Is It Okay To Use Cannabis During Pregnancy? Here’s The Truth
Cannabis is legal in some states and is set to be legalized across Canada on October 17. With all the news surrounding the drug, it’s a widely debated topic. If you’re pregnant, you may be wondering if it’s safe to use marijuana during pregnancy.
In fact, one in 14 pregnant women in California uses marijuana during pregnancy, according to a 2017 study. Researchers also noted that use among pregnant women is rising in every age group.
In this post, we’ll outline what the evidence says about using marijuana during pregnancy. If you’re wondering if CBD-based medications are okay, we’ll cover that at the end of the post, too.
Is It Okay to Use Cannabis During Pregnancy?
You know that it’s bad to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during pregnancy, but when it comes to marijuana, the answer is less clear.
Smoking Cannabis is a Definitive No
Before we dive into whether marijuana is safe, you should know that there are different forms of cannabis that can be consumed in a variety of ways. Most commonly, marijuana is used in dry plant form, but it can also be made into tinctures, edibles, lotions, oils and other concentrates. These products can be smoked, vaporized, ingested or taken topically or sublingually.
It’s important to note that smoking marijuana is unsafe—not necessarily because of the drug but because of the act of smoking. Heating plant material and inhaling it can cause various lung problems for everyone let alone pregnant women. Also, some people roll joints that also contain tobacco, which is very harmful to a fetus. As you know, smoking is a big no-no during pregnancy, and this includes smoking cannabis. Doctors who prescribe marijuana recommend that their patients instead consider inhaling vaporized marijuana since it’s less harsh on the lungs.
There are safer ways to consume cannabis, but are these other methods okay during pregnancy? Putting smoking aside, we’re going to focus on the safety of the drug.
What the Professionals Say
Most pregnancy-related organizations warn against using cannabis during pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that doctors encourage pregnant patients to stop using marijuana, even if it’s for medicinal purposes.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) says that pregnant women or those contemplating pregnancy should discontinue their cannabis use.
However, advice from professionals can be conflicting. For example, midwives in Maryland are now allowed to prescribe cannabis to pregnant women.
Research on Cannabis and Pregnancy
Other than recreational use, some pregnant women use cannabis to alleviate symptoms such as nausea, appetite loss or anxiety. Cannabis has shown to help with these ailments, but is it safe to use during pregnancy?
Possible Short-Term Effects
Researchers say that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can cross the placenta and enter the baby’s bloodstream. This could expose the fetus to about 10% of the THC the mother receives.
There isn’t much evidence to suggest that cannabis can cause serious issues such as miscarriage, preterm birth or physical disabilities. A 2010 CDC study found that cannabis use didn’t seem to be associated with low birth weight or preterm birth. In addition, a 1992 study found that cannabis didn’t have any measurable effect on a baby’s development.
However, some studies contradict these findings. A 2017 study found that fetuses exposed to marijuana may be about three times more likely to have lower birth weights. Another 2017 study found that exposure to THC affected the brain development of mice on the molecular level. However, it’s not clear whether these findings translate into adverse effects on humans. In addition, the study used smoked cannabis—so it’s unknown whether another administration method would have the same results.
Although marijuana may not have immediate negative effects on a baby, parents may start noticing some as their child grows older.
Possible Long-Term Effects
One 2016 study investigated how marijuana exposure in the womb impacts how the brain functions in young adulthood. Researchers compared children who were exposed to marijuana to those who weren’t by making them perform a variety of tasks. Although the children exposed to marijuana performed similar to the ones who weren’t, researchers found that they needed to use more brain regions to do so. In other words, it took a lot more effort to complete the same tasks.
A 2013 study observed the effects of prenatal exposure to cannabis on children who were 10-years-old. Researchers found that exposure was associated with inattention, impulsivity and minor learning and memory differences. Although it didn’t impact a child’s overall IQ, it was associated with a reduced ability to read and spell.
With this being said, some studies don’t find any adverse risks associated with cannabis use during pregnancy. A 2016 review of research concluded that, after adjusting for other factors, marijuana didn’t appear to harm a fetus.
“The association between maternal marijuana use and adverse outcomes appears attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors,” the authors wrote.
The Results are Conflicting—Here’s Why
As you can probably tell, studies on cannabis and pregnancy are conflicting. Research is just in its early stages and probably will be for a while. Unlike other medications, which are a specific drug taken at a specific dose in a specific way, cannabis has many more factors that need to be investigated. These include the type of cannabis (strain), the form of cannabis, how it’s consumed and the dose.
In addition, although there are several studies on marijuana and pregnancy, there isn’t much research investigating its long-term effects on fetuses. Many studies focus on smoking cannabis as opposed to safer methods of taking the drug. It can also be hard for researchers to rule out other factors that may play a role in the effects. For example, some researchers have found exposure is associated with inattention later in life. However, if a mother is using cannabis to self-medicate for ADHD, her child may be genetically predisposed, meaning that inattention may not be the result of exposure.
For this reason, it could be some time before we fully understand its effect on pregnant women.
CBD and Pregnancy
There are two main chemicals in cannabis: THC and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is the ingredient that makes the user feel high. On the other hand, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning that it won’t make the user high, but it will still have medicinal effects. CBD may help alleviate pain, anxiety, seizures and more. For this reason, there are several high-CBD, low-THC medicines available. However, are these safe for pregnant women?
It’s important to recognize that there are two main forms CBD is sold in. Cannabis-based CBD usually still contains a little THC. Researchers believe the two chemicals interact to make each other work better medicinally together than they would alone (called the entourage effect). Although high-CBD products typically don’t contain enough THC to make you feel high, it’s unclear whether trace amounts of THC can affect the baby.
The second type of CBD product is hemp-based CBD. Although these products contain no THC (making it potentially safer), they are often less effective and medicinal for that same reason.
When it comes to how CBD effects pregnancy, there’s even less research. Some people theorize that because CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive effects, it’s a safe alternative. However, the truth is that we don’t know. More studies need to be conducted before we understand how CBD may affect a developing fetus.
Bottom Line on Marijuana and Pregnancy
There is not enough evidence to conclusively say that it’s safe or unsafe to use cannabis during pregnancy. For this reason, most professionals urge you to err on the side of caution until they have more research.
If you want to use cannabis to alleviate a pregnancy symptom, ask your doctor if there are safer and clinically-tested alternatives.
Some people think doctors are biased against marijuana and hold a stigma towards it, but that’s not necessarily true. For example, many doctors recommend against certain medications (like certain anti-depressants) because their safety hasn’t been fully tested on pregnant women.
If you currently use cannabis recreationally or medically, you should talk to your doctor. Research isn’t conclusive on how marijuana effects breastfeeding either, so now is a good time to stop to be on the safe side.
If you’re having trouble quitting, inquire about what addiction resources are available. Some people may continue using cannabis despite their doctor’s recommendations. If this is the case, to reduce harm, stick to topicals, edibles and vaporizing as opposed to smoking.
What are your thoughts on using cannabis during pregnancy? Share them in the comments below. If you have a pregnant friend or know someone trying to conceive, share this post with them, too!
P.S. Have you heard about fetal dopplers? They’re handheld devices that allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat during pregnancy—pretty amazing, right? You can check out our fetal heartbeat monitors here.