Although most states, including most recently Virginia, have eased restrictions on the recreational or medical use of marijuana, expectant moms should take note of serious studies that show pot, especially in heavy consumption, isn’t great for the health of unborn babies.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego examined a decade of medical records of 5 million or so women in the Golden State, carefully comparing those who used marijuana heavily versus those who did not. Their results, published in a scientific journal, offered a warning, as NBC News reported:
“Babies born to women who were heavy cannabis users during pregnancy are more likely to have health problems, including premature birth and death within a year of birth, compared to babies born to women who did not use cannabis during pregnancy.”
As the news article further explained:
“When they compared infant outcomes from the two groups, they found that babies born to women who used cannabis frequently were 6% more likely to be born premature, 13% more likely to have a low birthweight and 35% more likely to die within their first year. The finding that babies whose mothers used cannabis were more likely to die within the first year, ‘I have not seen before,’ said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which provided funding for the research.”
It is important to note that the study focused on records and not direct examination of patients. Researchers could not determine what type of marijuana their subjects used (smoked versus ingestibles), nor the exact amounts, though the records clearly indicate the consumption was not casual but frequent and even excessive. The size of the group scrutinized and its zeroing in on diagnosed heavy users added to its credibility, experts said.
Rigorous marijuana research has lagged because lawmakers at the federal level, in particular, have taken blue-nosed approaches, declining to fund drug studies and making them difficult, including by restricting material supplies. Marijuana advocates, on the other hand, may have reacted to extreme views of the drug (aka the “demon weed”) — including by recent and outspoken critics — by becoming too dismissive.
It would be a reasonable middle ground to note that expectant moms need to take an abundance of precautions to safeguard their children, including, at the least, restricting or avoiding risky substances — not only marijuana but also alcohol, which did not have its pregnancy harms detailed until relatively recently.
The researchers said policy makers should consider requiring vendors to post warnings about pot and pregnancy in shops and they urged that marijuana packages might carry similar warnings (as tobacco cigarettes do regarding cancer risks).
The need for such steps may have increased urgency, as studies show rising marijuana use among young, pregnant women — with as many as 7% of expectant moms reporting in studies that they smoke or ingest the drug. Experts have warned women that they also should not self-medicate, using marijuana to deal with pregnancy-related nausea and appetite issues.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the injuries that babies and children can suffer, including due to dangerous drugs.
More research is needed about marijuana and its potential risks. It is under way. As of now, neither its opponents nor its advocates have advanced the idea that pot is powerfully addictive, though it may prove to be a gateway to more serious substance abuse. That said, as with booze, marijuana consumption may be more of a choice — and a use that can be turned away.
Our kids are our future, and parents, almost universally, want to give their youngsters the best and brightest opportunities to thrive and prosper. If you’re not using marijuana and potentially having a child, don’t take up the drug. If you are using it, especially recreationally, why not stop — for awhile or longer, for your child’s sake. We have lots of work to do to safeguard expectant moms, the unborn, and babies and infants, especially from preventable harms.