Marijuana and Pregnancy: Just the Facts

Marijuana and Pregnancy

Share this post

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Marijuana and PregnancyUpdated October 14, 2016. 

Marijuana has gone through a lot of ups and downs in public opinion in the past hundred-odd years and it’s currently experiencing a serious upswing. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) and Washington, D.C. have legalized it for recreational use and 20 more states have legalized it for medical use. Almost half of Americans admit to having tried pot at least once in their lives, and just over 1 in 10 say they’ve smoked within the past year. That makes it the most commonly used illegal drug in the US. There’s plenty of debate about the health effects of marijuana in general, but how does it affect mothers-to-be? We know that many things you put into your body while pregnant can affect the baby, so what’s the deal with marijuana and pregnancy?

How Marijuana Affects the Body

To get a sense of the effects of smoking weed during pregnancy, we first need to take a look at how it affects the body in general. The main psychoactive component in pot is delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol, usually abbreviated to “THC.” When you take in THC (usually by smoking, although you can also “vape” or eat it), the chemical binds with certain receptors in the areas of your brain responsible for coordination and memory, among others. Those receptors typically bind with anandamide, a cannabinoid natually produced by your body that is responsible for a variety of immune and neurological functions. When THC binds with your cannabinoid receptors, it can cause a loss of coordination and short-term memory problems. This same reaction causes the feelings of euphoria we typically associate with pot use. Smoking weed can also increase your heart rate and cause anxiety and paranoia.

Compared to other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is not highly addictive. However, it can be psychologically habit-forming and regular users may experience irritability and anxiety if they stop using the drug. While marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals and irritants found in tobacco smoke, the link between weed and an increased risk of lung cancer is unclear. A 2012 study of over 5000 participants found that occasional pot smoking caused no adverse effects on the lungs, although heavy smokers are prone to inflammation of the airways, leading to coughing and wheezing. Finally, marijuana cannot cause death by overdose.

Is Marijuana Safe During Pregnancy?

What’s the motivation for smoking pot while pregnant? First off, expectant mothers may have already been using marijuana and simply enjoy it. But other mothers struggle with chronic pain or morning sickness and may be considering marijuana as an alternative to other medications. Many painkillers have proven to be unsafe during pregnancy, meaning women have limited options for dealing with pain for those 40 weeks. Severe morning sickness can be debilitating, and marijuana’s anti-nausea and appetite-boosting effects are well-established (hence its popularity among chemo patients). So, is it safe?

The answer is that we just don’t know. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends against the use of marijuana during pregnancy, but notes that it is “difficult to be certain about the specific effects of marijuana on pregnancy and the developing fetus.” In part, they say, that’s because there are no good studies on the effects of smoking pot while pregnant. There are obvious ethical problems with setting up controlled studies and deliberately exposing fetuses to marijuana. Studies of the children of women who report smoking weed during pregnancy have produced mixed results, since it is difficult to separate the effects of smoking marijuana from socioeconomic factors such as malnutrition, poor prenatal care, smoking tobacco, and the effects of other substance use (lower-income women use marijuana much more frequently than higher-income women and are at higher risks for all of those factors).

That said, some studies have found that children exposed to marijuana in the womb showed signs of delayed neurological development, weaker problem-solving skills, and poorer motor control compared to children that were not exposed. Another study indicated that children exposed prenatally to marijuana were more prone to attention deficit problems. However, a different study found no link between prenatal marijuana exposure and school performance. Studies have produced conflicting evidence on whether marijuana use contributes to low birth weight or the risk of birth defects, according to ACOG.

Essentially, the waters are murky. We know that endocannabinol receptors (the ones that bind with THC) have proven important for the neurological development of fetuses in animal studies, and exposure to the cannabinoids in THC can affect those receptors negatively. However, animal studies aren’t always a clear match for human studies and there simply isn’t much research on the role of endocannabinol receptors in human development.

