Cannabis and Pregnancy
Some info that'll help you decide if consuming during pregnancy is right for you.
As a parent, you wouldn’t dream of giving marijuana to your baby. But what about during pregnancy? Does it affect the child in utero when mom smokes a joint or eats an edible?
Research: Cannabis Use During Pregnancy
Research can be hard to find because women using cannabis while pregnant are rarely monitored and likely don’t share their usage with their doctors. But let’s look at what information is out there.
- Are any pregnant women using marijuana currently? The trend in a recent study suggests yes. The study surveyed pregnant women in 2002 and 2014 and compared the numbers. In 2014, close to 4% of pregnant women surveyed admitted they had recently used marijuana. That number is up from 2.4% in 2002.
- This is a 62% increase in the number of pregnant women in the United States who use cannabis. This dramatic increase in the number of pregnant women using cannabis is nothing short of astonishing when you consider that America overall during the same period experienced roughly a 50% increase in marijuana consumers. 
This means pregnant women are turning to cannabis as a treatment method in greater numbers than the overall population.
The study revealed that rate of use across age groups of women varies with the younger age range of 18 to 25 at a rate of 7.5 percent while the older range, 26 to 44, was at 2.1 percent.
Concerns Pregnant Mothers Have about Pregnancy
Miscarriage. Premature birth. Physical deformity, Impaired brain development
There is no question the compound in marijuana that gives the high effect to users impacts the brain directly. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active compound in marijuana that makes you feel high. It accomplishes this by interacting directly with cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
But does THC have the same impact on the brain of an unborn child? At this point we just don’t know. Since the brain of a developing baby is not fully developed it is possible that the baby’s brain does not yet have active cannabinoid receptors. If this were the case then THC would not affect the baby’s brain. This is only hypothetical however.
We do know from at least one study that there is no connection between pregnant women using marijuana and miscarriage.  One criticism of this study is that it did not isolate other potential impacts on the lost pregnancies such as alcohol and tobacco use.
Another study looked at a small sample of pregnant women (171) and examined risk factors of the women including marijuana use. The study determined that marijuana was not a contributing factor to pregnancy loss.
However, another study performed on animals indicated that risk of miscarriage increases when marijuana is used during pregnancy.
Examining the Research
If we are critiquing the research it is difficult to isolate marijuana as a contributing factor to some of the detrimental outcomes when one of the studies also involved cocaine use among test subjects in addition to marijuana and tobacco use.
Many of the studies cited here indicated here point to marijuana as the influencing factor in whatever outcome each study points at. But in many of the studies, the test subjects were also consuming tobacco, which has been shown to have a dramatic impact on low birth weight, developmental issues, and miscarriage.
To survey a test subject who consumes both tobacco and marijuana and point to marijuana as the causal factor in a particular outcome is bad science.
Another study indicated a 2.3 times increase in the likelihood of stillbirth from marijuana use. This was as much of an impact as tobacco use according to the study. Researchers admitted however that they could not discern the difference between marijuana use and tobacco use in the test subjects.
The research is a mixed bag with often opposite outcomes. There is no predominant information source or body of research to point to since the widespread public acceptance of marijuana is somewhat new.
In the United States there is one sanctioned cannabis testing facility housed at the University of Mississippi that has been conducting cannabis research for the last 35 years. It is strange that after 35 years of testing we have such little valuable research available.
Israel has permitted cannabis research for more than 20 years by various companies and entities. Israel has established the National Center for Research in Medical Cannabis.
The lack of research is why the medical associations discourage pregnant women from using marijuana. Nobody really knows the true impact so it is better to be cautious.
Facing A World Filled with Judgement
Try being a pregnant woman and advertising to the public that you are treating your nausea from pregnancy with cannabis. If a woman tells people she is smoking cannabis while pregnant she risks a visit from child protective services even in today’s environment of wider marijuana acceptance.
