Marijuana and Pregnancy: More are using but is it safe?

Pregnant woman lighting up a cannabis cigarette
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Marijuana is a hot topic across the nation. With more states legalizing the use of marijuana, both medically and recreationally, the question comes up that if it is safe for expecting mothers and their unborn child?

Did you know that marijuana is the most commonly reported illicit drug used during pregnancy? It has an “estimated prevalence of 2-5% in some studies and as high as 15-28% in young, urban low socioeconomic women.” This number is expected to rise due to its “liberalization and popularity” but unfortunately there has been a lack of scientific studies on its effect on pregnant women and their fetuses.

There are a few studies that have suggested THC, “a main active ingredient in marijuana, crosses the placenta, and the prenatal exposure to THC may negatively impact the child’s 

future higher cognitive functions as well as psychological development.” The studies recommend that “pregnant women refrain from marijuana use until further information is available and proven otherwise.”

But why would an expecting mother even consider using marijuana? Amy Smith was deployed twice with the US Army and had returned from Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. At one point, “her doctors at the VA had her taking 22 pills to help her sleep and quell her depression and anxiety.” She later discovered marijuana. Smith went off all the prescription medication and began self-medicating by smoking cannabis. “It was amazing — how it helped me get out of bed. I wasn’t terrified of being at the grocery store anymore. I wasn’t on the verge of losing my mind.”

In 2014, Smith became pregnant with her first child. And after Googling studies about the risks, “dancing around the topic” with her doctor, and having many long and difficult discussions with her husband, she decided to use marijuana 4 to 5 times per week while pregnant and while 

breastfeeding. “When my anxiety showed up when I was pregnant, I knew what I was in for,” she said. “I could pile up the medications [and] eventually end up in hospital. I chose marijuana instead.”

Although cannabis is usually known for reducing nausea and vomiting, various theories have been proposed that “chronic and heavy marijuana use can lead to a condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).” It presents with “symptoms of recurrent nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain 

that are temporarily relieved with hot bathing.” The combination of severe vomiting, nausea, and frequent hot showers can “lead to serious complications such as volume depletion, weight loss, and esophageal rupture.” Furthermore, “frequent hot showers over long periods of time may increase risk of fetal neural tube defects, gastroschisis, and omphalocele. Increased body temperature from these hot showers may also be associated with preterm labor and epilepsy as well.”

Abstinence from marijuana use is highly recommended in pregnant women due to its potential harm in fetal development and stimulation of intractable nausea and vomiting. Recognizing the symptoms can help prompt early diagnosis, allowing for timely and adequate treatment.

The ThriveBaby app is the perfect tool for expecting mothers to track all of their symptoms, get insights on themselves including their developing baby, and have fun doing it. Download ThriveBaby now on App Store.

Kim, Moon, Jeremiah, Dixon, Heather, Tullar, & Paul. (2018, September 16). Recurrent Nausea and Vomiting in a Pregnant Woman with Chronic Marijuana Use. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/criog/2018/9746062/

Belluz, J. (2019, May 28). More pregnant women are using marijuana. We don’t know if that’s safe. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/11/20/18068894/marijuana-pregnancy

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