In January, a group of Colorado Springs pediatricians had an unusual topic on the agenda for one of their monthly meetings: Breastfeeding and babies who test positive for THC.
“When that hits the agenda, it’s clearly important,” said Dr. Darvi Rahaman, a pediatrician at Peak Vista. “There’s so many, so many good things about breastfeeding and its positive effects. When a child is born, we and the nursing staff promote breastfeeding. The question is what happens when we know Mom was positive on a THC screen? Do you recommend you breastfeed or not? What do you do?”
Rahaman, a pediatrician of nearly 20 years, said the concentration of THC in breast milk is several times higher than in the mother’s blood and “there are very few studies about end results of children who are breastfeeding to moms who are consistently using.”
Rahaman said that although his colleagues report seeing more and more THC-positive infants, determining the number of babies born positive has been difficult because there is no specific code for a marijuana-exposed baby — only a general code for illicit drugs. “We’re trying to figure out how to track this,” he said.
“I think most people were a little frustrated that this was even a discussion. But then there’s the realization that this is happening so we should have a consistent way to approach this. I think one thing for sure is that we haven’t come up with a final approach in Colorado.”
See also: Concerns over adolescents’ use
Guidance may be coming: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans to release a document this month for physicians to use in talking with pregnant or breastfeeding women.
But doctors and hospitals in Colorado report seeing more people of all ages testing positive for marijuana — from tots to teens to 20-somethings and older.
In 2009, Children’s Hospital Colorado reported two marijuana ingestions among children younger than 12. In the first six months of 2014, there were 12, according to a report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“Our children’s hospital is seeing a significant number of admissions,” said Dr. Richard Zane, professor and chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“The problem that’s really come into fruition is this issue of marijuana looking just like childhood candy,” he said of edibles made to look like lollipops and gummies. “For the first time ever, we have enough concentrated marijuana in one edible product where it’s sufficiently strong enough to cause a child to stop breathing. There have been children admitted to the ICU with respiratory support.”
Dr. Kenneth Finn, a pain medicine specialist in Colorado Springs, is studying emergency room data locally from Penrose-St. Francis hospitals.
“The preliminary data is somewhat frightening,” Finn said. “If you’re looking at the unintended consequences of Amendment 64, you’re looking at a much broader acceptance of use and safety. My perspective is a public health perspective.”
The number of urine drug screens positive for marijuana only in patients younger than 18 more than tripled from 2009 to 2013, going from 30 to 101, he said. Among all ages at the time, the number of positives went from 355 to 1,090.