With the growing number of states legalizing recreational marijuana use every year, awareness of marijuana’s effects, specifically during pregnancy, are becoming increasingly vital for both the mother’s and her child’s health. More and more expectant mothers are listening to the advice of dispensaries and engaging in marijuana use in order to alieve their symptoms of morning sickness, unaware of the detrimental effects it can have on their baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that marijuana use is highly discouraged during pregnancy. Researchers have found that the psychoactive compound in marijuana, THC, can easily travel through the placenta, exposing the fetus to as much as 10% of the THC that the mother inhales. This much exposure to THC can have adverse effects on the fetus. Dr. Dana Gossett, a research obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco, has demonstrated that marijuana use can increase the risk of small birth weight, still birth, and adversely affects how a baby’s brain develops. Dr. Gossett states that research suggests children exposed to marijuana while developing in the womb can have poorer performance on visual-motor coordination (such as sports like baseball or basketball). These children can also develop behavioral problems at higher rates and are at a higher risk for using marijuana themselves.
There has been little research on the effects of marijuana being passed to a baby via breastfeeding. As of October 2017, ACOG has yet to determine how much of the THC is passed on through breast milk (if any). However, other studies have found that ~2.5% of THC inhaled by the mother is passed on to her child while breastfeeding. But, since there is still very little research on these effects, ACOG and other health organization discourage the use of marijuana both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Furthermore, ACOG also recommends avoiding inhaling marijuana via second-hand smoke, since amounts can still pass into the baby that way.
Even with all the detrimental effects of marijuana usage during and after pregnancy, ACOG does not endorse mandatory testing for THC in pregnant women or newborn babies, out of concern that these women could be jailed or have their babies taken from them. Instead, gynos are urged to ask pregnant women about drug use during prenatal visits and counsel these patients against substance use. It is also recommended for gynos to provide options to medications deemed safe by federal drug regulators to treat symptoms such as nausea, back pain or postpartum depression.
If you are thinking about becoming pregnant, currently pregnant, or breastfeeding and have any questions about marijuana use during pregnancy, schedule an appointment with your gyno!