Is it Safe to Smoke Weed While Pregnant?

Where's Weed

Published on 7/26/19

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Updated Jun 16, 2022

With more than 5 million medical patients throughout the U.S. and the legal cannabis industry exploding into a multi-million dollar juggernaut, projected to be worth as much as $102.2 billion by 2030, it's clear that legal weed in North America is here to stay. At the same point, however, the circle of life is bound to continue. But what about those prospective mothers? Can they get in on some cannabis use of their while pregnant?

Thankfully, we here at Where's Weed are here to break down the essential questions about weed and pregnancy, touch on the overall risks and health concerns associated with smoking, and try to answer the central question of what can happen if you smoke while pregnant.

Health Concerns of Smoking While Pregnant

Ashton

It's not exactly a secret that smoking is not great for your health, regardless of whether you're smoking cannabis. As we've discussed here before, inhaling any kind of burning plant material, including cannabis, puts your mouth, upper respiratory system, and cardiovascular system at risk of a laundry list of diseases over the long term. Being pregnant adds another significant risk factor to consider when it comes to smoking. 

In October 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published the following advice: 

"Before pregnancy and early pregnancy, all women should be asked about their use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, including marijuana and other medications used for nonmedical reasons. Women reporting marijuana use should be counseled about concerns regarding potential adverse health consequences of continued use during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use.

Pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data. There are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged."

That's the strong language from one of the most respected women's health care organizations. Pregnant women smoking cannabis could put their babies at serious risk of developmental issues. Some of those problems are:

  • Issues with brain development 
  • Smaller size at birth
  • Later behavioral and health risks as the child grow
  • Premature labor/delivery 
  • Stillbirth

Sure, some of it is precautionary due to a lack of knowledge of the effects of smoking marijuana while pregnant. Still, there is enough evidence to suggest that it isn't the best idea. 

Prenatal marijuana use has been linked to lower birth weights in children. There is some indication of a correlation between smoking pot when pregnant and having children with developmental delays or difficulties with core functioning. But why? Let's dig a little deeper into the science behind why exactly cannabis could be harmful to both the mother and the child. 

Why THC is Problematic for Pregnancy 

Alex Pasarelu

When it comes to why cannabis use is harmful to expecting mothers, the answer lies in the most well-known and most prevalent cannabinoid, THC. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis - can cross the placenta to reach the fetus and potentially harm brain development and birth weight. THC has also been found in the breast milk of regular cannabis users.

Since THC affects all processes in the human body - from heart rate to brain function - the effects of smoking weed while pregnant can continue to impact the lives of children as they develop. 

Prenatal exposure to marijuana may make it harder for children to learn, affecting their emotions and increasing depressive symptoms. THC is stored in fat, so the potential for the fetus to be exposed is substantial. It might not just be when the mother is smoking that THC exposure occurs. 

Studies have shown that children born to mothers who smoked exhibited a decreased ability to understand concepts in listening and reading. Older children exposed to THC in utero were less able to focus and more impulsive. Children in their early teens had a lower reading, math, and spelling scores. Older teens have been found to do worse in school, have delinquency problems, and remain hyperactive, impulsive, and less attentive.

An Australian study of over 400,000 live births reported a higher risk for neonatal intensive care admission for newborns prenatally exposed to marijuana. 

There were also reports of abnormal responses or behaviors in the newborn period suggesting a toxic withdrawal. In another study, exposed newborns were "more irritable and less responsive to calming, cried more during the examination and exhibited more jitteriness and startle than the non-exposed neonates." 

How marijuana might cause those problems is unknown, but one theory suggests that THC might interfere with the formation of nerve cells and circuits in the brain during fetal development. 

It is important to note that the children in these studies most likely had prenatal exposure to other drugs or struggles with poverty and other life challenges, making it difficult to know that the findings are solely due to prenatal marijuana exposure.

Why Do Some Women Smoke Pot During Pregnancy?

Gray

Let's face it, carrying a child is not easy, and marijuana can help a mother during pregnancy in several different ways. 

Many suffer morning sickness, with some reports claiming that over 85% suffer nausea or vomiting during pregnancy. Cannabis contains cannabinoids that assist the body in preventing an upset stomach and the accompanying feelings of nausea. 

As the baby grows before birth, the physical pain increases. Smoking pots can help with immediate pain reduction and reduce the chronic pain that pregnant women often suffer. In a 2014 survey of low-income mothers on federal nutrition assistance in Colorado, the most common reasons women reported smoking weed while pregnant were pain, depression, anxiety, stress, nausea, and vomiting.

Weed continues to be more prevalent and available across the country, and as a result, the rate of women smoking cannabis while pregnant is rising. 

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that from 2002 to 2014, the prevalence of self-reported, past-month marijuana use among adult pregnant women in the U.S. increased from 2.4 percent to 3.9 percent. This might seem like a minimal increase, but as more states adopt lenient laws for cannabis, it can only be expected to rise.

Even though studies on the effects of smoking weed while pregnant are complex because clinical trials are not possible, the women participating in the research might lie about if or how much they smoke or also be using tobacco, there is enough evidence to suggest that marijuana could have an impact on the pregnancy and the child. 

Asking women to volunteer information about drug use, which they may fear disclosing even in a confidential setting, inherently makes it difficult to know how frequently they use cannabis. We know that pregnant women are using marijuana at increased rates, and the repercussions remain largely unknown. 

The changing societal view on cannabis does not change the core fact that the developing embryo (and fetus) depends on the mother for oxygen, nutrients, and a delicate balance of hormones, chemicals, and compounds to grow healthy. The disruption of the typical fetal environment puts the pregnancy at risk in the short term and may have long-term effects on the child.

The Bottom Line

Smoking, in general, is not a good idea for the long-term health of either you or the baby. While usually, we'd suggest that you just opt for edibles, tinctures, or topical instead, expecting women should again abstain due to the impact that THC can have on the health and brain development of your growing child. 

Remember, anything the mother chooses to ingest while pregnant will eventually make its way into the baby's system. It's best to avoid substances like cannabis, alcohol, or any other hardcore drug not recommended and prescribed to you by a specialized doctor. 

We get it. Cannabis is awesome. But think about it like this. After nine months of not enjoying any cannabis products, you get a lifetime of a healthy baby. That seems like a fair trade-off, right?