean that CBD use while pregnant or breastfeeding is dangerous, however. It simply means that, at this point, no one knows if it is dangerous or not. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should at the very least exercise caution and consult with their doctor before using CBD.
Do Any CBD Products Have FDA Approval?
Only one prescription drug containing CBD has been approved by the FDA as of June 2021: Epidiolex. It gained approval in 2018 as a treatment for rare and severe forms of child epilepsy after it showed its effectiveness in several randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. The trials consisted of 516 patients with either Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Those given CBD instead of a placebo experienced reduced frequency and severity of seizures.
This is the only CBD product which the FDA has evaluated and approved thus far. Things like safe CBD dosages, how it interacts with other drugs or food, if it causes safety issues, and if it has concerning side effects remain unknown. Risks associated with Epidiolex noted from the studies were liver damage, severe sleepiness, and dangerous interactions with other drugs.
Benefits of Using CBD
As mentioned, the only conclusive research on the therapeutic benefits of CBD is to treat rare forms of child epilepsy. Other than that, CBD may potentially have other medical uses, though additional peer-reviewed, clinical studies are necessary to reach that conclusion.
Preliminary and clinical studies as well as a plethora of anecdotal evidence have found CBD to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. This link may come from how CBD interacts with the brain’s serotonin receptors, which regulate mood.
Another potential benefit of CBD use is for treating sleep disorders, as CBD interacts with both serotonin and GABA receptors in the body. Serotonin helps to regulate sleep, while GABA receptors decrease brain activity, resulting in relaxation.
CBD may also have potential in treating regular and chronic pain thanks to how the cannabinoid interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors to produce both analgesic and anti-inflammatory results. This means CBD could be effective in treating many kinds of pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, bone diseases, and skin diseases, which all stem from inflammatory issues or disorders.
Preclinical studies have shown the effectiveness of CBD in treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and other medical therapies. The mechanisms by which CBD can have these effects stem from how it interacts with several different bodily receptors.
Many pregnant and postpartum women experience anxiety, depression, nausea, trouble sleeping, and pain. For example, persistent nausea caused by pregnancy is common and can even become debilitating. Up to 94 percent of pregnant women experience trouble sleeping, and as many as 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression once their baby is born. Because of this, many pregnant or breastfeeding women have turned to CBD to treat these issues despite the lack of published research supporting its use.
It is also interesting and useful to note that cannabis use amongst pregnant and breastfeeding mothers has been going on for thousands of years. This provides significant anecdotal evidence and supports performing further research into CBD use for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Is CBD safe while pregnant or breastfeeding? Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that both the US Surgeon General and the FDA strongly advise against pregnant and breastfeeding women using CBD or cannabis in any form. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists make the same recommendation.
While ultimately, it is up to the mother to decide whether or not to use CBD during pregnancy and breastfeeding, understanding the risks involved and evaluating against the potential benefits is vital. Overall, CBD has not been found to have serious risks to adults or children. That information can factor into deciding whether or not to use it.
Around one in five women experiencing postpartum depression, which can include anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, detachment from the baby, and even suicidal ideation. Depending on the severity of the depression, doctors may prescribe postpartum women antidepressants, some of which make breastfeeding unsafe. A number of women have chosen to forgo taking antidepressants and use CBD as an alternative treatment so that can continue breastfeeding.
Still, based on the fact that very little overall research and absolutely no conclusive research exists regarding both CBD and pregnancy, and CBD and breastfeeding, using it is not currently considered safe by most experts. Additional quality research is the only thing that can determine if CBD is safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.