Is cannabis use safe for pregnant women?

The laws governing the legalization of cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, have undergone drastic changes in recent years. For instance, cannabis use is now legal in the state of Colorado.

However, just because it is now legal, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That is an important consideration if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or are currently breastfeeding. You must evaluate how cannabis usage may affect your baby.

Data on the impact of cannabis on human fetuses and young infants who breastfeed is currently limited. Researchers rarely conduct studies on humans because of the potential health risks involved. However, results from studies on animals and data regarding the effects of cannabis on adults provide insights into its potential effects on pregnant and breastfeeding women. If you are a recreational or medicinal cannabis user, the available data may make you re-evaluate your habit when you are having a child. Below are some key points to consider regarding cannabis usage and your baby’s development.

How Cannabis Affects You

To understand how cannabis use may affect your unborn or breastfeeding baby, you must begin by understanding how it affects you. Cannabis contains over 60 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Each cannabinoid has potential positive or negative side effects. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) has therapeutic properties. Another primary component in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes chemical changes in your brain, including an increase in dopamine production. As a result, you may feel happier and/or calmer for a short period of time. However, THC and other cannabis components also have the potential to cause the following negative side effects:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired judgment
  • Respiratory issues
  • Heart ailments
  • Blood pressure problems

The Reputation and Availability of Cannabis

As the availability of legal cannabis increases in many parts of the United States, its usage also surges. To increase sales, marijuana companies and sellers often provide misleading or partial information when advertising their product. For example, cannabis is frequently touted as a natural product, leading consumers to assume it is safe. However, not all natural substances are safe.

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Furthermore, marijuana shop owners are not always truthful when answering questions. In one recent study published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, researchers discovered that dispensary employees frequently recommend cannabis to treat pregnancy symptoms without medical research verifying its usefulness or safety. The study of 400 cannabis dispensaries found that 69 percent made such recommendations.

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) report indicated more pregnant women are using cannabis now than before. The reasons for increased usage among pregnant women are unclear, but it is likely that such advertising by dispensaries plays a role. Other factors may include:

  • Increased availability of cannabis.
  • Use of cannabis for other medical purposes.
  • Continued recreational use that began prior to pregnancy.
  • Unsubstantiated claims about cannabis successfully treating undesirable pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea.

Known and Potential Cannabis Side Effects for Babies

Researchers have not yet discovered all of the side effects of cannabis on unborn and breastfeeding babies. However, it is clear that the consumption of cannabis in any form while you are pregnant or breastfeeding can negatively influence the development of your baby. You are connected to your baby through the placenta and umbilical cord, allowing cannabis and other substances to flow from your system to your baby’s. Breastfeeding while using cannabis is equally risky because your breast milk can deliver the cannabis to your baby.

The placenta supplies your unborn baby with nutrients and oxygen, but it can also deliver other potentially harmful substances in your body to your baby. Just as consuming alcohol while pregnant is not recommended, cannabis use is risky. Although the exact level of risk is unclear, studies indicate your child may suffer from one or more of the following at birth if exposed to cannabis in the womb:

  • Stillbirth.
  • Premature birth.
  • Low weight at birth.
  • Abnormally small head circumference at birth.
  • Abnormally short body length at birth.

Cannabis exposure in the womb may also increase your child’s chances of abnormal brain development. As a result, he or she may show signs of learning or attention deficiencies during his or her youth. Your baby may also be at a risk of memory and impulse control issues. Such difficulties could affect your child’s ability to learn at the same pace as his or her peers and potentially impede socialization.

Cannabis Usage Recommendations, Techniques and Fetal Development

Another debate regarding cannabis usage during pregnancy and breastfeeding is the safety of different forms of cannabis. Traditionally, users smoke cannabis by inhaling it through pipes and rolled papers. However, many cannabis users are now using vape pens because they are touted as safer than smoking. You can also use cannabis in other ways, such as by consuming it in foods, known as edibles. Despite some debate, there is no evidence suggesting that the use of cannabis in a specific way is safer than other methods. The ingredients remain the same and thus, pose the same potential risks to your baby.

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You may also wonder if you should continue using prescribed cannabis for medicinal purposes after becoming pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) warns against doing so for the following reasons:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved cannabis use during pregnancy.
  • Cannabis delivery systems are not standardized or regulated.
  • Cannabis formulas vary in potency.
  • There are no standard recommended cannabis dosages.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommend against using cannabis in any form while pregnant due to the potential risks involved. Lack of standardization and official approval by federal agencies may keep your doctor from suggesting medical marijuana to treat pregnancy symptoms like nausea.

He or she may also recommend against using prescribed medicinal marijuana to treat unrelated conditions while pregnant. If you are already prescribed cannabis for medicinal purposes, your doctor can work with you to find an alternative treatment for the duration of your pregnancy.

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