Current recommendations state that pregnant and breastfeeding women should not consume cannabis. However, cannabis use by pregnant women has increased exponentially in places where the plant is legal.
Cannabis use by pregnant women has increased exponentially, despite recommendations against it.
In 2014, 3.9% of women in the United States used cannabis during their pregnancy, a significant increase on the 2.2% figure reported back in 2002. More recently, research found that 7.1% of Californian women used marijuana while pregnant in 2016.
In this article, we explore why this is not a good idea. Read on to learn all you need to know about cannabis and pregnancy.
Why Do Pregnant Women Use Cannabis?
Pregnant women may contemplate using cannabis for various reasons. For one, it is considered an excellent natural way to cope with aches, pains, and nausea, all of which can occur during pregnancy. Some people have also suggested it provides relief from morning sickness, even though that’s not one of the traditionally approved uses of cannabis.
As many mothers know, morning sickness is a common side effect of carrying a child. In fact, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a serious complication that involves terrible nausea, dehydration, and constant vomiting. It can get so bad that hospitalization may be required. Pharmaceutical treatments are available, but these can be relatively ineffective and carry dangerous side effects of their own.
So, what does this mean for the expecting mother who wants a natural way to combat pain, discomfort, and nausea? Does it mean cannabis is safe to use during pregnancy? Unfortunately not.
Why Is Smoking Weed While Pregnant Bad?
The biggest concern surrounding the use of cannabis while pregnant relates to the intoxicating cannabinoid, THC.
Cannabis consumption while pregnant exposes the unborn child to THC as it crosses the placenta and enters the fetus’ bloodstream. This is the case with both edibles and smokable products.
According to the website Baby Center, anywhere from 10-30% of cannabis’ THC can reach the baby’s bloodstream, leading to a host of potential problems.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that using cannabis during pregnancy can cause:
- Fetal growth restriction
- Low birth weight
- Increased risk of preterm birth (before 37 weeks of gestation)
- Increased risk of stillbirth
- Long-term developmental issues, including memory, learning, and behavior
There have also been a handful of studies looking at evidence of birth defects amongst women who consumed marijuana while pregnant. A 2014 study by van Gelder et al., for example, found that there is inconclusive evidence to suggest weed may increase the risk of defects. Meanwhile, many other studies have reported negative birth outcomes when the mother uses cannabis during pregnancy.
Although there is a lack of evidence with regards to newborn babies, some studies have focused on the long-term effects on children. One Canadian study, for instance, looked at the impact of cannabis use on children over a decade-long period.
At 4-years old, the children of women that smoked cannabis daily while pregnant performed below average on memory tests. At 10-years old, these children were more prone to be hyperactive and impulsive and showed low attention spans. Another study that measured children at various ages discovered that smoking cannabis during pregnancy had a negative impact on children’s IQ.
One particularly alarming scenario involving fetal exposure to marijuana is the alteration of the fetus’ brain between weeks 18 and 22 of the pregnancy term. In addition to this, cannabis has also been shown to alter heart rate, and since it stays in the system for up to 30 days, it could expose the baby in utero for far longer than a mother realizes.
The Effects of Smoking Weed While Pregnant
Recent research claims that maternal marijuana use is not an independent risk factor for negative outcomes. A systematic review, led by Doctor Shayna Connor and published in Obstetrics and Gynecology in October 2016, found no statistical correlation between the use of cannabis and any negative birth outcome. The authors suggested that negative outcomes such as preterm birth and low birth weights could be due to using cannabis with tobacco.
Studies have shown that heavy cannabis consumption early in pregnancy can increase the risk of behavioral issues.
However, although Connor’s study revealed no independent link between marijuana and birth complications, she is still wary about recommending it to pregnant women. For starters, the study did not look at long-term behavioral and health impacts in the child.
If a woman insists on using marijuana while pregnant, moderation is key. A handful of studies have shown that heavy cannabis consumption early in the pregnancy can increase the risk of behavioral issues later in the child’s life.
Is It Safe to Use Weed During Pregnancy?
Current research suggests that consuming cannabis during pregnancy can lead to negative short and long-term outcomes for the child. Therefore, it cannot be considered safe or recommended.
In addition to the fact that it contains THC, the cannabis industry is poorly regulated. Therefore, there is a risk that products could be contaminated with other drugs or pesticides that could further harm an infant. The same goes for CBD and other cannabis-derived products, which the Food and Drug Administration also advises against using during pregnancy.
Finally, there is the matter of legality. In a minimum of 14 states, using marijuana (or other narcotics) is considered a form of child abuse. If a mother smokes cannabis illegally while pregnant and is caught, there is a risk of losing custody of the child. It is important to note that using marijuana while breastfeeding is also a bad idea because some of it will pass to the infant.
Overall, the safety of the baby is paramount. Therefore, mothers should refuse cannabis and try to find alternative methods of managing pregnancy-related issues.