Cannabinoids, marijuana's active compounds such as
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol, like to stick to fat, which
is abundant in breast milk. This stickiness suggests that in women who
use marijuana, these compounds can end up in breast milk, raising
concerns about their potential effects on nursing babies. But the health
risks to these infants largely remain undetermined.
This is partly due
to researchers' limited ability to precisely measure marijuana's active
compounds in milk. Current analytical methods can detect THC at levels
of 1.5 nanograms per milliliter or higher, but no current method can
measure cannabinol or cannabidiol in milk.
‘A new method can help detect trace levels (picograms per milliliter) of active marijuana compounds, including cannabinol and cannabidiol, in breast milk.’
With the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana spreading
across the country, the drug's use is reportedly increasing among
pregnant women. It stands to reason that many of these women will
continue to use marijuana after they give birth.
Now researchers have
developed a new method to help determine what this means for infants'
potential exposure to the active compounds in marijuana in breast milk.
Their report appears in the journal ACS Omega
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
developed a method that begins with saponification - a process often
associated with soap-making - to separate cannabinoids from fat in
milk. With this approach, the team can detect trace levels (picograms
per milliliter) of active marijuana compounds, including cannabinol and
cannabidiol, that they say could be present in milk due to second-hand
The test is 100 times better at detecting THC in milk than
previous techniques. The researchers say that their approach could
contribute to future studies designed to determine potential health
risks of a mother's marijuana exposure to her breastfeeding infant.