Published on October 1, 2021 by Kristina Willis
Once a pregnancy is confirmed, a mother will do whatever it takes to ensure their baby’s health. Often, that includes lifestyle adjustments, such as what they put into their bodies. Accordingly, many expectant mothers look to natural remedies for dealing with discomfort and other pregnancy symptoms.
Unfortunately, marijuana is not the safe solution you may be looking for. Both recreational and medical marijuana use during pregnancy can negatively impact fetus health and long-term development. While marijuana serves many therapeutical purposes, using it while pregnant can have drastic consequences and is highly discouraged by medical professionals.
Laxing cannabis laws and favorable public perception have led to the misconception that marijuana is completely harmless. As a result, many expectant mothers utilize marijuana as a pregnancy-safe alternative to medicine. Spreading accurate information is essential to keep new mothers safe and combat the rising number of pregnant marijuana users.
Read on to learn about the risks of marijuana use during pregnancy.
Though it is universally agreed upon that marijuana use during pregnancy is harmful, retail dispensaries are still marketing toward pregnant women. Paired with growing cannabis acceptance, expectant mothers are in significant danger of being misled into dangerous marijuana use. Currently, marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug amongst expectant mothers.
Taking medicine while pregnant is not uncommon. On the contrary, 50% of pregnant women say they take at least one medication. Some are necessary to treat serious conditions exacerbated by pregnancy, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. However, others seek to alleviate temporary symptoms like nausea and body aches.
A mother and her baby’s health are interconnected before and after conception. For example, adequate nutritional intake is essential for healthy fetal development. During pregnancy, chemicals pass from the mother’s placenta to the fetus. Even everyday toxins can be transferred and accumulate in fetal tissue.
Marijuana contains over 500 cannabinoid compounds, including THC, which is associated with psychoactive effects. They pass through the placental wall like other chemicals, which is why a mother’s marijuana use concurrently impacts her baby.
Government agencies, from the FDA to the CDC, all recommend against cannabis use during pregnancy. Though proper studies still need to be conducted to understand the specifics, there is more than enough evidence to conclude that marijuana use during pregnancy comes with significant risks.
I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.—U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory
I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.
Cannabinoid compounds primarily affect the body and mind by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, which appears early on during embryonic and fetal development. At 14 weeks, cannabinoid receptors develop in the brain and increase in density throughout the third trimester.
Cannabis exposure can interfere with the development of neurotransmission systems as cannabis compounds typically interact with these receptors. Moreover, the frontal lobe and cerebellum are saturated with receptors. Available research and clinical studies on both humans and animals show that marijuana use can cause abnormalities in general development and brain chemistry, including emotional maturation.
► Higher risk of restricted fetal growth.► Greater risk of stillbirth (2.3 times) and preterm birth.► Low birth weight, shorter birth length, and a low head circumference.► Mood and behavior alterations, related to mental disorders such as depressive symptoms and ADHD.► Issues in brain development that have a long-term impact on memory, learning, and behavior.
► Increased risk of miscarriage.► Prenatal exposure in rodents leads to increased anxiety levels.► Changes in dopaminergic activity lead to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders in rats, as well as cognitive impairment and emotional dysregulation.► Long-lasting neurodevelopmental effects, such as increased stress responsivity and abnormal social behavior.
Risks are most commonly associated with THC; however, other cannabinoids, including CBD, have been linked to harmful side effects. Though comprehensive research is lacking, animal studies show that high doses of CBD in pregnant animals cause problems with the reproductive system of developing males.
“FDA wants you to know there may be serious risks to using cannabis products, including those containing CBD, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.”—U.S. Food & Drug Administration
“FDA wants you to know there may be serious risks to using cannabis products, including those containing CBD, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Moreover, CBD products are unregulated and often contain toxins or other substances that may be harmful to the fetus. More than 20% of online CBD products have detectable levels of THC. Additionally, a 2020 comprehensive review discourages the use of CBD at all stages of pregnancy.
One-third of THC contained in maternal plasma crosses the placenta and can be excreted in breastmilk. With frequent use, it can accumulate in high concentrations. Since a newborn’s brain is still developing, exposure can cause hyperactivity along with poor cognitive function.
Additionally, exposure to breastmilk containing THC within a child’s first month of life might decrease motor development. Due to insufficient data regarding the effects of marijuana during lactation and breastfeeding, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) discourages all marijuana use.
Based on all available research, the long-term impact of using marijuana during pregnancy can be devastating. For instance, marijuana-exposed children are more likely to struggle with school-related skills, such as problem-solving, memorization, and focus.
“The chemicals in any form of marijuana may be bad for your baby – this includes eating or drinking, creams or lotions applied to skin, smoking, vaping and dabbing.”—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“The chemicals in any form of marijuana may be bad for your baby – this includes eating or drinking, creams or lotions applied to skin, smoking, vaping and dabbing.”
Unfortunately, like other marijuana-related topics, research is limited and lacking. Many studies on maternal marijuana use were conducted pre-2000s when the standard dose of THC was substantially lower. Over the past few decades, the potency of THC products has increased dramatically, and research needs to be conducted using present-day doses.
Additionally, many studies fail to control for external environmental factors—though new findings are unlikely to change official recommendations. According to the Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, maternal marijuana use was associated with a 50% increased risk of low birth weight even after controlling for age, race, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use.
There is a time and place for acceptable and even beneficial cannabis use, but during pregnancy is not one of them. Efficacy for treating pregnancy symptoms is unfounded, and the risk to the baby cannot be ignored. If you are an expectant mother or thinking about becoming one, talk to your doctor about pregnancy-safe medicinal alternatives.