Cannabis and Pregnancy
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 25 women in the U.S. reports using cannabis during their pregnancy. What to Expect website asks the question, “So is lighting up a joint when you’re expecting a safe cure-all for morning sickness and anxiety — or a dangerous habit that could potentially harm your baby?
The answer here appears to be mixed. As reported by NPR, a review and analysis of 31 previously published studies has found no independent connection between a mother’s pot use and adverse birth events. But these studies do raise a number of questions that require further research.
Potential health effects of using cannabis during pregnancy
Using cannabis during pregnancy can increase a baby’s risk of developmental problems. According to the New York Times, Marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — can cross the placenta to reach the fetus, experts say, potentially harming brain development, cognition, and birth weight. Also, THC may induce premature labor.
Smoking Cannabis During Pregnancy
Inhaling any smoke including cannabis during pregnancy can be bad for both the mother and the baby. Cannabis smoke contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, thus increasing the possibilities for developmental issues in the infant.
Using Cannabis Post-pregnancy
Research indicates that THC may be found in breast milk. These chemicals can be passed from mother to baby during breastfeeding. Also, THC is stored in fat. Thus, it’s slowly released over time. It’s unclear how much THC remains in the milk and how long this THC stays present in the milk. Hence it’s unclear how much THC is passed from mother to child during each breastfeeding.
Social Stigma of Cannabis Use and Pregnancy
Ideally, those who use cannabis and are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should share all details of their lifestyle with their doctor. This includes if they are using cannabis during their pregnancy. However, mothers may not tell their doctors and other health care providers they are using cannabis due to the possibility they could be reported to Child Protective Services. Therefore, the challenge with many studies on marijuana use is that they rely on questionnaires. If women are worried their responses could result in the loss of their children, they might deny using cannabis during pregnancy even if they are using.
Research About Cannabis and Pregnancy Inconclusive
So far, the bulk of this research about cannabis use during pregnancy focused on cannabis containing THC. There has not been adequate research using medicinal cannabis containing high-levels of CBD. More studies are needed to ascertain if high-CBD strains can help reduce nausea, depression, anxiety, cramps, and other problems associated with pregnancy without causing harm to the infant.
Also, many studies researching the effects of cannabis use on pregnancy fail to take other factors into account. For example, are those consuming cannabis during pregnancy following a nutritious diet, exercising and other lifestyle choices suggested by their doctor?
In particular, these studies do not take into account the alcohol and tobacco use of those women who consume cannabis during pregnancy. Repeatedly, researchers have noted that those women who smoke cannabis during their pregnancy also smoke cigarettes or blunts. It is also unclear if woman who take cannabis during their pregnancy also drink alcohol. The lack of these distinctions complicates the results of these studies since it’s unclear which negative effects on children are caused by tobacco, nicotine or cannabis.
Furthermore, the studies do not compare the different methods of cannabis consumption. Smoking cannabis has been harmful for a number of medical patients. However, they are able to consume cannabis through other methods such as vaping, consuming edibles, and applying topicals.
Finally, the research to date focuses on infant. In order to assess the long-term impacts of cannabis use during pregnancy, research is needed that follows these children’s development throughout their adolescence and into their adulthood.
At this juncture, the CDC, the American Congress of Obstetricians and and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are erring on the side of caution. They advise against using tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. But as noted, more research is needed especially studies looking at high CBD strains of cannabis and methods of consumption other than smoking.