Updated: The most recent research seems to suggest that marijuana is not, in fact, linked to preterm birth or low birth weight. A study from the Washington School of Medicine, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in September 2016, originally did find a link between marijuana and those problems. However, that increased risk went away when they accounted for whether the mothers smoked tobacco as well as marijuana. People who smoke pot are more likely to also smoke tobacco, which is clearly linked to preterm birth and low birth rate, so the researchers suggest that earlier studies were not taking tobacco use into account. They also note, however, that this study didn’t examine the long term effects of marijuana use and does not include any findings on the possibility that marijuana may affect fetal brain development.

Marijuana and Pregnancy: The Bottom Line

So, smoking pot while pregnant hasn’t been definitely proven unsafe for you or the baby. However, it also hasn’t been proven safe, and some studies do suggest that there may be risks associated with using marijuana during pregnancy. At the end of the day, you’ll need to be open with your doctor about whether you currently use marijuana or are considering it during your pregnancy. You and your doctor can work together to evaluate the risks and decide whether marijuana and pregnancy fit together for you. The answer may depend in part on the frequency and purpose of use. If you’re looking for treatment for morning sickness or anxiety, for example, there are other FDA-approved treatments that may work for you.

You should note that in some states, smoking pot while pregnant may be considered a criminal offense under certain child abuse laws and may result in the involvement of Child Protective Services. Before considering marijuana use, you should check out the laws in your state to determine whether that’s a risk.

14 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    May daughter in law used to calm her down and to obtain a appetite after having baby which was healthy cyfd became involved and now trying to take my grand baby need help live in New Mexico does anyone have any legal advise

  2. Kay Santanaa
    Kay Santanaa says:

    I’m Kay and I’m a 15 year old teen who uses marijuana as an a “escape.” I’ve found the use to help clear my thoughts and escape depression due to being a child whose mother is an active addict. I had found out i was pregnant at 9 weeks and 4 days , on April 28th i do believe. Before I had knew or had any idea I was a soon to be mom , I had used marijuana and I’m still using. When I had went to my first ultrasound , I found out my baby was healthy . I am now 11 weeks and 3 days and I’m going for my 12 week ultrasound may 31. God is good, just remember weed is not a drug, it’s a natural herb like the anonymous has said. In my beliefs I have had no problems so far, but i don’t use the marijuana daily.. Just a natural way to escape my mind. Go by what a doctor says though , everyone is different .

  3. Kylie Moe
    Kylie Moe says:

    I am currently writing a paper on the effects of marijuana on fetal development, this blog was a good read, but reiterates what I keep reading in multiple articles. There is not a lot of evidence, and I have seen that it has helped a lot of pregnant women with severe morning sickness and chronic pain. I think that if the alternative is your baby will be at danger due to how sick you are, then do what works for you to have the healthiest baby. I don’t know though if this would be my first choice, just because of the very similar chemicals and irritants between marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. I wish there was more info out there, this topic is super interesting to me. My mother smoked marijuana with all 4 of her pregnancies, so I am not judging anyone, just curious for more info. Great blog!

  4. Katelyn Lloyd
    Katelyn Lloyd says:

    I have seizures and have found that only a high CBD strain of marijuana stops them. I’m already a mom of one rambunctious two year old and I take care of my disabled mother. I can’t afford the two to four hours it takes to come back after a seizure. I only use my vape when preventing one from happening I didn’t use anything during my first pregnancy but I was living in Utah then and couldn’t legally buy what I needed. I’m now in Colorado and now finding what works for me, we are trying for a second baby and was wondering about risks but I think that with my limited use any baby I have will probably be fine.

  5. Lew
    Lew says:

    I too, am very interested in the negative side effects. All I can find as far as “reasearch” is the same ( to me- bull shit) saying preterm birth, ADHD….

    I smoked about a bowl a day with my first pregnancy. Which was cutting back from my normal. I was a work from home artist, making a living and supporting me and my husbands growing business. I have never smoked cigs in my life, I enjoyed a few sips of beer and a few small glasses of wine during my pregnancy.

