Test Improves Detection of Cannabinoids in Breast Milk


The CDC developed a new technique to measure marijuana’s active compounds in milk.

A new technique is 100 times better at detecting the active compounds in marijuana—–such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinol––in breast milk than other current approaches, according to a study published ACS Omega.

As states continue to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana in the United States, concerns have increased regarding the drug’s use among pregnant women. Furthermore, many of these women may continue to use marijuana after they give birth.

Cannabinoids are chemicals secreted from cannabis that have a tendency to stick to fat, which is largely found in breast milk. Because of this factor, concerns persist over the potential effect on nursing babies.

Unfortunately, the health risks to these infants has remained largely unknown. Partly due to the limited ability of scientists to precisely measure marijuana’s active compounds in milk, according to the study.

Although there are analytical methods that can detect THC at levels of 1.5 nanograms per milliliter or higher, none of these methods can measure cannabinol or cannabidiol in milk, according to the study authors.

Investigators at the CDC have developed a new approach that starts with saponification to separate cannabinoids from the fat in milk. Through this technique, they could detect trace levels of active marijuana compounds—–including cannabinol and cannabidiol––that could be present in milk from second-hand exposure.

According to the CDC, the test is 100 times better at detecting THC in breast milk compared with other techniques. Furthermore, the approach could contribute to future studies examining the potential health risks of marijuana exposure in mothers to the infant being breastfeed.

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