Is Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Harmful for Baby’s Development?


The increasing legalization of marijuana has sparked more open discussions about its use, including during pregnancy. However, there seems to be a significant lack of comprehensive research on how marijuana affects developing babies, especially when compared to substances like alcohol. This gap in knowledge could have serious implications, as the effects of marijuana during pregnancy are less understood and less publicized.

The trend of cannabis use during pregnancy is rising. In 2002, only 2.3% of pregnant women reported using marijuana, but this number increased to 3.84% by 2014. This rise is concerning, especially considering that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in marijuana has quadrupled over the years. In California and the United States overall, approximately 8% of women, or about 1 in 12, used cannabis during pregnancy in 2020, up from 3% in 2002.

Studies have shown that marijuana use during pregnancy could lead to various negative outcomes for the child. For instance, a study published in 1994 indicated that children whose mothers smoked marijuana during pregnancy might experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, decreased IQ scores, and lower academic abilities. Smoking anything during pregnancy, including marijuana, can deprive the fetus of oxygen, potentially leading to lower birth weights and other developmental issues. In the third trimester, marijuana use can negatively impact infant mental and motor development.

While direct harm to a fetus’ airways might not occur, the brain and overall development can be affected. Additionally, smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis, indicating that any inhalation into the lungs can lead to airway changes. With the increasing trend of cannabis use during pregnancy and the potential for abuse or dependence, the concern for public health grows.

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Smoking in women during pregnancy is also associated with low birth weight in at least 1 in 5 infants and increases the risk of preterm births. Approximately 14 percent of premature deliveries and 1 in 10 infant deaths are attributed to mothers who smoke. Secondhand smoke, including from marijuana, can cause seemingly healthy newborns to suffer from various health issues.

It is crucial for women to avoid smoking and drinking as early as possible during pregnancy, and ideally before conception, to minimize risks to the developing fetus. Every year, about 24,000 stillbirths occur in the United States, many of which could be prevented by avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and marijuana during pregnancy.

While there may be a degree of uncertainty surrounding the full extent of marijuana’s effects on fetal development, the existing evidence suggests that it’s better to err on the side of caution. More research is needed to fully understand these impacts, but until then, avoiding marijuana during pregnancy seems to be the safest choice.

Is Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Harmful for Baby

For more detailed information, visit Harvard University, Harvard Health Blog, USC Health Policy, and Mayo Clinic.

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