qWe live in a state where the production and sale of marijuana products is legal.  My husband works for a legal grower and trims the plants and doesn’t wear gloves.  Whenever he comes home his clothes smell awful and his hands are super sticky from the oil.  He washes his hands but they’re still really smelly and sticky.  Am I crazy for wanting him to shower, change his clothes and thoroughly wash his hands before he holds our seven-week-old baby? I can’t find anything about this issue online and I’m afraid to ask our doctor.  Please help! I need science and reason!
– Anonymous, via Facebook

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana and you’re not alone in a fruitless search for information on this subject.  After an exhaustive search of the medical literature, I’ve been able to turn up very little on this type of THC exposure and children.  Coming up empty on a review of the literature I reached out to several subject matter experts to see if they could shed some light on this issue.

The first person I contacted was Dr. Kevin P. Hill, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School whose clinical research has focused on addiction and bridging the gap between public perceptions of cannabinoids and what science can actually tell us.  Dr. Hill says that while handling dry cannabis plant material will not lead to THC absorption through the skin, that’s not the case with the oils. “Handling oils or hash may result in absorption,” which means that if your husband comes home from work with the oil on his hands or clothes and then holds the baby, there could be some transfer.

Whether or not there is enough THC in the oil to cause intoxication in your infant is difficult to know.  The THC level in the oil varies depending on the breed of plant he’s working with, how much and how long your baby is exposed to the oil and the type of exposure (absorbed through the skin, or orally).  It wasn’t a question that any of our experts felt qualified to answer without having more information.

Dr. Clay Jones, a pediatrician who writes at Science Based Medicine, advises that other factors outside of direct contact with the oil on your husband’s skin could pose a risk to your child.  Depending on how much oil your husband has on his hands when he comes home, if your husband handles objects that your son puts in his mouth like a pacifier, feeding supplies or pacifier it could pose a greater risk in an infant. “When cannabis is ingested, younger children are at higher risk for major complications such as breathing difficulty and death.”

According to Dr. Jones, symptoms of cannabis intoxication in infants and young children vary depending on their age and the degree of exposure, “A mild intoxication may consist of just sleepiness,” he says. “They may be irritable or oddly giddy. They may have elevations in their blood pressure and heart rate reflecting either an excited state or they may be generally physiologically depressed. Nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, and repetitive involuntary eye movements may be seen.”

I called the Infant Risk Center at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to get their perspective and they advise that there is no known “safe” level of THC exposure in infants or children.  They also advise women who are pregnant or nursing to avoid both primary and secondary THC exposure.  When asked what they would recommend in a situation like yours, they said they would advise your husband to shower thoroughly using an oil dissolving soap before coming into the house or handling the baby.  They would also advise that his clothes be laundered separately from the rest of the family’s.

Infant Risk also advised that while the production and use of marijuana products is legal (or decriminalized) for adults, if a mandatory reporter such as a doctor, nurse or child care provider suspects that a child has been exposed to THC they are required to inform Child Protective Services.

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse