Since it became more socially acceptable and, in some places, legal, to smoke marijuana, more and more pregnant women are using marijuana to cope with everything from morning sickness to postpartum blues. Some women use it instead of opioids for pain relief, defending its use because opioids are addictive and dangerous for the unborn child. Women’s use of marijuana covers the socioeconomic spectrum, but is increasingly used by those who are more disadvantaged.
Unfortunately, there has been enough research to determine there is a potential risk to the developing fetus due to marijuana’s active compound, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can cross a mother’s placenta and get to her baby during pregnancy. It can also get into the mother’s milk and passed to the baby that way. CBD can also be harmful, by weakening the permeability of the placenta, making it easier for harmful substances to pass to the baby.
Potential Health Risks
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has determined that the health risks to the unborn baby can include low birth weight, premature birth, small head circumference, small length, and even stillbirth. When these babies are born, they tend to present increased tremors, exaggerated startle reflexes, high-pitched cries, abnormal sleep patterns and other behaviors normally associated with opioid withdrawal.
Research has also suggested that in-utero exposure to marijuana can result in poorer hand eye coordination in the baby, such as catching a ball or solving visual puzzles. The effects of the THC on the brain could also be a trigger for the child, as it gets older, to addictive behaviors, including alcohol or other drugs.
A baby’s brain is rapidly developing, even while still in the womb, and is constructing billions of neural connections. With marijuana use being more commonplace, many obstetricians and gynecologists fear that the THC ingested, either while in utero or through the mother’s milk, will cause these babies to perceive their world through an altered state. But marijuana use has also shown to affect the placenta by reducing flow of oxygen and blood, which may affect brain development.
Long term studies stated that children whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy have trouble with memory, attention, controlling impulses, and school performance. These children showed the effects by age 9 or 10 in reduced reading and spelling skills and executive function. By age 14, the children did much worse in school and were more likely to display delinquent behavior.
Medical Marijuana Isn’t Any Better
Although the medical marijuana dispensaries do try to standardize dosages, there is no real standard dosage, no standard formulation, no standard delivery system and no FDA approved recommendations regarding use during pregnancy. This is why most doctors advise against marijuana use for women who are pregnant or hoping to get pregnant.
Smoking is considered a health risk around small children and especially newborns, whose lungs are still developing. Marijuana smoke has some of the same chemicals as cigarette smoke and is just as bad. However, vaping, edibles or tinctures, even in the dosages that are set, are not recommended. While their THC levels are lower, the THC still crosses the placental wall and can harm the fetus.
There are alternatives to marijuana use, including homeopathic alternatives, to combat morning sickness, back pain and depression from pregnancy and most doctors advocate using those.
Marijuana Poses Risks to the Mother
There is also an increased risk to the mother from ingesting marijuana while pregnant. Anemia, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure can develop which may cause dizziness and fainting. Coupled with the ungainliness of advanced pregnancy, the possibilities of a mother accidentally hurting the fetus is increased. Use of marijuana can add to the confusion and forgetfulness of “baby brain”, the pregnancy-induced fog which many women experience. Pregnancy is also a time when many mental illnesses are brought to the surface; use of marijuana can induce paranoia and other psychological issues.
Marijuana Use during Pregnancy Should Be Avoided
The research that is out there about marijuana use in pregnant women is either negative or contradictory. The overriding consensus is that any potentially positive merits of its use merely shadow the health risks for mother and child. Even the ACOG report waffled, saying it may cause damage, not stating empirically that it did.
One report stated that there were five studies and one systemic review that provided evidence of increased risk to the unborn child, while another review and three studies contradicted the results. The one thing that the studies have shown is that the more a woman consumes marijuana, the greater the risk to the baby’s health. However no one knows what amount is safe and where the delineation point is towards harmful.
Truly, more research is needed and with that in mind, next year, the US government will be funding $1.4 million for more marijuana research, focusing mostly on marijuana use during pregnancy. We do have some research already available that says it may not be in a baby’s best interest to use marijuana in any form because of the THC and CBD. Therefore, it may be wise to stop using marijuana at least 30 days after deciding to get pregnant, since THC stores in the fat cells and it can take up to that much time to clear out of the body. In case you find out you’re pregnant, stopping use of marijuana immediately is highly recommend. This will definitely increase the baby’s chances at optimal health.
Like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, ingesting marijuana in any form should be considered a health risk for the baby. If you or someone you know is pregnant and using marijuana, you might want to talk to your doctor or gynecologist to get more information on the pros and cons of marijuana use during pregnancy and alternatives such as vitamin B-6 for morning sickness or an analgesic rub for back pain.