Cannabis and Postpartum Depression

The cannabis plant’s array of healing properties provides a psychoactive molecule to upgrade every aspect of human existence. Even life’s greatest blessings go better with cannabis, especially when a drop into one of life’s deepest depressions follows that great blessing.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health’s Office on Women’s Health advises new mothers to reach out for help if they “feel empty, emotionless, or sad all or most of the time for longer than two weeks during or after pregnancy.”

The Office on Women’s Health warns that an empty, emotionless, sad new mother who feels that she doesn’t love or care for her new baby may have postpartum depression (PPD).

The good news, which the government maintained website acknowledges, is that postpartum depression can be overcome with a combination of therapy and medication.

The .gov site stops short of mentioning medical marijuana therapy as an aid in overcoming new mom’s depression, but she shouldn’t let that hold her back from investigating doctor guided cannabis treatment for PPD.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is all the more depressing because the mother’s depression directly impacts a helpless human being who is depending on the depressed person to provide love, nurturing and joy. This interpretation of a failure in the mother and child connection can be an acutely painful awareness to the depressed new mother, pushing her down into an even deeper depression.

Feeling sad or empty after birth, the “baby blues,” is a very common reaction after nine months carrying a child in the most intimate embrace the animal world knows. Those sad, empty emotions lift for most women within three to five days.

Postpartum depression, the Office on Women’s Health goes on to say, is different and much worse than that. Postpartum depression is now classified as a serious mental illness that centers in the brain. Mental and physical health can deteriorate. The new mother’s sad, flat, empty feelings of not loving her baby, of disconnection from the baby and disinclination of caring for the baby can be mild to severe.

What Causes Postpartum Depression? How Do I Know if I Have PPD?

Fluctuations of the female hormones are most likely to blame. Estrogen and progesterone levels, at the highest they will ever be during pregnancy, drop to pre-pregnancy levels less than 24 hours after giving birth. That hormonal plunge is thought to trigger postpartum depression.

Government health agencies estimate that one in nine new mothers struggles with postpartum depression. The list of postpartum depression symptoms overlaps with the warning signs of more common depression, with some particular mental torments specific to postpartum affliction:

  • Feeling restless or moody
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Having headaches, pains, or stomach problems that don’t go away
  • Having no energy or motivation
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Having trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Having memory problems
  • Having thoughts of hurting the baby
  • Having thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Not having any interest in the baby
  • Not feeling connected to the baby
  • Feeling as if your baby is someone else’s baby
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or like a bad mother

If these conditions persist for more than two weeks, it’s time to make use of all the help that is available. Postpartum depression is a real, valid experience which you should acknowledge and address as soon as you are able to do so.

Miha Lorel, 'Depression USA'
Miha Lorel’s painting ‘Depression USA’. Source: Flickr

How Does Cannabis Help Relieve Postpartum Depression?

As isolated in research conducted by Nature, medical marijuana’s ability to help overcome postpartum depression comes down to one word: anandamide.

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid occurring naturally in the human organism. Anandamide is familiarly known as “the bliss molecule.” The so-called runner’s high or the gush of bliss unleashed after a greedy chomp of chocolate are instances of anandamide doing its job in the human endocannabinoid system. Anandamide is the endocannabinoid that regulates mood and appetite and creates feelings of joy.

When a new mother’s estrogen and progesterone levels plunge immediately after giving birth, her anandamide levels drop drastically.

Marijuana’s two most famous molecules, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are responsible for medical cannabis’s nearly magical ability to replenish and maintain crucial anandamide reserves. The psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has a chemical structure almost identical to anandamide. THC binds to and interacts in similar ways with the same endocannabinoid system receptors throughout the nervous system and brain as anandamide does.

CBD (cannabidiol) is a cannabinoid distinguished from THC by its lack of psychoactive effects. CBD’s strength in treating postpartum depression is that it impedes the breakdown of natural anandamide in a new mother’s body.

 Is Using Medical Marijuana for PPD Safe?

Some experts are in disagreement over using cannabis post-pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and The National Academies for Science, Engineering and Medicine, for instance, hold back from promoting cannabis use by breastfeeding mothers. Their research indicates that cannabinoids may pass to children through breast milk. The College and Academies speculate that milk borne cannabinoids may have negative impacts on babies.

However, many women struggling with postpartum depression are not breastfeeding. Those depressed mothers who are breastfeeding are commonly prescribed antidepressants chosen from a list compiled by WebMD:

“All antidepressants are excreted into breast milk,” Dr. Rebecca Berens, assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, told SingleCare. However, Barens adds, “The risks to infant and maternal health of untreated postpartum depression far outweigh the risks of taking antidepressants while breastfeeding.”

Sertraline chemical formula - an antidepressant often used for the treatment of PTSD.
Sertraline chemical formula – an antidepressant often used for the treatment of conditions like depression and PTSD.

With the risks of transferring a depressed mother’s pharmaceutical antidepressants to her baby so readily dismissed, it’s time to reevaluate the risk of an infant absorbing residual traces of its postpartum depressed mother’s beneficial cannabinoids.

Can Medical Cannabis Substitute for Pharmaceutical Antidepressants?

Breastfeeding aside, strong arguments are being made for using cannabis in place of antidepressants, including in the Journal of Pain Research. Rigorous studies have shown cannabis to be a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceutical anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs.

Mothers who live in a medical cannabis legal state and are struggling with postpartum depression are free to talk out the pros and cons of cannabis over pharmaceuticals with a qualified doctor.

Based on that conversation, feel free to secure a medical marijuana recommendation card. Explore the healing aspects of cannabis, as valuable in life’s best of times as in life’s worst of times, even when those times are the same time. During your appointment with your Leafwell physician, you will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of using cannabis to treat PPD in a safe, non-judgemental and supportive environment.

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Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Leafwell's Editorial Director, Allan MacDonell’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Dazed and Confused UK to the New York Times and Washington Post. He is the author of Prisoner of X, Punk Elegies and Now That I Am Gone, and was a founding editorial director at online outlets including Buzznet, TakePart and Kindland. MacDonell views teaming with Leafwell as an opportunity to encourage the emerging role of legal cannabis as a highly effective medical treatment.

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