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Does Marijuana Use During and After Pregnancy Harm The Baby?

Current studies demonstrate the calming effects of marijuana use on mental and physical stresses in the body. Marijuana use is appropriate for the medical treatment of certain diseases because it can alleviate pain and stimulate appetite. While there is potential that marijuana could ease the unpleasant side effects that accompany pregnancy, using the drug could harm the baby. There is little research on this topic because it would be unethical to subject pregnant women to an experimental study that could harm the unborn child.

Marijuana Use While Pregnant

Despite the lack of research and medical advice, some women have used marijuana while pregnant to combat intense nausea and vomiting. One study revealed that 20% of young pregnant women (24 years old and younger) tested positive for marijuana while pregnant. These statistics are not fully representative, as other studies have shown that women are two times less likely to self-report positive for marijuana use during pregnancy than when screened via a clinical study. Another study of the marijuana market, specifically dispensaries, discovered that workers encouraged women to use marijuana to alleviate nausea that comes with morning sickness, despite not being trained to give medical advice. Because this weed-based remedy is not backed by medical experts, this advice is potentially negligent and harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

To date, no research connects miscarriages with marijuana use in humans, but animal studies have demonstrated that the risk for miscarriage does increase with marijuana use in early pregnancy. It’s unclear whether marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight or premature birth, as there is mixed data and not enough direct evidence. It is believed that enough marijuana use could increase the risk for premature birth and low birth weight. There has been enough data to demonstrate that women who use marijuana before childbirth are twice as likely to have a fetal loss in the womb after 20 weeks in pregnancy or have a stillbirth.

Long Term Effects On the Baby

Research has been done on the long-term effects of marijuana use on the baby if the mother used it while pregnant. Connections were found between future developmental and hyperactivity disorders in children if the mother used marijuana during pregnancy. Animal studies have suggested that when mothers consume even moderate amounts of THC when pregnant or breastfeeding, long-term effects like disrupted stress, social, and learning responsiveness may affect the child for the rest of his or her life. Human mothers who used marijuana during their pregnancy were also found to have children who may have trouble responding to visual stimuli and stressful situations. These children have a tendency early on to respond with a high-pitched cry, suggesting neurological issues and slowed development. The long-term effects of prenatal marijuana use become evident in early school years as children predisposed to THC in the womb may begin to fall behind and “show gaps in problem-solving skills, memory, and ability to remain attentive.”

Marijuana Use After Pregnancy

Even after birth, the use of marijuana has the potential to harm the baby’s development via breast milk. While data on the connection between marijuana and breastfeeding is scarce, a study from 1982 discovered that varying amounts of THC can be carried into the breast milk consumed by the baby if the mother continues to use marijuana while breastfeeding. Another study from 1990 provided evidence that ingesting THC from a mother’s breast milk within the first 30 days of life can lead to inhibited motor development in the infant’s first year. The accumulation of THC in breast milk can lead to the infant ingesting high concentrations of THC and suffering from slowed brain development as a result. Interestingly enough, there is not enough data to conclude that ingesting THC from breast milk will affect the child later in life, but with the impact on early development, marijuana use while nursing is discouraged.

Understanding the Risks

With the drug’s ability to impact the developing human brain, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocates that obstetrician-gynecologists advise women to not use marijuana when trying to conceive, while pregnant, or while nursing. The FDA also discourages the use of marijuana, vaping products, or illegal substances during pregnancy.

There is enough supporting evidence to claim that marijuana use during and after pregnancy has the potential to influence the infant’s development. It is also important to note that the infant’s environment outside of the womb is also influential. Further research is needed to account for the other environmental factors that could be linked with the mother’s drug use. Preventing marijuana use in mothers may help prevent their children from using marijuana themselves. Research from 2015 has explored the idea that “prenatal marijuana exposure is also associated with an increased likelihood of a person using marijuana as a young adult, even when other factors that influence drug use are considered.” Pregnant mothers should nourish their babies with healthy sustenance and avoid using drugs unless otherwise advised by their principal health professional.

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