A new study by Columbia University has revealed that marijuana among women of reproductive age has increased by 62 percent in the last decade. Furthermore, between 2 and 5 percent of women have reported marijuana use during pregnancy.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists(ACOG), marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug among pregnant women in the US. Additionally, studies have noted that between 48 and 60% of regular marijuana users continue their use of the substance during pregnancy.
With several states on the path to legalizing recreational marijuana—29 of which have already legalized the use of medical marijuana—many pregnant women across the US are using marijuana to combat the debilitating symptoms of nausea throughout pregnancy.
While the effects of marijuana on an unborn child still require medical research, the ACOG, in addition to the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP), both advise against marijuana use by pregnant women.
Effects on the Unborn Child
Related effects of alcohol and nicotine use to unborn children have been well-documented, as well as many other, more illicit substances, including opioids. Less research has been performed in regard to long-term marijuana use by pregnant mothers.
As only 2-5% of pregnant women in the Columbia study admitted to using marijuana, research related to the upswing in use amongst women of reproductive age is still in the early stages.
Dr. Deborah Hasin, co-author of the study at Columbia, stated that, “Although the prevalence of past-month use among pregnant women is not high, the increases over time and potential adverse consequences of prenatal marijuana exposure suggest further monitoring and research are warranted.”
When a pregnant mother smokes or ingest marijuana in some form, THC is transmitted to the fetus through the placenta. THC can also be passed from a nursing mother through breast milk.
Research remains inconclusive, though many studies on animals have suggested adverse effects of marijuana on fetus brain development and birth weight. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reflected upon these risks, but has also mentioned the difficulty of separating marijuana’s effects from other environmental factors, such as the use of other substances.
The AAP’s 2013 study discussed the effects of prenatal substance use at length, summarizing that marijuana use, in particular, can attribute to, “pharmacologic actions on developing biological systems, altered uterine blood flow, and altered maternal health behaviors.
The study goes on to mention that, long-term, children who were exposed to marijuana in-utero are more likely to demonstrate inattention and issues with impulse control at age 10. Mothers’ marijuana use has also been associated with lack of problem-solving skills and academic underachievement in exposed children.
The AAP ultimately concluded that children exposed to marijuana prior to birth were also more likely to eventually use marijuana or nicotine themselves.
While research related to alcohol and nicotine use in pregnancy remains more dominant, the inconclusive evidence related to prenatal marijuana use is still concerning, particularly as marijuana use becomes more common.
As one study published in 2015 noted, most research regarding the subject was performed in the 1980s. Many factors have changed since then.
“Contemporary marijuana products have higher quantities of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol than in the 1980s when much of the marijuana research was completed,” the study stated.
As it remains unknown to what magnitude marijuana use will affect an unborn child, leading experts suggest that pregnant women abstain, therefore avoiding the risks that been associated with prenatal exposure. Alternative therapies are recommended to combat nausea and other pregnancy-related conditions, as questions regarding safety continue to rise.