    Because of where I live I knew a lot of “stoners” who have Children ranging from toddlers- 20 year old young adults. After talking to lots of them to clear my mind about my decision to smoke mj during pregnancy, they all said the same thing:

    My child is so easy going, gifted in school/ music/ arts/ sports… among other positives.

    I did not have morning sickness it was more of an anxiety reliever, I would get really worked up with having to create and it would settle me down and give me a chance to actually zero in and create/ function and not be stressed about the day to day.

    I didn’t smoke mj until I was 22. I do think it is negative for youngsters and I am very supportive of the age laws.

    All that being said, my son is 4. Started reading words before he was 3. Super social, very caring, still a young toddler boy who causes trouble and wants to eat all day… but the way he interacts with others, plays, his memory, his ability to read and comprehend so much, he was never a fussy baby, has slept all night since he was 5 months old, tries any food…..the reasearch has me dumb founded. I am also a stay at home mom now, have put the art to the side and have really found a new joy in being around my child, enjoying life with my child. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it either… I am now pregnant with my second, treating my pregnancy similarly, also eating well rounded food, staying active, getting rest, prenatal care….

    I would love to share this info with anyone. I am all sorts of supportive on finding some positive information about mj and pregnancy.

    Although I don’t share this with my OB because of judgement. 😕

  6. B The Queen
    B The Queen says:

    @ Lew I’m a new soon to be mother. I have heard so many different things. But by reading what you wrote it seems to me he’s just a normal kid. Even though you did.
    BTW it does help a lot from what I’ve seen so far I’m just afraid of any defects

  7. JustMe
    JustMe says:

    I started smoking in my second trimester. I have always smoked prior to pregnancy. I was starting to lose my mind, I needed to calm down and stop getting so stressed over small things. It was either being put on some BS meds or do what I’ve always done to just chill out my mind/body. It’s proven that stress is bad for the baby so overall it’s not the worst decision. I don’t drink at all, I’m active and eat well…. all should be good! If drinking was illegal would the doc say a glass here and there is ok…no! I also do not share this with my OB!

  8. MT
    MT says:

    There was a study that linked parental marijuana use to infertility in their daughters. My parents use is the single most negative factor in my life. Please do not think that because your kid can read or you have clear ultrasounds that everything is OK.

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This is my 3rd pregnancy, I had an abortion when I was 18, a miscarriage at 19 and now I’m 20 and I’m really hoping for the best with this one. I’m 9weeks and 3 days today and I smoke occasionally, I used to smoke about a Gram (sometimes more) a day everyday but now I really just take one good hit. And it’s not everyday . I’m normally very sick but I think I’ve realized that when I smoke my sickness and tender breast go away. And the next morning when I wake up I have hardly any symptoms. Now, I’m praying it’s from the MJ Bc I read that a miscarriage at 9 weeks include sudden stop of pregnancy symptoms.
    Everyone else has had about the same things happen for you right? After smoking your symptoms go away?

  10. Momo
    Momo says:

    I am 27 years old and have smoked every single day since I was 19. I found out I was pregnant and I slowed down, drastically and then stopped completely. But I am now 35 weeks pregnant WITH TWINS, naturally, and I began smoking again at the beginning of my 3rd trimester because I wasn’t eating anything otherwise. I smoke in order to provide nutrients to my babies, otherwise I feel they would be malnourished and underweight. My OB frowned upon it when I first mentioned it just because it’s illegal in my state, but smoking has not hurt my fertility, nor has it caused any complications in my pregnancy. Even with twins, I’ve had absolutely zero problems. My boys are extremely healthy and already weigh more than my high risk doctor thought they would (I only see the high risk doctor because there is multiples which is it’s own risk, not because anything is wrong with me or them). When I mentioned smoking to my OB a second time, stating I did it in order to eat, she pretty much disregarded what I said to begin with and said nothing about me smoking. My boys will be here in 2 weeks or less and are perfectly fine so far!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.