With the legalization of marijuana in more and more states, some worry this will create the perception that marijuana is a safe drug. And for some pregnant women who have smoked marijuana prior to becoming pregnant, the concern is they will continue to use this drug throughout their pregnancy. But how dangerous is marijuana, really?
Before we review the effects marijuana may have on a mother and her developing baby, it is important to note that most of the studies done were limited by a few things. For starters, pregnant women who smoke marijuana are also much more likely to do lots of other things too—like drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, use other drugs, and have limited access to prenatal care. Therefore, it can be difficult to know what was the direct result of marijuana and what was related to all these other high-risk behaviors.
However, from what we do know, marijuana in pregnancy is far from safe. Some evidence shows that babies born to moms who use marijuana are more likely to be born abnormally small and have trouble breathing when they are first born. In addition, babies less than six months old who were exposed in utero are at higher risk for developing wheezing, chest infections, and asthma. The risk of SIDS was also higher in these babies.
When it comes to brain development, from what we can tell, marijuana does a baby no favors. When these babies become preschoolers, they tend to have poorer verbal and memory skills and are less focused when it comes to play. They also exhibit more hyperactive behaviors and are more likely to have depression or anxiety when they are older.
One of the most concerning effects of marijuana on these babies is that they themselves are at a significantly increased risk of using illicit drugs and alcohol when they are older. It is hard to say if this is directly related to their in-utero marijuana exposure versus the effects of being raised in a household where the parents use drugs, but suffice it to say this is not what most parents want for their babies.
Lastly, there is also some suggestion of an increased risk of certain cancers in children born to moms who smoke marijuana. These include certain types of leukemia, rhabdomyosarcoma, and astrocytomas (brain tumors). Again, the research is far from strong, but these are concerning findings that need to be investigated further.
There are concerning reports of contaminants found in marijuana, from fungus to organophosphate pesticides to glass beads. Keep in mind that smoking marijuana also exposes a pregnant woman and her baby to hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals, and these all cross the placenta and go to the baby. If you are currently pregnant and using marijuana, let your doctor or midwife know so you can come up with a plan together that will help you and your baby stay healthy.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, April 2020
- Studies looking at marijuana in pregnancy are hard to do since women who smoke marijuana often engage in many other high-risk behaviors as well.
- Smoking marijuana exposes a pregnant woman and her baby to hundreds of chemicals, and these all cross the placenta and go to the baby.
- Some evidence shows that babies born to moms who use marijuana are more likely to be born abnormally small and have trouble breathing.
- Children born to moms who smoked marijuana in pregnancy are much more likely to use illicit drugs when they are older.