Experts warn against increase in pregnant women smoking marijuana

Pregnant women smoking marijuana say DRUG helps with pain and nausea, but experts say it could lead to host of childhood issues

  • Cannabis is now the most used federally illegal drug among pregnant women
  • Mounting evidence suggests cannabis could lead to long-term health effects 
  • READ MORE: One in 50 women admit using cannabis while pregnant where legal

Despite the harmful side effects, some pregnant women are refusing to give up marijuana use while pregnant.  

Cannabis is the most commonly used federally illegal drug among pregnant women in the United States, with use among the group doubling between 2002 and 2017, the latest year data is available. 

In some areas of the US up to one-quarter of pregnant women use marijuana during pregnancy, a recent study in the journal JAMA found. 

However, mounting evidence suggests using cannabis during pregnancy could lead to lifelong complications for both mother and baby, including developmental delays, behavioral disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stillbirth.

‘Despite research advances and changes in public health practices, there remains a significant gap in knowledge regarding the effects of cannabis use in perinatal health outcomes,’ the study authors wrote. 

The researchers said in-utero cannabis exposure has been linked to several adverse health effects for offspring, including small birth weight, admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and preterm birth. 

This could be due to THC, the active substance in marijuana that makes users feel high. 

Obstetrician and gynecologist (OBGYN) Dr Staci Tanouye said in a TikTok video: ‘THC is a small molecule and does cross the placenta, so babies are exposed to it.’

And the fetal brain can be exposed to the drug as early as 14 weeks, she said.

A study published last year from Perinatal Services British Columbia found marijuana use during pregnancy was most commonly linked to low birthweight, preterm birth, congenital defects, gestational diabetes, and increased risk of C-section

Cannabis is the most commonly used federally illegal drug among pregnant women in the United States, with use among pregnant women doubling between 2002 and 2017, the latest year data is available. 

Use tends to be highest in states where recreational marijuana is legal, such as California, Colorado, and Oregon.

A survey published last week found among 53 pregnant women in northern California who self-identified as cannabis users, 70 percent reported consuming it every day. On average, the participants were about 30 years old and at 20 weeks gestation. 

Last year, researchers in Canada found that one in 50 pregnant women used cannabis in legalized areas. 

The same study found that mothers-to-be who used cannabis were 32 percent more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and 13 percent more likely to need a C-section, which increases risks for both mother and baby during delivery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (SCOG) both urge pregnant women not to use cannabis. 

However, many pregnant women continue to use the drug, saying it quells symptoms like nausea, insomnia, pain, and stress.

A 28-year-old nonbinary user on TikTok who goes by the username ganondorfsmuse said in a video their doctor suggested they use cannabis to prevent dangerous weight loss during their pregnancy.  

‘I lost 65 pounds during my high-risk pregnancy,’ they said. 

‘At one point my OBGYN closed the door when my nurse wasn’t in there and said, “I didn’t tell you this, but smoking would help you. You need to keep some food down, so you need to do whatever you need to do to keep some food down.”‘

Despite the advice, the user said they didn’t end up consuming any cannabis while pregnant.  

A search for ‘using pot while pregnant’ has more than 37 million views on the social media site, as more and more mothers share their experience with cannabis during their pregnancies. 

A user named Aija shared on TikTok she started using cannabis during the first three months of her pregnancy.

‘In the beginning I was very nauseous, so I needed it for that,’ she said.

‘I couldn’t eat. It helped me eat. It helped me go to sleep. I was in a lot of pain.’

Aija (left) and Maurlyde (right) both used cannabis during pregnancy and claim their children are doing well 

Cassy Hart (left) claimed she felt so sick after stopping marijuana during pregnancy her doctor recommended she go back on it. A TikTok user who goes by ganondorfsmuse (right) said their doctor said they should try THC so they could keep food down

Aija also said she has scoliosis, which made pregnancy put more strain on her back.

‘And no, I didn’t ask the doctor for any pain meds because I’d rather take something natural than that,’ Aija said. 

She stopped using marijuana at 31 weeks.  

She also claimed her toddler, who she shows in the video, has suffered no ill effects from the cannabis. 

