Cannabinoids; Pre- Neo- and Post-natal
What do breast milk, tea and Cannabis have in common? Quite a bit, it turns out. In addition to providing a soothing sense of comfort and bliss, they also facilitate in stimulating and nourishing the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). For a variety of legal and moral reasons, adults generally do not indulge in a glass of breast milk when they need comfort. Instead, many enjoy a cup of tea. Black, white and green tea all come from the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. They contain an anti-oxidant known as catechin which responds to cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in the same way cannabinoids do, providing anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective health benefits. When the cannabinoid known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is released into the body and interacts with the CB1 receptors, it causes a temporary increase in dopamine. As a result, the user experiences a sense of relaxation and pleasure.
Cannabinoids, like those found in Cannabis, occur naturally in human breast milk
Breast milk has been revered for generations as the most wholesome and beneficial source of nutrition that a mother can provide her growing infant. The human body has an intricate system of proteins known as cannabinoid receptors, specifically designed to process cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two of the primary active components of Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis). And it turns out, based on the findings of several major scientific studies, human breast milk naturally contains many of the same cannabinoids found in Cannabis, which are actually extremely vital for proper human development. Since cannabinoids exist in breast milk, clearly, humans are designed to utilise them.
Cell membranes in the body are naturally equipped with cannabinoid receptors. The two receptor types found in the body, CB1 (in the brain) and CB2 (immune system and the rest of the body), respond to cannabinoids, whether from human breast milk for newborns, or from juiced Cannabis, for instance, in adults. When activated by cannabinoids and various other nutritive substances, they play a critical role in protecting cells against viruses, harmful bacteria, cancer and other malignancies, boosting immune function, protecting the brain and nervous system and relieving pain and disease-causing inflammation, among other things. Cannabinoids are naturally occurring chemical compounds that promote homoeostasis by interacting with specific receptors found in the human body which essentially means the human body was built for cannabinoids and an intricate system of cannabinoids, receptors and other binding substances manufactured in the brain make up the ECS (Endocannabinoid System).
Breast milk is an abundant source of endocannabinoids, a specific type of neuromodulatory lipid that teaches a newborn how to eat by stimulating the suckling process which is essential for an infant’s development. According to a 2004 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, cannabinoids found in breast milk activate the CB1 receptor which in turn activates the oral-motor musculature, imperative for suckling. It is also believed cannabinoids promote an infant’s desire to eat, much like an adult cannabis user getting the munchies. If it were not for the cannabinoids in breast milk, newborns would not know how to eat, nor would they necessarily have the desire to eat, which could result in severe malnourishment and even death. Newborns who are breastfed naturally receive doses of cannabinoids that trigger hunger and promote growth and development. “Endocannabinoids have been detected in maternal milk and activation of CB1 (cannabinoid receptor type 1) receptors appears to be critical for milk sucking … apparently activating oral-motor musculature”, says the abstract. “The medical implications of these novel developments are far reaching and suggest a promising future for cannabinoids in paediatric medicine for conditions including ‘non-organic failure-to-thrive’ and cystic fibrosis”.
Even given the above information, the more conservative ‘public’ are still concerned about how Cannabis use will affect children. Given the masses of misinformation still being fed to many communities by ignorant and (if not actually then morally) corrupt public health and government officials in various jurisdictions around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, across the Asia-Pacific region and Australia this is unsurprising. Many parents who consume Cannabis, including new mothers, do have unaddressed (due to a lack of education on Cannabis or illegality or just plain ignorance) concerns about the effects of their Cannabis use and whether or not they should breastfeed their babies. The American Academy of Paediatrics suggests pregnant women or nursing mothers should not use Cannabis, however, their concerns appear to be totally unfounded.
