More women are using marijuana while pregnant, and it could be putting their babies at risk

  • A research letter published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics found that marijuana use among pregnant women has risen from 3% to 5% since 2002.
  • Though the reason for the uptick is unclear, some attribute it to the increasing legalization of marijuana across the country.
  • The risks of using marijuana while pregnant have not been studied as heavily as the risks of cigarette and alcohol use, both of which have decreased among pregnant women in the last 16 years.
  • Some risks include premature birth and poor visual-motor coordination.

While cigarette and alcohol use during pregnancy is on the decline, marijuana use during those nine-plus months is on the rise.

On Monday, JAMA Pediatrics published a research letter that found that marijuana use among pregnant women has risen in the US since 2002.

The letter, which looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2002 and 2016, evaluated responses from more than 12,000 women over the 14-year period. In 2002, 2.9% of women surveyed reported using cannabis while pregnant. In 2016, that number had almost doubled, reaching 5%.

Despite the increase in marijuana use, researchers found that cigarette and alcohol use among pregnant women had dropped in that same time span: 9.59% fell to 8.43% for alcohol use and 17.5% fell to 10.34% for cigarette use.

Still, the question remains: Why are more mums-to-be using marijuana? And how could marijuana use impact a child’s health?

Some mums-to-be may use marijuana to deal with pregnancy symptoms

The reason for the uptick in marijuana use is unclear, as the researchers merely evaluated usage, but relaxed marijuana laws across the country may have contributed to the increase in use, according to Time reporter Jamie Ducharme. Although that may be true, as ease of access can lead to more use, it doesn’t quite explain why mums-to-be are turning to marijuana more frequently.

It’s possible that many pregnant people are using marijuana to treat the less-than-pleasant side effects of pregnancy. In a 2015 interview with Vice, two mums-to-be said they used marijuana to cope with morning sickness. For one of the women, whose morning sickness was so severe she had to go to the hospital once a week, marijuana was also a cheaper alternative to the medicine her doctor prescribed ($US20 a gram compared to $US11 a pill).

Read more: Everything you need to know about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy condition that causes severe morning sickness

But morning sickness isn’t the only pregnancy symptom eased by marijuana use. According to NPR, several mums-to-be have reported using cannabis to manage excruciating back pain and pregnancy-related depression.

There is limited research regarding the effects that using marijuana while pregnant can have on a child, but effects do exist

While the women interviewed by Vice and NPR reported that their children were healthy from a physical and neurological standpoint, the few studies done on marijuana use during pregnancy have found that there are some negative side effects.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, psychoactive compounds in marijuana can enter the placenta and expose the foetus to up to 10% of the THC that the mother receives. This, according to several studies, can lead to poor visual-motor coordination, a decreased attention span, and behavioural issues down the line.

Read more: A mum’s newborn went into withdrawal, and doctors think a mysterious supplement with a viral following could be to blame

Additionally, Healthline reported that marijuana use while pregnant could lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and smaller head circumference and length. And, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, while there is no research done with humans that connects marijuana use to the chance of miscarriage, at least one study done with animals found that the risk for miscarriage increases if marijuana is used early in pregnancy.

It’s clear that more research needs to be done to determine the effects for a child of a mother using marijuana while pregnant. If you are pregnant and considering using marijuana, it is best to consult your obstetrician.

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