Marijuana Smoking Before Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a wonderful blessing that marks the beginning of a remarkable period filled with emotions of happiness in addition to lots of responsibilities on the strong shoulders of parents. Every mother strives hard during pregnancy to ensure a healthy growing environment for the developing fetus. However often times, the intentional or unintentional exposure to drugs or careless decisions taken by some mothers can compromise the integrity or well-being of the unborn baby.
A lot of us are already aware of the hazardous effects of maternal alcohol consumption on the development of your fetus, but very few people consider marijuana as a dangerous drug prior to or during pregnancy.
Let’s discuss how marijuana may compromise the wellness and growth of your baby.
What is Marijuana and How Can it Affect Your Fetus?
Marijuana is a popular drug of abuse. According to a latest study, as much as 38% of the entire United States population have smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime (1). Due to its side effects and adverse reactions on the biological functions of the body, marijuana is strictly contraindicated prior to or during conception.
Here is how marijuana can affect the health of your unborn child:
- Women who consume marijuana before becoming pregnant are more likely to consume this drug during pregnancy.
- Research data indicates that marijuana smokers are more likely to consume alcohol, nicotine and other legal or illicit drugs (2)
- Pregnant women who consume one or more drugs are usually malnourished and weak (thus more likely to pass on the nutritional deficiencies to the growing baby).
- Exposure to active chemicals during developmental stages may impair the growth by interfering with the DNA components and protein building.
What are some common complications that are reported in mothers who consume marijuana before pregnancy?
A new study published in Pediatric Research journal (3) gives a detailed account of complications and adverse effects that are reported in 24,874 pregnant cannabis (marijuana) consumers. Report suggested that most frequently encountered complications are:
Higher Risk of Pre-Term Birth
Birth of a baby before the term (i.e. 37 weeks) is considered as pre-term. According to Medical daily report, the risk of giving birth to preterm babies increases up to 7-20 % in women who have used marijuana prior to conception. Scientist believe that marijuana releases toxic substances within the body may interfere with the normal functioning of different hormones/ neurotransmitters. Most notable effect produced by marijuana compound is increased tonicity of the uterine cavity (that induces contraction before the term)
Small for Gestational Age Babies
This is mainly because the active compound (tetrahydrocannabinol) has the tendency to cross utero-placental barrier to affect the growth and development of the fetus directly (2). Persistent or chronic exposure can lead to:
- Restricted fetal growth
- Impaired placental perfusion
- Low birth weight babies
- Altered length of the baby
Higher Risk of Premature Birth
According to a latest study led by the researchers at the University of Adelaide, it was concluded that the risk of premature birth increases in women who consume marijuana before or during pregnancy. The research was conducted on 3,234 pregnant women who were pregnant for the first time but had no risk factors associated with premature birth.
Researchers concluded that besides other factors, marijuana use by pregnant mothers was directly associated with the increased risk of premature birth (almost twice as much), when compared to non-marijuana smoking pregnant mothers.
Researchers believe that the hazardous effects are produced by several mechanisms including DNA damage, growth retardation and placental insufficiency. Research is underway to identify and control the chemical damage in case of accidental consumption.
Premature delivery is associated with a multitude of problems such as:
- Higher risk of infectious diseases due to poorly developed immune system
- Mental illnesses
- Growth retardation
- Speech problems
- Slow development (associated with learning difficulties)
Admission in an Intensive Care Setting After Birth Due to Respiratory Difficulty
Most babies require admission in an intensive care setting due to low birth weight, smaller size of the head circumference, hypothermia or respiratory difficulties. The risk is even higher in babies who are born to mothers with a history of multiple drug abuse, nicotine smoking during pregnancy and infectious diseases. Unfortunately, prenatal exposure to marijuana may lead to chronic health issues and psychological disorders in the offspring. Study published in the peer reviewed journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology (4) concluded:
“Offspring of heavier marijuana users were significantly more likely to report delinquent behavior at age 14”.
Healthcare providers recommend that expecting mothers should take extra caution to maintain a healthy pregnancy by avoiding direct or indirect exposure irritants and pollutants that may interferes with the fetal growth.
- Gray, T. R., Eiden, R. D., Leonard, K. E., Connors, G. J., Shisler, S., & Huestis, M. A. (2010). Identifying prenatal cannabis exposure and effects of concurrent tobacco exposure on neonatal growth. Clinical chemistry, 56(9), 1442-1450.
- Hayatbakhsh, M. R., Flenady, V. J., Gibbons, K. S., Kingsbury, A. M., Hurrion, E., Mamun, A. A., & Najman, J. M. (2011). Birth outcomes associated with cannabis use before and during pregnancy. Pediatric research, 71(2), 215-219.
- Day, N. L., Leech, S. L., & Goldschmidt, L. (2011). The effects of prenatal marijuana exposure on delinquent behaviors are mediated by measures of neurocognitive functioning. Neurotoxicology and teratology, 33(1), 129-136.