“Cannabis exposure during the prenatal period … at the very least we can say there is no harm”. This quote is from Dr Melanie Dreher, co-author of what has become more commonly known as ‘The Jamaica Study’, Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes in Jamaica: An Ethnographic Study. Dr Dreher’s study set out with the objective of identifying neuro-behavioural effects of prenatal Cannabis exposure on neonates in rural Jamaica. The study was, by design, based on ethnographic field studies and standardised neuro-behaviour assessments during the neonatal period in the setting of rural Jamaica, traditionally a ‘heavy-Cannabis-using’ population. The participants were twenty-four Jamaican neonates exposed to Cannabis prenatally and 20 non-exposed neonates. Exposed and non-exposed neonates were compared at 3 days and 1 month old, using the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, including supplementary items to capture possible subtle effects. There were no significant differences between exposed and non-exposed neonates on day 3. At 1 month, the exposed neonates showed better physiological stability and required less examiner facilitation to reach organised states. The neonates of heavy-Cannabis-using mothers had better scores on autonomic stability, quality of alertness, irritability, and self-regulation and were judged to be more rewarding for caregivers. Dr Dreher and her fellow researchers concluded that the absence of any differences between the exposed or non-exposed groups in the early neonatal period suggest that the better scores of exposed neonates at 1 month are traceable to the cultural positioning and social and economic characteristics of mothers using Cannabis that select for the use of Cannabis but also promote neonatal development.
As a nurse and anthropologist, Dr Melanie Dreher has enjoyed a distinguished research career and was principal investigator for several cross-cultural studies examining Cannabis in the context of Caribbean society. As a doctoral student in anthropology at Columbia University, she conducted the first ethnographic study of ‘ganja’ (Cannabis) in Jamaica. That early work opened the door to three decades of funded research on the social context of Cannabis and the impact on health, development and performance of adults and children. Dr Dreher has authored and co-authored two books on Cannabis, numerous peer-reviewed articles, and several government reports.
Throughout her career, she has been a consistent advocate for an objective and scientific appraisal of Cannabis and its relationship with society. In addition to her academic role, she has taken on the responsibility of speaking to community groups, professional organisations and academics, using her leadership positions in health and education to enlighten the public on the history of Cannabis and its role in other societies. She has served as an expert witness in Cannabis-related cases in several states. As Dean of Nursing at the University of Iowa, her College of Nursing hosted the first clinical conference on Medical Cannabis almost 20 years ago, with the goal of exposing clinicians to an informed and reasoned use of Cannabis as medicine. Dr Dreher was awarded the first ‘Lester Grinspoon National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Award’ for her sustained commitment to seeking the truth about Cannabis. While conducting her research, she received the Ambassador’s citation for her humanitarian work in Jamaica.
In a 2013 interview, Dr Dreher discussed the 40 years of studies she was involved with in Jamaica. There, Cannabis is used for a variety of medicinal, therapeutic and preventative uses. These studies refuted many of the assumptions attributed to Cannabis use, particularly regarding pregnancy and infant development.
At the International Cannabinoid Research Society’s 2014 Symposium, a 2013 study, Role of 5HT1A Receptors on the Neuroprotective and Neuro-behavioural Effects of Cannabidiol in Hypoxic-Ischaemic Newborn Pigs, highlighted the amazing potential of cannabidiol (CBD) for premature babies:
At one day old the piglets were robbed of oxygen to the brain to mimic hypoxic-ischaemic conditions: the brain damage caused by the oxygen deprivation often brought on by severe apnoea and/or cardiac stress events premature babies sometimes experience multiple times per day. Following verification of the induced brain damage the piglets were given cannabidiol (CBD) oil – one group received one dose of CBD oil thirty minutes after the event and another group was given only three very, very small doses over the course of six days. Later the piglets brains were compared against those of normal, healthy piglets. In looking at each of the eight regions of the piglets brains, the researchers were “shocked and amazed” to report full restoration and not just that, “full restoration in each of the eight sections of the brain and evidence of neuro-protection in all cells”. The piglets were dosed with considerably small amounts of CBD oil; 1 milligram per kilogram of weight “there were no differences between piglets receiving one dose or three doses of CBD”. What that means for premature babies is a neuro-protective result from less than 1 milligram of CBD oil. Less than 1 mg (there are 1000 mg in each gram of Cannabis oil).
In Australia, in 2011, 8.3% of babies were born pre-term (before 37 completed weeks gestation).
