The Effects of Smoking Weed While Pregnant

Medically reviewed by Beth Holloway, RN, MEd on June 20, 2017Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN on October 16, 2015
Smoking Weed

Marijuana is a drug derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. It’s used for recreational and medicinal purposes.

What a mom-to-be puts on her skin, eats, and smokes affects her baby. Marijuana is one substance that can potentially impact a developing baby’s health.

What is marijuana?

Marijuana (also known as pot, weed, or bud) is the dried portion of the Cannabis sativa plant. People smoke or eat marijuana for its effects on the body. It can cause euphoria, relaxation, and enhanced sensory perception. In most states, recreational marijuana use is illegal.

Marijuana’s active compound is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This compound can cross a mother’s placenta to get to her baby during pregnancy.

But marijuana’s effects during pregnancy can be difficult to determine. This is because many women who smoke or eat marijuana also use substances like alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. As a result, it’s tough to say which is causing a problem.

What’s the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy?

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug during pregnancy. Studies have tried to estimate the exact number of pregnant women who use marijuana, but results vary.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 2 to 5 percent of women use marijuana during pregnancy. This number goes up for certain groups of women. For example, young, urban, and socioeconomically disadvantaged women report higher rates of use that reach up to 28 percent.

What are the potential effects of marijuana use while pregnant?

Doctors have linked marijuana use during pregnancy with increased risk for pregnancy complications. These may include:

  • low birth weight
  • premature birth
  • small head circumference
  • small length
  • stillbirth

What are the potential effects of marijuana use after a baby is born?

Researchers mostly study the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy on animals. Experts say exposure to THC can affect a baby’s brain development. This may result in:

  • unexpected responses to visual stimuli
  • higher-pitched cry
  • trembling

Babies born to mothers who smoke marijuana during pregnancy don’t have serious signs of withdrawal. However, other changes may be noted.

Research is ongoing, but a baby whose mother used marijuana during pregnancy may have problems as they get older. They may have trouble with memory, attention, controlling impulses, and school performance.

Misconceptions about marijuana use and pregnancy

The growing popularity of vape pens has led marijuana users to switch from smoking the drug to “vaping.” Vape pens use water vapor instead of smoke.

Many pregnant women mistakenly think vaping or eating marijuana doesn’t harm their baby. But these preparations still have THC, the active ingredient. As a result, they can harm a baby.

What about medical marijuana use?

Several states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Expectant moms or women wishing to become pregnant may wish to use marijuana for medical purposes, like relieving nausea.

But medical marijuana is difficult to regulate during pregnancy.

According to the ACOG, there are no:

  • standard dosages
  • standard formulations
  • standard delivery systems
  • Food and Drug Administration-approved recommendations regarding use in pregnancy

For these reasons, women hoping to become pregnant or who are pregnant are advised against using marijuana.

Women can work with their doctors to find alternative treatments.

Takeaway

Doctors recommend against using marijuana during pregnancy. Because types of marijuana can vary and chemicals can be added to the drug, it’s even harder to say what’s safe. Plus, marijuana use has been associated with increased risk for problems during pregnancy, in the newborn, and later on in a baby’s life.

If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, be honest with your doctor. Tell them about your use of marijuana and any other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol.

Q:

I smoke pot a few times a week, and then I found out I was two months pregnant. Is my baby going to be OK?

A:

When a pregnant woman smokes marijuana, it increases her exposure to carbon monoxide gas. This can affect the oxygen the baby receives, which could impact the baby’s ability to grow.

While this doesn’t always happen in babies whose mothers smoked marijuana, it can increase a baby’s risk. If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant and use marijuana regularly, talk to your doctor about ways you can quit. This will ensure the greatest safety for your little one.

Rachel Nall, RN, BSNAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Rachel Nall is a Tennessee-based critical care nurse and freelance writer. She began her writing career with the Associated Press in Brussels, Belgium. Although she enjoys writing about a variety of topics, healthcare is her practice and passion. Nall is a full-time nurse at a 20-bed intensive care unit focused primarily on cardiac care. She enjoys educating her patients and readers on how to live healthier and happier lives.

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