- New research shows pregnant people in the U.S. living in areas where cannabis is legal should be screened for the health of the parent and baby.
- Pregnant people were approximately 4.6 times more likely to use cannabis in legalized areas compared to areas where only CBD is allowed.
- Potential risk factors for using cannabis during pregnancy include low birth weight, neurodevelopmental issues, and premature birth.
- Doctors agree that it’s best to discontinue the use of cannabis during pregnancy.
Many people may use cannabis during pregnancy to relieve unpleasant symptoms like nausea and pain.
In fact, cannabis use among pregnant people in the United States has been increasing for the past two decades, despite the risks. As a 2016 review notes, cannabis use during pregnancy is linked to adverse outcomes for both the pregnant person and the fetus.
Given the rise in cannabis use, a new study suggests that pregnant people living in the U.S. in places where cannabis is legal should be screened for the well-being of the parent and child.
The research, which was published on Nov. 29 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, reveals that pregnant people were approximately 4.6 times more likely to use cannabis in legalized areas compared to where only CBD is permitted.
According to the study findings, most pregnant people claimed they used cannabis in states where it’s legal as an alternative to medication to improve their symptoms.
“Pregnant women should be screened for cannabis use, and those who use should be further assessed about it,” Kathak Vachhani, a medical student at the University of Toronto and lead author of the new study, told Healthline.
“The effects of cannabis on the fetus and the long-term consequences of these effects are a topic of active research.”
How does cannabis affect a developing fetus?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women should not use cannabis while trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, and while nursing.
“Cannabis should be avoided during pregnancy [and] breastfeeding,” Dr. Kecia Gaither, MPH, FACOG, a double board certified OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of Perinatal Services and Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, NY, told Healthline.
“The substance can be passed through the placenta to the baby [and] via breastmilk.”
Research from 2022 indicates an increased risk for premature birth and low birth weight among pregnant people who use cannabis. Another 2022 study shows that children exposed to cannabis during pregnancy may have an increased risk of high blood sugar.
Gaither said that other risk factors for cannabis use during pregnancy include but are not limited to:
- fetal growth restriction
- increased risk of stillbirth
- increased risk of preterm birth
Vachhani added that the neurodevelopment of the fetus can also be affected by cannabis use. Neurodevelopmental problems in utero may lead to issues in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, such as:
- learning and behavioral problems
- poor working and short-term memory
- mental health issues
Yet despite the evidence, scientific research on the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy is often mixed.
Vachhani explained that research limitations are partly due to the “heterogeneity of cannabis” (composition, formulation, and use patterns) and that many studies on cannabis use during pregnancy rely on self-reporting.
Are there any benefits of cannabis use during pregnancy?
Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, an OB-GYN and faculty member at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville and senior medical director at Babyscripts, said there are no positive effects of cannabis use during pregnancy, whether it’s smoking, vaping, or taking edibles.
“Some women may use cannabis to help with nausea associated with pregnancy — this is not advised, and other medications are available that are safer, if meds are needed,” Demosthenes told Healthline.
“As with other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, it is best to avoid these altogether — and best practice is to eliminate these things [when] trying to conceive as well,” she added.
According to Vachhani, there are no known positive effects of cannabis on fetal growth or development, either.
“There is no known safe amount of cannabis that can be consumed during pregnancy,” Vachhani stated.
As such, the risks and benefits of cannabis use during pregnancy should be carefully considered by pregnant people and their physicians.
A new study recommends health screenings for pregnant people who use cannabis in U.S. states where it’s legal, as they’re 4.6 times more likely to use the drug for symptom relief compared to areas where only CBD is permitted.
Health experts agree that pregnant people should discontinue cannabis use to protect the fetus’s health as well as their own.
Whether you’re pregnant, nursing, or considering becoming pregnant, experts say it’s a good idea to discontinue using cannabis.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing unpleasant symptoms or physical discomfort, ask your healthcare team about safe and effective treatment options.