Marijuana and Pregnancy: Just the Facts

marijuana and pregnancy

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marijuana and pregnancy

Is it Safe to Use Marijuana During Pregnancy?

Marijuana has gone through a lot of ups and downs in public opinion in the past 100-odd years and marijuana is currently experiencing a serious upswing. Canada has recently legalized marijuana, seven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 29 more states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Almost half of Americans admit to having tried weed at least once in their lives, and just over 1 in 10 say they’ve smoked marijuana within the past year. That makes marijuana the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S.

There’s plenty of debate about the health effects of marijuana in general, but how does marijuana 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 marijuana during pregnancy, we first need to take a look at how marijuana affects the body in general. The main psychoactive component in weed is delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol, usually abbreviated to “THC.” When you take in THC (usually by smoking, although you can also “vape” or eat marijuana), 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 naturally produced by your body that is responsible for a variety of immune and neurological functions.

When THC from marijuana 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 weed use. Smoking marijuana 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, marijuana 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 marijuana and an increased risk of lung cancer is unclear. A 2012 study of over 5,000 participants found that occasional weed smoking caused no adverse effects on the lungs, although heavy weed smokers are prone to inflammation of the airways, leading to coughing and wheezing. Finally, marijuana cannot cause death by overdose.


Smoking Marijuana During Pregnant Facts: The Baby

Knowing the facts on marijuana usage while pregnant is difficult. Not only because we can’t ethically do a study on pregnant mother’s using marijuana but because all the paper that have come out so far have had varying reported long-term effects. Although there is not a paper out today that concludes how much marijuana could be bad for a pregnancy we are also still waiting on the same paper for alcohol consumption effects on pregnancy. Even a recent study from Canada in 2017 found different long-term results for children exposed to marijuana in the womb than 3 others previously. What we do know are the things that all of the studies have had in common and what effects marijuana has on the growing minds of teen.

  • Marijuana can enter the bloodstream of an unborn baby after the mother smokes marijuana
  • Marijuana reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the fetus
  • Lack of blood and oxygen can affect growth and development of a fetus
  • Marijuana tends to lead to a small birth weight
  • Marijuana has been found to decrease mental development in teens and increase memory loss


Smoking Marijuana During Pregnant Facts: The Mother

Just like alcohol there is nothing inherently wrong with the smoking of marijuana for a adult in a country or state where it is legal to do so but once you become pregnant, marijuana and alcohol become harmful for the baby. The mother may not know at first that they are pregnant when they consume drugs like marijuana or alcohol and there can be risks for both. Catching a pregnancy early on or practicing safe sex practices can help to prevent the risks associated with marijuana consumption but mothers should know that the THC found in marijuana can be present in the body for up to 63 days. Some studies have found that a small amount may not harm the baby, but like alcohol we have no way of knowing how much is a small amount and how much causes adverse affects and is best avoided or stopped after discovering a pregnancy. But what effects can smoking marijuana have on the mother.

  • Some say that marijuana can cure morning sickness but no results have come back confirming or denying this
  • Smoking marijuana could lead to even more forgetfulness on top of pregnancy brain
  • Marijuana could make you more clumsy or prone to fall
  • Marijuana could make you unable to operate a vehicle
  • Smoking marijuana could leave you anemic which could be very bad for both you and your baby


Why Smoke Marijuana During Pregnancy?

What’s the motivation for smoking weed while pregnant? First off, expectant mothers may have already been using marijuana and simply enjoy marijuana. 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 Marijuana 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 marijuana 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 weed 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 marijuana 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.

That said, 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 weed 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.

See also: Baby Development: Types and Signs of Brain Damage


Marijuana and Pregnancy: The Bottom Line

So, smoking weed while pregnant hasn’t been definitely proven unsafe for you or the baby. However, marijuana 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 marijuana 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 weed 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 risk to smoke weed.

10 replies
  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. Ccs
    Ccs says:

    I used MJ regularly before I got pregnant 3.5 years ago and kept smoking until I was 17 weeks. My little boy is almost 3 now and he’s perfect. I will admit that any delay he had (walking, talking), I blamed myself for those 17 weeks.

    Now, he’s so healthy, happy, and totally advanced for his age. I do not attribute my MJ use to his development any longer. I stopped MJ at 17 weeks gestation, but still indulged in a glass of wine or a beer here and there until his birth at 37 weeks.

    My advice is that if your MJ use reduces your anxiety like it does mine, I will always recommend it above prescription drugs.

  6. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I’m 13 weeks pregnant I’m 21 years old I do smoke weed sometimes not all the time and so I have seizures and anxiety so I smoke to help that. I get paranoid when I smoke because it can cause negative effects on the baby when it’s unborn but I’ve also read and heard good things about smoking . I had s miscarriage a few years ago.

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