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Researchers are learning about the effects of THC and CBD. Getty Images
  • Products with CBD and THC should not be used by women who are breastfeeding or pregnant, according to a new warning from the FDA.
  • More people are using products containing CBD, the nonpsychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
  • Researchers are still understanding how ingesting CBD or THC can affect a developing infant.

The Food and Drug Administration put out a warning this month advising people against using marijuana of any kind — specifically products with cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

CBD products have become extremely popular in recent years, with an estimated 14 percent — or 1 in 7 — adults in the United States using CBD products, according to Gallup.

Meanwhile, as more states legalized marijuana, items made with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, have also become more popular.

Many people claim both compounds can provide relief for a range of health issues, including depression, anxiety, acne, insomnia, and inflammation.

However, despite the rapid growth in the marijuana industry, much is not known about its effects.

This is especially true for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as the risks may far outweigh the benefits.

“Despite being quite in vogue, there’s still a lot we don’t understand about CBD and its potential health effects, especially in pregnant and lactating people. Until we have more research, it makes absolute medical sense to proceed with caution,” Dr. Jennifer Conti, an OB-GYN at Stanford Health Care, told Healthline.

According to the FDA, there are handful of potential risks that can occur when women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding use marijuana.

For example, the FDA cautioned that because THC can enter a fetus’ brain from the mother’s bloodstream, it’s possible that using THC while pregnant might cause brain development issues. It can also increase the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, or stillbirth, the FDA stated.

If a baby is exposed to THC via breastmilk, they may experience issues in brain development resulting in hyperactivity and poor cognitive function.

When it comes to CBD’s impact on growing fetuses or newborns, there isn’t a ton of research — but the FDA says that doesn’t mean there are no risks.

In animal studies, high doses of CBD in pregnant animals have been shown to impair the reproductive system in male fetuses.

Furthermore, since many medications can be passed onto babies via the mother’s breastmilk, the FDA worries that CBD can also be transferred to the baby via breastmilk.

The FDA also suspects many CBD products may be contaminated with harmful chemicals — such as pesticides, bacteria, fungus, and heavy metals — which can harm the fetus or baby.

“We have pregnancy tested safe alternatives. Until CBD industry does their homework, I would avoid these products in pregnant and nursing women,” Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, the director of fertility preservation and reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois, said.

She recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women consider acupuncture or even certain safe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat pain and depression rather than cannabis.

The fact that CBD is unregulated by the FDA is a huge red flag, warn experts.

The compound doesn’t need approval from the FDA before it goes to market. This means much of what’s out there on the shelves is a mystery to health officials.

They don’t know how safe and effective the products are when it comes to treating various ailments. They don’t know what dosage — if any — is safe, and they don’t know how it may interact with other drugs and foods.

On top of that, researchers are still figuring out what kind of dangerous side effects CBD can cause. Some studies have shown CBD can cause liver toxicity, extreme sleepiness, and worrisome interactions with other medications, according to the FDA.

“We need more research in all of these areas — preconception, pregnancy, the postpartum, and breastfeeding,” Conti said.

It’s worth noting that some health experts are equally interested in the benefits the compounds may provide, such as how cannabis can relieve menstrual pain. But that, too, is largely unstudied.

“There are no real human studies evaluating [cannabis’s] effect on the maternal fetal [relationship] or with breastfeeding, and really there would be no ethical manner in which to conduct studies,” Dr. Kecia Gaither, OB-GYN, maternal fetal medicine physician, and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, said.

And while there have been animal studies, it’s difficult to apply the findings and outcomes to humans.

Until we have more evidence, people who are expecting or breastfeeding should definitely err on the side of caution and avoid cannabis in all forms.

“Long and short of it — at this time women in the preconceptual period, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women should refrain from any type of use as a safeguard from adverse perinatal outcome,” Gaither said.

The Food and Drug Administration put out a warning earlier this month advising people against using marijuana of any kind — specifically cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

According to the FDA, there are many potential risks that can occur when women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding use marijuana, including fetal brain development issues, premature birth, stillbirth, and long-term behavioral issues.

Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.