Is Smoking Weed While Pregnant Bad? 6 Questions About Marijuana Consumption During Pregnancy, Answered
You probably don't need me to tell you that smoking anything while you're pregnant isn't recommended. Inhaling smoke into your lungs (whether that's cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, or even bonfire smoke) is never going to be considered healthy. Period. Smoke caused from the combustion of marijuana is still filled with toxins and carcinogens — and inhaling toxins and carcinogens hurts your lungs and the fetus. But what about cannabis consumption during pregnancy in other forms, like edibles and topicals?
The research on marijuana use during pregnancy is largely confusing and far from vast. After all, marijuana is still illegal (and stigmatized) in most states — so it will likely be years before we have a solid understanding of how marijuana affects pregnancy. What we know now is this: some studies suggest that smoking weed during pregnancy may lead to a higher risk of stillbirth. Additionally, researchers at University of California-San Francisco claim that even secondhand marijuana smoke can reduce blood vessel function — so chances are, it's not great for a fetus. And as we'll see, it can also affect brain development, memory skills, and increase a child's chances of developing drug addictions and neuropsychiatric illnesses as an adult.
If you're anything like me, then you might like weed way more than you like the idea of becoming pregnant right now, and that's OK. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't be informed about how marijuana use affects pregnancy, should you ever decide to become pregnant. Here are six questions about marijuana and pregnancy, answered.
1. Does Consuming Weed During Pregnancy Affect Fetal Brain Development?
Here, the science seems definitive: using marijuana during pregnancy could interfere with a baby's brain development. According to a study which was lead by neuroscientist Tibor Harkany of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and the Medical University of Vienna, in Austria, prenatal exposure to marijuana could cause the brain to be more susceptible to drug addiction and neuropsychiatric illnesses well into adulthood.
Researchers tested the effects of prenatal cannabis usage by growing brain cells from mice in the presence of THC, injecting pregnant mice with THC, and studying the brains of electively aborted human fetuses whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy.
They discovered that THC messes with the formation of connections between nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. Since this is the part of the brain responsible for higher thinking skills and memory, these findings are definitely not something to take lightly. In fact, Harkany doesn't believe any amount of THC is safe for pregnant women to consume, saying, "Our advice is that [pregnant] mothers should avoid marijuana."
2. Is Eating Marijuana While Pregnant Any Safer Than Smoking It?
The studies on marijuana use during pregnancy focus heavily on how smoking weed affects pregnancy, rather than how eating it could be detrimental to pregnancy. However, marijuana use during pregnancy has risen so much in Colorado that dispensaries are starting to label their edibles as potentially harmful to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
So, while marijuana edibles might seem safer for pregnant mothers, since eating weed allows cannabis users to avoid inhaling any smoke, ash, or toxins caused by combustion — I found no evidence that edibles are inherently safer for fetuses. Since THC is just as strong (and sometimes stronger) in a marijuana edible as it is in a joint, and since THC is what causes developmental problems in fetuses, ingesting marijuana could potentially do just as much or even more damage to a baby as smoking it could.
3. Can You Consume Weed When You Breastfeed?
Consuming marijuana while breastfeeding is risky, too — because THC can get into breast milk and, in turn, into a baby's body. Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of studies on marijuana and breastfeeding, and the ones that do exist seem to contradict themselves. A 1990 study found that infants who were exposed to marijuana within their first month of life showed reduced movement and coordination skills at age one. Conversely, a 1980s study found no differences between the growth, weaning, and mental development of children who were exposed to marijuana during breastfeeding compared to children who weren't.
Regardless of the seemingly conflicting results of these studies, though, consuming marijuana while breastfeeding has not been tested thoroughly or recently enough to be considered safe — and its definitely not recommended.
4. Are Marijuana Topicals Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
If you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you should absolutely consult your OBGYN and/or your primary care physician before you try any new form of pain reliever. However, marijuana topicals (cannabis-infused lotions that relieve pain, soreness, and inflammation without getting you high) are non-psychoactive — and since they're applied to the skin rather than smoked or ingested, what THC they do contain won't find it's way to a pregnant woman's bloodstream or her baby.
So, again, be sure to talk to your doctor about using cannabis creams during pregnancy before you try any — but if your doc thinks it's OK, then go for it.
5. Are There Any Benefits To Consuming Marijuana During Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, research on marijuana use during pregnancy is currently so limited that the answer to this question depends, at least partially, on who you ask. Clearly, there is some solid evidence that smoking weed while pregnant is harmful to babies.
That said, Auckland University recently published a study on cannabis use during pregnancy that found one major upside to using marijuana while pregnant: The New Zealand study — which focused on 165 children ages four and under — found that women who use cannabis while pregnant give birth to children with better global motion perception (who well you infer direction and speed) than women who abstain from the drug during pregnancy. What's more is, the study discovered that the more frequently the mothers smoked while pregnant, the better their children actually performed at global motion perception.
Other studies suggest that marijuana eases the symptoms of severe morning sickness and labor pains, while being potentially less harmful to a developing fetus than prescription drugs.
So while there's no denying marijuana use during pregnancy comes with very real risks, studies like the ones cited above show that it could come with some benefits, too. That said, once again, it is not recommended.
6. Is Smoking Marijuana During Pregnancy Safer Than Drinking While Pregnant?
Of course, none of these substances are great for babies. We've established the risks of smoking weed while pregnant, and it's common knowledge that smoking tobacco during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and low birth weights. That said, due to the long-term neurological and physiological damage that alcohol can do to the nervous system of a developing fetus, some medical professionals believe smoking is the "better "bad habit to have while pregnant.
The Daily Mail quoted one such professional, pediatrician Dr. Neil Aiton of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust. He said, "If it is a choice between a drink, a smoke, or a spliff, then 'don't drink' would be my recommendation."
The Bottom Line
Until the research on marijuana use during pregnancy becomes more substantial, pregnant women should be aware that smoking weed during pregnancy is widely considered to be anything but safe. Some research has shown that cannabis use during pregnancy comes with very real benefits, and it appears to be less harmful to a developing fetus than drinking alcohol during pregnancy is — but it is still harmful.
However you feel about marijuana use, though, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about any marijuana-related questions you might have. If they shame you for even asking, that's one way to tell they might not be the right doctor for you.