‘She’s smart. She knows a couple signs. She says “mom” and “dad.” She hit all of her milestones on time, some of them before time,’ she said. 

‘It’s just a plant. Give it a chance.’ 

A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology suggested using cannabis in the first six to 14 weeks of pregnancy could lead to several adverse birth effects, including poor fetal growth, stillbirth, and an increased risk of pregnancy-related high blood pressure, which could be life threatening.  

Additionally, a May study published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics found when mothers used marijuana during the first three months of pregnancy, their babies were on average one-third of a pound smaller than babies whose mothers did not use cannabis. 

Dr Beth Bailey, lead author of that study and director of population health research at Central Michigan University, told CNN: ‘Low birth weight is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s health and development long-term.

‘These kids are more prone to developmental delays, higher rates of ADHD, learning disabilities, and have higher rates of emotional problems.’

OBGYN Dr Staci Tanouye said in a TikTok video: ‘THC is a small molecule and does cross the placenta, so babies are exposed to it.’ As early as 14 weeks, the fetal brain can be exposed to cannabis, she said

TikTok users cbedoinit (left) and Savannah Buffington (right) said they trusted cannabis during pregnancy more than conventional drugs like antipsychotics and anti-nausea drugs like Zofran

A study published last year in JAMA Pediatrics found prenatal cannabis exposure after five to six weeks of pregnancy is associated with attention, social and behavioral problems that persist into early adolescence.

And research on pregnant rhesus monkeys found those who consumed a daily edible containing THC were more likely to have changes in the gene expressions in their placenta and fetuses that have been associated with ADHD and autism. 

Dr Tanouye said in her video that marijuana use during pregnancy can be difficult to study due to confounding factors such as how far along the women are and other conditions they may have, but in general, most health agencies recommend against it.

TikToker Cassy Hart said in a video she ‘was a heavy smoker until 22 weeks.’

‘I smoked again at 28 weeks, and at 30 weeks I stopped until she was born.’

Marijuana use in the US 

The annual Monitoring the Future survey reported that marijuana and hallucinogen use among 19-30 year olds was up

The proportion of young adults who reported past-year marijuana use reached 43 percent in 2021

That is a significant increase from 34 per cent in 2016 and 29 percent in 2011. 

Marijuana use in the previous month among 19-30 year olds reached 29% in 2021 compared to 21% in 2016 and 17% in 2011 

Daily marijuana use also significantly increased during these time periods, reported by 11% of young adults in 2021, compared to 8% in 2016 and 6% in 2011 

The report said that alcohol remains the most used substance among adults

About her toddler, she said: ‘We know colors. We know one, two, three. We know sign language. We can talk.’

‘There’s nothing wrong.’

Ms Hart began smoking again after pregnancy and during breastfeeding. 

A commenter asked: ‘You couldn’t stop smoking for just 9 months?? Even though its not that bad but wouldn’t u want your baby to be healthy?’

Ms Hart replied: ‘I did stop which resulted in me and my baby getting very sick. That’s when my doc suggested we continue.’

Another user named Maurlyde said in a video: ‘I consumed every two hours when I was pregnant…sometimes more, depending on how I was, and that’s what I did throughout my whole pregnancy.’

Some mothers on TiKTok claim marijuana has been less harmful to them than conventional medications. 

User Savannah Buffington said in a video about her cannabis use: ‘It’s better than the antipsychotic drugs they want to give me.’

A 2021 review from JAMA concluded that antipsychotic use during pregnancy poses no threat to unborn children.

Additionally, a user who goes by cbedoinit said she was initially against smoking weed while pregnant, until she began having issues eating and drinking. 

‘I stopped smoking, and I was not able to drink or eat anything. I kept having to go to the hospital until I started smoking, and then I was able to keep food down and have a normal pregnancy,’ she said.

‘And if you look, marijuana can only cause low birth weight in babies, which my baby didn’t have a low birth weight.

‘And the Zofran [an anti-nausea drug] that they prescribe for you can cause a s***t-ton of issues with your baby, so I refused to take that just like a lot of other women.’ 

A 2016 study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found no evidence linking Zofran to birth defects. 

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