Can marijuana treat Postpartum Depression? This sadness, anxiety and sleeplessness that can follow childbirth affect many new mothers. Traditionally, healthcare providers prescribe antidepressants and psychotherapy. However, many are questioning the efficacy and safety of these treatments. Many new parents are asking, can marijuana treat postpartum depression? And what are the benefits and potential risks of cannabis treatment?
What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
The symptoms of PPD include depression, irritability, inability to sleep and mood swings. Though it’s unclear what causes PPD, most attribute it to fluctuating hormone levels, especially estrogen and progesterone, and parental anxiety.
Classified as a major depressive disorder, PPD affects a minimum of 15% of mothers according to a study in the US National Library of Medicine. In real life, this figure is a lot higher. Many mothers feel guilty about experiencing PPD and do not report their symptoms.
What treatments are typically made available to women with PPD?
Doctors typically prescribe antidepressants for PPD. Most believe that there is little to no risk in taking anti-depressants during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Even when there is some risk, many advocate for their use anyway. Studies show that the threat that a depressed mother poses to a child’s development is often considered riskier than antidepressant medication.
Just because antidepressants are commonly prescribed doesn’t mean that they don’t pose a serious risk. A study published by the Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Intensive Care Medicine in Germany found that Sertraline, a popular antidepressant, can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome and serotonergic over-stimulation when prescribed to breastfeeding mothers.
These conditions manifest in tremors, crying, sleep issues, fevers and sweating. In the study, these symptoms worsened until the mother stopped breastfeeding. Though this case was perhaps an outlier, these consequences should be cause for concern.
To make matters worse, doctors commonly give Sertraline to women with PPD because of its low transferability. What are the risks of even more powerful anti-depressants?
Another common treatment for PPD is therapy. Due to cost, time, and distance, however, therapy isn’t always a practical solution.
If therapy isn’t an option and antidepressants are dangerous but necessary, why breastfeed at all?
Today, it’s a common belief that breastfeeding is crucial to the mother and the baby’s health. In a study published by the University of Adelaide, researcher Dr. Grzeskowiak states, “breastfeeding has immense benefits for the child and the mum herself, including a degree of protection against post-natal depression.”
He argues that it’s critical to breastfeeding through the sixth month. This study also found that 57% of women suffering from PPD who stopped taking antidepressants stopped breastfeeding before six months. Medication, though often necessary to continue the beneficial process of breastfeeding, poses a health threat.
A popular alternative to synthetic drugs, can marijuana treat postpartum depression?
Marijuana as an antidepressant
Cannabis is becoming an increasingly common treatment for depression. At Buffalo’s Institute on Addictions, senior researcher Dr. Samir Haj-Dahmane found that “chronic stress reduced the production of endocannabinoids, leading to depression.”
Endocannabinoids are found in the human nervous system. They regulate mood, pain sensitivity, and other important bodily processes. These neurotransmitters are also found in weed.
Dr. Haj-Dahmane explains, “Using compounds derived from cannabis […] to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.” Dr. Haj-Dahmane also points out, marijuana can be an effective tool for coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But is marijuana safe to use while breastfeeding?
Can marijuana treat postpartum depression? In short, smoking of any kind is inadvisable while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Just because more women are smoking marijuana during or after pregnancy does not mean that it is safe.
The danger is due to marijuana’s psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. If ingested while breastfeeding, THC can enter the baby’s bloodstream. Studies conducted in Pittsburgh and Ottawa maintain that THC affects a child’s long-term ability to read, focus and feel emotions.
This research focused on mothers who ingested THC while pregnant, not necessarily while breastfeeding.
Dr. Yasmin Hurd from Mount Sinai Hospital states, “Even early in development, marijuana is changing critical circuits and neurotransmitting receptors.” The consequences of transmitting THC to a baby can be significant and long-term.
You could argue that most of the research is about THC transfer during pregnancy. But as infants can also absorb THC through breast milk, we can assume, for now, that similar risks exist.
Dr. Tori Metz of the Denver Health Medical Center explains to The New York Times, “There is an increased perception of the safety of cannabis use, even in pregnancy, without data to say that it’s actually safe.”
Better to be safe when it comes to THC while breastfeeding.
Is CBD safe?
There is very little research on the effects of CBD use while breastfeeding. What we do know is that CBD is non-psychoactive. This means that unlike THC, it doesn’t get you high.
CBD is also used to treat a variety of illnesses such as epilepsy, and it relieves pain, helps with PTSD and reduces inflammation. Additionally, children are increasingly using CBD to cope with serious illnesses.
Final Hit: Can Marijuana Treat Postpartum Depression?
To answer the question: can marijuana treat postpartum depression—potentially. If you’re not breastfeeding, consider talking to your doctor about consuming cannabis to alleviate depression and anxiety.
If you are breastfeeding and you want to use cannabis, stick to products derived exclusively from CBD but know that research is far from conclusive. We’ll have a clearer answer once we clear the smoke surrounding the benefits and disadvantages of medicinal marijuana.
And remember: if you suffer from postpartum depression, it’s not your fault. Don’t be ashamed to seek help and support.