- A recent study shows babies born from mothers heavily using marijuana may face additional health concerns, including increased chances of being born prematurely or underweight.
- The study comes at a time where the percentage of pregnant women admitting to using marijuana has doubled from 3.5% to 7% between 2002 and 2017.
- It has been difficult for researchers to differentiate the effects of prenatal marijuana use from other factors, such as cigarette smoking, as up to 80% of pregnant marijuana users also smoke cigarettes.
- Few mothers involved in the study had a heavy marijuana use disorder, but this rate has increased from less than 3 per 1,000 in 2001, to almost 7 per 1,000 in 2012.
- Lab studies have shown high doses of marijuana may interfere with fetal growth and development. Further research is necessary, but this study suggests doctors to screen pregnant women for cannabis use disorder.
A recent study has found that babies born to mothers struggling with significant marijuana use, also known as cannabis use disorder, may face additional health challenges compared to other newborns.
Babies of such mothers were found to be 6% more likely to be born prematurely and had a 13% increased chance of being underweight or smaller for their gestational age – reflecting growth restriction within the womb.
An Increase in Cannabis Consumption Among Pregnant Women
The study, examining 4.8 million births in California, is conducted amidst rising cannabis use among pregnant women in the U.S. It is important to note that these results don’t necessarily imply that cannabis use directly caused these complications. However, it stands to reason that it is safer for pregnant women to abstain from unnecessary substances – marijuana in all its forms included.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, explained that many individuals mistakenly believe that marijuana’s plant-based nature makes it safe for use. This misconception, coupled with the legalization of recreational marijuana in a number of states, has likely led to an uptick in usage – pregnant women included.
A study by NIDA observed that between 2002 and 2017, the percentage of pregnant women in the U.S. who admitted to using marijuana in the last month doubled – from approximately 3.5% to 7%.
The Challenges in Determining the Effects of Marijuana on Pregnancy
Researchers have often found it difficult to isolate the effects of prenatal marijuana use from other confounding factors, chiefly, cigarette smoking. It is reported that up to 80% of women who consume marijuana during pregnancy also smoke cigarettes.
This recent study, published on April 22 in the journal Addiction, narrows its focus to regular marijuana users who do not consume tobacco. It also concentrates on cannabis use disorder, affecting pregnant women who use marijuana heavily. Previous studies may have skewed the true effects of regular cannabis use by lumpening occasional users with regular ones.
Cannabis use disorder diagnosis requires evidence of a problem – such as intense cravings for the drug, withdrawal symptoms, or continuous usage despite it causing issues at work or in personal relationships.
Findings of the Study
Although few pregnant women in the study had cannabis use disorder, the rate was found to increase over time – from less than 3 per 1,000 in 2001, to almost 7 per 1,000 in 2012.
Newborns of such mothers were observed to have higher chances of premature birth and being underweight compared to babies of mothers without the disorder. If mothers used both marijuana and tobacco, the risks heightened. However, even in the absence of cigarette smoking, marijuana usage was a risk factor nonetheless.
Another noticeable finding was the slightly higher infant mortality rate within the first year of life (less than 1%) among babies whose mothers heavily used marijuana – a 35% increased risk.
“This was a surprising finding,” Dr.Volkow stated, suggesting that it should be examined in further studies to test its validity.
What Does This All Mean?
Yuyan Shi, the study’s lead and an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, asserted that the study doesn’t provide definitive proof of these effects. However, she believed these results should encourage doctors to screen pregnant women for cannabis use disorder.
Laboratory studies have shown that high doses of marijuana can interfere with the growth and development of a fetus. THC – the component responsible for the marijuana “high” – has been shown to cross the placenta, resulting in its effects being felt by the fetus. Cannabinoid receptors, which are triggered by THC, start to develop in a fetus during the first trimester.
While many consider eating cannabis-infused products to be a safer consumption method, Dr. Volkow warned they can also lead to overdosing issues.
Dr. Volkow urged women who struggle with quitting marijuana use to consult with a healthcare professional. Although not many women in this study were diagnosed with cannabis use disorder, it is probably underdiagnosed. Many people, she explained, don’t identify they have an issue until they attempt to cut back and find it a struggle.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has additional details on the potential impacts of cannabis use during pregnancy.