Extremely pre-term (<28 weeks) Very pre-term (28 to <32 weeks) Moderate to late pre-term (32 to <37 weeks) The results of the Mothers and Babies report in 2012, showed pre-term birth occurred for 7.7% of mothers (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), 26,535 babies were born pre-term and over 47,000 babies were admitted into a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or Special Care Nursery requiring additional care after birth. The mean gestational age for all pre-term births in 2012 was 33.3 weeks. Nationally, (0.8%) of births were at 20–27 weeks gestation (0.7%) were at 28–31 weeks and (6.2%) were at 32–36 weeks. Tasmania had the highest proportion of pre-term births at 9.6% of all births and New South Wales had the lowest, at 7.6%. In August 2014, a world first Melbourne-based study to determine how being born prematurely affects your adult life showed premature babies born at 24-weeks gestation have a 60% chance of survival and that survival rates have never been higher. Dare we wonder what survival rates could be like with Cannabis made available in every hospital? The ability to administer CBD to every pre-term baby born across Australia could move that rate much closer to 100% - imagine that. Imagine the lack of need for Neonatal Intensive Care Units and Special Care Nurseries right across the country!
“The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that pre-term birth rates have increased because of a dramatic rise in late pre-term births, defined as births between 34 weeks and 36-6/7 weeks of gestation. Late pre-term newborns are the fastest growing subset of neonates, accounting for approximately 74% of all pre-term births and about 8% of total births”.
USA Pre-term Birth Rates (National 2007)
Pre-term birth rates per 100 births in each specified gestational age category.
less than 37 weeks’ gestation 12.7
less than 28 weeks’ gestation 0.8
less than 34 weeks’ gestation 3.6
34–36 weeks’ gestation 9.0
One tiny gram of CBD oil could potentially treat up to 1,000 babies (1,000 premature babies born weighing less than a kilogram [2.2 lbs]) and induce “neuro-protection”, that which is so desperately necessary for these high-risk infants. Premature babies are at high risk for hypoxic-ischaemic brain damage. Many do not survive their premature birth with few long-term effects. Most struggle to survive, sometimes for the rest of their lives due to the circumstances of their birth and the pharmaceutical manner in which many of their conditions are treated.
Can any parent or grandparent sit idly by knowing there is a non-toxic, low-dose traditional, complementary medicine that is an option – scientifically proven – that’s being overlooked because so few medical professionals and policy makers know anything of the science of Cannabinoid medicine? Few have ever heard of the ECS (Endocannabinoid System) and its amazing ability to heal the body and protect, not harm, the brain. Researchers have spent many decades looking for safe, non-toxic remedies for a wide-variety of illnesses and conditions. In 1988 the ECS was discovered, so there is still much that medical science hasn’t explored. Fortunately, some jurisdictions are beginning to see the stigma lifted from this research arena (Israel, Canada etc.). It’s time for the science to reach the masses so the entire world can learn there is a safe, non-toxic (and cheap) choice, an option beyond the current raft of often hazardous and toxic treatments.
In the United States the science required to remove Cannabis from their Schedule of Controlled Substances has been conducted and is far more than adequate (there are more studies done on Cannabis than on many FDA approved pharmaceuticals) and every citizen with an ECS (100%) and every citizen who supports the Americanisation of Cannabis (87%) still waits for the federal government to take action. In Australia we are still in the grip of archaic ‘reefer madness’ even though the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) has debunked the most common misinformation about Cannabis with their Cannabis Claims campaign.
The educational chasm between endocannabinoid researchers and family physicians is greater than the gap between patient and doctor or even patient and researcher. Many of today’s patients are self-educated and rely heavily on other patients for information, plus they embody a specific type of knowledge regarding the use of Cannabis, one that still fails to reach researchers, medical professionals, policy-makers, or the masses to a significant degree. Understanding the ECS (Endocannabinoid System) will continue to shed light on the natural role cannabinoids play. While there is still a great deal of research that needs to be done before we can fully understand how Cannabis works, there is already substantial evidence that this plant has exceptional medicinal value.
Expanded from Cannabinoids Like Those Found in Marijuana Occur Naturally in Human Breast Milk and Dr Melanie Dreher The Jamaica Study and Ganja Research, Common Link Between Breast Milk, Cannabis and Tea and Cannabis Beats Placebo : CBD Promising for Treating Brain Damage in Premies, Birth-Preterm Australia, Survival Rate For Premature Babies