Current predominant opinions in the United States advise against pregnant women using marijuana.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise against women using marijuana while pregnant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also discourages use of cannabis when pregnant.
Further, these organizations recommend that mothers with THC in their system do not breast feed. THC stores in the fat of breast milk that is sometimes higher than what is present in the mother’s blood.
Other child advocacy organizations recommend that mothers pump their breastmilk until no THC is detected, a process which takes three to four weeks.
We do know that cannabis provides numerous health benefits to its adult users. When grown without harmful pesticides and chemicals, cannabis is a natural, beneficial plant.
The Study that Intrigued the World
Of primary concern is brain and cognitive development of the fetus, particularly during early stages of the pregnancy. There is some evidence that early, heavy marijuana use during pregnancy will affect a child’s ability later to learn and understand.
But all is not negative or indecisive as some of the research may lead to believe.
On the positive side of things, many people point to a 1994 study done in Jamaica of the impact of marijuana use during pregnancy on the baby once it is born. In Jamaica the study was easier to perform than in the U.S. because Jamaican culture knows widespread acceptance of marijuana use among a majority of the population.
The study tested newborns to mothers who consumed cannabis during pregnancy. The outcome of the tests showed that the babies born to cannabis-consuming mothers were more socially responsive and more autonomically stable than their counterparts.
The babies were also less irritable with higher motor skills, even at 30 days.
Some say the Jamaica study is more reliable because the acceptance of marijuana in the cultural context made it easier to draw conclusions related directly to marijuana rather than have to parse it from effects of other drugs or substances that are incorporated into many American studies referenced above.
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How should a pregnant woman consume cannabis?
Some women confess to marijuana helping with nausea brought on by morning sickness. If you are treating severe nausea with a pharmaceutical product maybe using cannabis instead makes sense.
With all the options available for consumption is there a particular way pregnant women prefer to enjoy their cannabis? Let’s look at the differences between consuming cannabis edibles versus smoking flower so you can make an educated decision on how it might affect your baby.
The primary difference between edibles and inhalation is that THC is processed or absorbed by the body in completely different ways. Edibles come in many forms, including beverages, snacks, chocolate and candies.
When you eat an edible the THC is processed by the liver and converts to another form of THC that is extremely effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier. The result is a stronger high. When it is inhaled, THC in marijuana goes directly to the brain. This results in a faster high that wears off more quickly. It also means that THC does not enter your bloodstream immediately. As a result the THC doesn’t enter the baby’s bloodstream right away.
What does this mean for the baby in your belly? Anytime a substance is processed by mom’s liver and enters a mother’s bloodstream it is guaranteed to reach the baby one way or another through the blood.
Do you want your developing baby to be high on marijuana while inside the placenta? Safe to say your answer should be no. If this is the case then it might be wise to avoid edibles while pregnant.
That being said, there is no evidence that unborn babies even have developed cannabinoid receptors in the brain that would allow THC to affect the baby. The research simply isn’t available.
When inhaling from smoked or vaporized flower, the direct effect is on the mother and her brain. Once mom is high there are ancillary physiological and psychological effects on her. Many of these effects are very pleasing such as uplifted mood, relaxation, increased calmness.
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It is possible that these physiological impacts on the mother could have positive impacts on the developing unborn baby. The more relaxed mom feels, the more relaxed the baby will be.
As stated above, the research is still not robust enough to make a recommendation on whether edibles or inhalation is better or whether cannabis should be consumed during pregnancy at all.
But there are moms out there who are using cannabis moderately while pregnant and it helps with certain symptoms.
The top three symptoms cured by cannabis when pregnant are nausea, pain, and tension or stress from carrying the extra weight.
We do not endorse whether or not pregnant women should consume cannabis. It ultimately is a personal choice for each mother - like deciding to drink alcohol, get regular sleep and exercise, eat nutritiously, or consume cannabis.
Along with that choice comes the obligation to conduct your own research on the matter. Visit here often for updates to the law, research, and opinions.
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Martin, et al., 2015
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