Marijuana legalization and the loosening of stigma is having the beautiful effect of bringing more women to cannabis and allowing those who use it to speak out freely about it. However, a recent study of pregnant women in California has the public wondering if legalization just opened up a Pandora’s box of prenatal mayhem.
Pregnant women are systematically advised to avoid substances and activities that may cause harm to their health or their baby’s health. Most commonly these substances include drinking, smoking, eating fish or soft cheeses, scooping kitty litter, and engaging in any drug use beyond that which is prescribed by their primary care doctor. Take prenatal supplements daily and otherwise stay as pure as the driven snow.
You can imagine, then, the outrage summoned when research from a clinical psychologist, Kelly Young-Wolff Ph.D., MPH of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, revealed that by the end of the seven-year study period, one in 14 women were using marijuana after conceiving.
Young-Wolff’s team analyzed questionnaire data and lab results from 279, 457 pregnant women over the eight years between 2009 and 2016 to find that marijuana use rose from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent for all pregnant women. The jump was more pronounced for the 25-year-old age group, going from about 12 percent to over 21 percent for those under 18, and from over 9 percent to 19 percent for those in the 18- to 24-year-old age group.
“We were concerned to find that the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy is increasing more quickly among younger females, aged 24 and younger, and to see the high prevalence of use in this age group,” Young-Wolff told CNN.
The study found that fewer older women used pot while pregnant. The rate of women in the 25- to 34-year-old age group who used pot rose from about 3 percent to about 5 percent, while those over age 34 increased from about 2 percent to about 3 percent.
Just because it’s legal, and a plant, does not mean that it’s right for pregnant women to use cannabis while pregnant. The psychoactive substance, THC, can cross through the placenta from the mother to the fetus and because it is fat-soluble, it can also end up in the breast milk of marijuana users. The U.S.’s National Institute on Drug Abuse points to evidence that children born from mothers who use cannabis during their pregnancy may demonstrate issues related to problem-solving skills, memory, and attention. These typically manifest during the school years, making them harder to track than congenital disabilities that are apparent at birth. But the possible risksat least until we know moreoutweigh the benefits of using this drug to quiet morning sickness, muscle aches, and pregnancy pains.