You might be shocked to learn that the use of marijuana by pregnant women has increased exponentially in places where weed is legal. 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 pertinently, the research found that 7.1% of Californian women used marijuana while pregnant in 2016. This is a surprising statistic, considering that it wasn’t until this year (2018) that California made pot legal on a recreational level.
But why do pregnant women smoke weed? For one, it is considered an excellent natural way to cope with the terrible aches, pains, and nausea associated with pregnancy. It’s also been noted as an excellent relief from morning sickness, even though that’s not one of the traditionally approved uses of weed. In any instance, we are now at a stage where federal and state agencies don’t even include warnings against using cannabis while pregnant, so what does this mean for the expecting mother who wants a natural way to combat pain and discomfort? Does it mean weed is safe to use during your pregnancy?
Weed & Pregnancy – The Good
As many mothers know, morning sickness is a nasty side effect of carrying their little bundle of joy. In fact, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a serious complication which involves terrible nausea, dehydration, and consistent vomiting. It can get so bad, even, that hospitalization may be required. Treatments in the form of heavy duty medications are available, but these can be relatively ineffective and carry dangerous side effects of their own.
In the rare instance that a health care provider does actually recommends marijuana, he/she will most often do so with the caveat that the women consume it in edible form. Pregnant women with HG have spoken out in numbers about the therapeutic effectiveness of cannabis edibles, and some physicians reluctantly admit that weed has fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs, which are deemed ‘safe’ to use during pregnancy.
Additionally, recent research claims that maternal marijuana use is NOT a risk factor. A study, led by Doctor Shayna Connor and published in Obstetrics and Gynecology in October 2016, found no statistical correlation between use of weed and any negative birth outcome. When tobacco products are replaced with marijuana, though, you won’t be surprised to learn that the story changes pretty drastically. It’s well-known and has been well-documented over the years that tobacco is a toxic addition to the body which increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
Although Connor’s study revealed no link between marijuana and birth complications, she is still wary about recommending it as a use to pregnant women. For starters, the study did not look at long-term behavioral and health impacts in the child (such as ADD/ADHD). If you do use marijuana while pregnant, moderation is key. A handful of studies have shown that heavy weed consumption early in the pregnancy can increase the risk of behavioral issues later in the child’s life.
Weed & Pregnancy – The Bad
You know the old saying: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The biggest concern surrounding the use of weed while pregnant relates to THC, which is marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient. If you consume cannabis while pregnant, you’re effectively sharing the drug with your unborn child as it crosses the placenta and enters the fetus’ bloodstream. This is the case whether you smoke weed or consume edibles. According to Baby Center, anywhere from 10-30% of cannabis’ THC can reach your baby’s bloodstream.
There have been a handful of studies looking at evidence of birth defects amongst women that consumed marijuana while pregnant. However, results have been mixed.
A 2014 study by Gelder et al., for example, admitted that there is inconclusive evidence to suggest weed may increase the risk of defects. On the other hand, a 2011 study in Australia that analyzed 25,000 pregnant women, discovered that the babies of those who smoked were twice as likely to end up in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) shortly after birth.
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 weed on children over a decade-long period. At 4-years old, the children of women that smoked weed 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 found that at 6-years old, the children of weed-smoking mothers had below-average reading skills, and at 14-years old, they had below average reading, spelling and math skills.
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, weed 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.
Is It Safe To Use Weed During Pregnancy?
Although we proudly advocate marijuana for assistance in combating an array of medical problems, we can’t in good conscience recommend it during pregnancy. While there are no studies that conclusively show the harmful effects of marijuana on a fetus, there is some worrying research about long-term effects.
Given the relative lack of cast-iron information, we have to go on what we actually know. For instance, a significant percentage of the psychoactive THC in weed will go directly to the fetus’ bloodstream. Put it this way: would you consider giving your newborn child marijuana?
Sadly, there is also the possibility that the cannabis you consume is contaminated with other drugs or pesticides that could really hurt your baby. It is an unfortunate fact that while dispensaries claim all products are certified and approved, there is still a ‘Wild West’ feeling that surrounds dispensaries and regulation.
Then, of course, there is the small matter of legality. In a minimum of 14 states, using marijuana (or other narcotics) is considered a form of child abuse. If you smoke weed illegally while pregnant and are caught, you risk losing custody of your child. It is also important to note that using marijuana while breastfeeding is also a bad idea, because some of it will be consumed by the baby.
Overall, the safety of your baby is paramount. If there is any risk of hurting it, you have to refuse weed and try to fight through the pain of pregnancy.