Medical Cannabis Use During Pregnancy

Pregnant Woman SmokingIn the past few years, medical marijuana has been growing in popularity and many states are in the process of legalizing the usage of it. Current trends indicate that the use of the drug has significantly increased in the last decade, with one study showing that 20% of pregnant women aged 24 and under tested positive for marijuana.

Before we get started with the article, let's summarize. Taking marijuana while pregnant is not recommended. Any kind of drug should be avoided during pregnancy to avoid potential complications.

How bad is it to take marijuana during pregnancy? We do not completely know. There has been little research studying the effects of marijuana during pregnancy. But there are new studies are proving that marijuana usage can increase the risk of birth defects and other developmental delays in newborns. Below we talk about how marijuana is used during pregnancy and the complications associated with it.

What is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana is a type of marijuana that is prescribed to patients to treat specific health conditions, such as cancer, HIV, chronic pain disorders, anxiety, and depression. In states where recreational usage is still illegal, many of them have legalized medical usage based on doctors believing it can be used as an alternative treatment on its own or in conjunction with standard medications. Despite its new popularity, the FDA has not approved marijuana as an effective or safe medicine to treat any type of health condition. It has definitely helped some patients even if it is not the miracle herb many make it out to be.

The most common reason for pregnant women using medical marijuana is to treat morning sickness during the first few months of pregnancy. Some doctors are able to prescribe medical marijuana to pregnant women for their nausea even though there are risks associated with it. We have no clue what these doctors are thinking. You should know that using any amount of marijuana during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby and should be avoided at all costs. If you're struggling to handle chronic nausea, it's best to reach out to your primary care physician and talk about safer ways to treat the problem.

How is Medical Marijuana Commonly Used?

Nowadays, there are several different ways people can use medical marijuana. It's important to be aware of which methods are used in order to avoid accidentally inhaling or ingesting the drug. Marijuana is most often used in the form of smoking by using hand-rolled cigarettes (joints), cigars, or in a handheld pipe. Smoking marijuana is not just harmful by using the drug itself, inhaling any kind of smoke can have severe impacts on a baby's health. Babies who are exposed to smoke in the womb are at increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and birth defects.

Marijuana can also be mixed in with foods, such as brownies, candy, or other kinds of sweets. Expecting mothers should take extra precaution to avoid accidentally ingesting these foods since there is no obvious way to tell if there is marijuana mixed in with it. Marijuana in this form is also known to be much more potent than smoking or vaping because large amounts of the drug can be easily baked into small amounts of food.

One of the more recent ways to use marijuana is in the form of extracts. These extracts are commonly referred to as dabs, and they are specifically made to have high amounts of THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes psychological effects or the "high" feeling. Extracts can come in the form of oil, wax, or as a hardened substance known as shatter. Compared to other forms of marijuana, extracts provide the most amount of THC being ingested into the body. To use dabs, lighter fluid is commonly used to ignite the substance and bring it to a very high temperature. This can be especially dangerous to your baby as it receives large amounts of THC and is exposed to the chemicals found in lighter fluid.

How Does Marijuana Affect Your Baby?

The biggest problem with marijuana usage and pregnancy is the current lack of information about the way it can impact a developing child. Marijuana legalization is spreading much faster than research can keep up with and it may take years for there to be a final conclusion on what kind of negative effects are associated with usage. Still, with the few studies available, there has been increasing evidence showing that using marijuana while pregnant can cause developmental delays, birth defects, and, in some cases, a stillbirth. There can be adverse effects even after the child is born, although these are usually temporary. Some of these studies are still in the animal testing phase, but results are being used to apply to humans as a precautionary measure. Some of the risks involved with marijuana usage during pregnancy include:

Regardless of the amount of research available on marijuana, any kind of drug usage while pregnant is recommended against. You want to avoid exposing your baby to any kind of unnecessary chemicals that could impact their health. In social environments, marijuana is often used in combination with cigarettes, alcohol, or other kinds of drugs, which can make it harder to identify how marijuana is affecting a developing fetus. In addition to that, it's best to stay as healthy as possible during pregnancy, and marijuana can cause symptoms that affect your general health, including:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Lung problems from smoke inhalation
  • Difficult or disrupted sleeping
  • Poor coordination and balance
Can I use Medical Marijuana While Breastfeeding?

You should avoid using marijuana while breastfeeding because of the risks involved. One study has shown that moderate amounts of THC can be transferred into breast milk when a mother is using marijuana. If the mother is using marijuana regularly, this can cause a high concentration of THC to build up in the breast milk. Since the baby's brain is still developing, consuming THC while nursing could affect their brain development. There is also some evidence showing that exposure to THC while breastfeeding can result in decreased motor development at 1 year of age. It's recommended to avoid marijuana completely until you have finished nursing your child.

Where can I get Help?

If you're having trouble quitting marijuana, talk to your doctor to find available resources or to discuss safer ways to handle symptoms associated with pregnancy. For chronic users, you can also reach out to different substance abuse organizations to start taking the necessary steps to curb marijuana usage. Some helpful organizations can be found below:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
    • 1-800-662-4357
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
    • 1-800-622-2255

Medical marijuana can prove to be helpful for many people dealing with health conditions, but a baby should never be exposed to unknown chemicals that could be hazardous to their health. Providing a drug-free environment for your child is the best way to ensure that they do not experience any complications related to usage.

Quitting marijuana can be a hard task, especially when you've developed a dependency on it, but there is help available. It may be beneficial to reach out to friends and family and ask that they don't use or bring up marijuana in social situations in order to deter any kind of temptation. In general, if you don't know what kinds of ingredients or chemicals are being used in any kind of substance, it's best to stay away from it.

Sources and Additional Literature

Leemaqz, S. Y., et al. (2016). Maternal marijuana use has independent effects on risk for spontaneous preterm birth but not on other common late pregnancy complications. Reproductive Toxicology, 62, 77-86.

Bertrand, K. A., et al. (2018). Marijuana Use by Breastfeeding Mothers and Cannabinoid Concentrations in Breast Milk. Pediatrics, 142(3).

Grzeskowiak, L., et al. (2018). Impaired neonatal outcomes following maternal marijuana use during pregnancy: evidence from the international SCOPE study. Reproductive Toxicology, 80, 134-135.

El Marroun, H., et al. (2009). Intrauterine cannabis exposure affects fetal growth trajectories: the Generation R Study. Journal of Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(12), 1173-81.

Astley, S., & Little, R. (1990). Maternal marijuana use during lactation and infant development at one year. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 12(2), 161-8.