From fertility to postpartum depression, HERB’s cannabis and pregnancy series looked at various sides to the long-standing debate. In this recap, we’ll touch on the basics of what you need to know before you partake while pregnant.
The controversy surrounding cannabis and pregnancy
There are no easy answers about cannabis use during pregnancy. Many cannabis-loving moms swear by the herb for managing difficult pregnancy-associated conditions, such as morning sickness, pain, postpartum depression, and pre-existing medical issues. In fact, marijuana is the most common illicit substance used by pregnant women in Western societies.
Yet, while anecdotal evidence speaks to the safety of the plant, medical and scientific communities often urge caution. Overall, few studies have looked at the long-term implications of cannabis use during pregnancy. Similarly to marijuana research in other medical areas, just when one study finds some sort of harm, another one seems to come out claiming the exact opposite.
Similarly to marijuana research in other medical areas, just when one study finds some sort of harm, another one seems to come out claiming the exact opposite.
Because there is so much scientific uncertainty about lasting effects of marijuana use during and post-pregnancy, most medical professions are about weary about its use. Yet, since so many women already use the plant regardless, we put together this Marijuana and Pregnancy series to go over the big concerns to help you make informed decisions about the herb.
Yet, since so many women already use the plant regardless, we put together this Marijuana and Pregnancy series to go over the big concerns to help you make informed decisions about the herb.
Here’s recap on each of the articles in the series:
6 Debated impacts
As many of you may already know, it’s entirely possible to conceive while using marijuana. However, if you are having trouble conceiving, using marijuana doesn’t seem to make the process any easier. Why, you may ask?
Well, the Endocannabinoid system actually plays an integral part in the reproduction process. During certain points in both the production of sperm and ovulation, the body is actually extremely sensitive to various levels of hormones and our natural endocannabinoids.
When you smoke cannabis, compounds in the plant either take over or alter our endocannabinoids.
Though the overall results of research on marijuana and sperm production are highly debated, it’s safe to say that cannabis may impact the body’s ability to develop healthy sperm. This could affect a man’s fertility if he was struggling with a low sperm count.
In women, the herb’s impact on fertility is less straight forward. Studies done in monkeys found that when you first start smoking marijuana, compounds in the plant can interfere with your natural cycle of ovulation.
But, the same studies found that once your body gets used to the new cannabinoids, ovulation cycles returned to normal. With regular THC administration, the monkeys had no trouble conceiving.
2. Inside the womb
Once pregnant, marijuana’s impact inside the womb becomes even more difficult to determine. The good news is that, based on what research is available, it doesn’t seem to do as much harm as alcohol or tobacco.
The number one concern about consuming cannabis while pregnant is the impact on fetal brain development. Cannabinoids, the active compounds in marijuana, impact areas of the brain that are responsible for mood, emotion, cognition, and behavior.
Because of this fact, medical professionals are concerned that consuming substances like THC will impact neonatal brain development in these areas.
Indeed, one 2014 study found that consuming THC while pregnant did alter certain proteins associated with the development of these key brain regions. However, whether or not these changes actually have serious, detrimental, or long term effects is much more difficult to determine.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, prenatal marijuana use is not correlated with issues with growth, post-birth substance withdrawal, fetal abnormalities, or long-term language development issues.
3. Preterm birth
When it comes to marijuana use during pregnancy, however, the implications are less conclusive. Some studies have found a correlation between the two, but others have found no adverse effects as far as delivering prematurely.
One large-scale study published back in the 1980s looked at nearly 12,500 individuals in an attempt to find a correlation between prenatal marijuana use and negative effects.
While the study found that a few more marijuana users delivered prematurely, the results were not statistically significant. Meaning that the study could not conclude that marijuana use increased the risk of preterm birth.
So, based on the research thus far, the results for this risk are controversial and quite mixed.
There is little research available on marijuana and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Yet, many medical professionals and studies list SIDS as one of the risks of using canna is during pregnancy.
The primary piece of research that gave rise to this concern was published in 2001. The result of the study was a little surprising. Maternal marijuana use was not correlated with SIDS, but paternal use was. Even more puzzling, the positive association was found when dad’s consumed prior to conception.
Unfortunately, this study was actually very small and it has not been replicated. So, there isn’t much information available to really put this finding to the test. At this point, the study is also a bit dated and does not adequately address whether mom’s marijuana use also plays a part.
With a little more evidence behind the claim, medical professionals caution against exposing your baby to secondhand smoke. Nearly all kinds of smoke (including marijuana smoke) contains chemicals that may affect regions of the brain that control an infant’s breathing. Interference with a baby’s ability to breathe is thought to strongly contribute to SIDS.
So, if you do choose to use cannabis while nursing or pregnant, it may be safest to take it outside or switch up your consumption methods. Marijuana tea, canna caps, or some delicious edibles, anyone?
Breastfeeding and using marijuana is a sensitive topic. The state of Oregon even made one medical marijuana using mother sign a waiver acknowledging that cannabis may hurt her baby before she could take the baby home. She planned to breastfeed. Here’s why there’s so much caution over the issue.
THC is passed along via breast milk. When a nursing baby is tested for THC, the baby will test positive. However, it’s unclear whether or not the presence of THC in an infant’s system causes long-term negative damage.
Some studies have found a correlation between marijuana use while breastfeeding and a decline in motor development. Other studies examining the issue have found no evidence of negative effects.
One reason for all of the confusion and contradictory studies might have to do with the baby’s ability to process THC in the brain. Research from Israeli scientist Ester Fride has found that developing organisms seem to process THC differently than adult ones.
This finding makes understanding what impact the cannabinoid has on a nursing baby quite difficult. This hypothesis was also tested in rodent models, not humans.
6. Postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is a clinical depression onset after giving birth. It’s well known that marijuana has strong antidepressant capabilities. Many women use the herb as a way to combat postpartum depression while avoiding prescription pharmaceutical drugs.
The decision to treat PPD with cannabis comes down to weighing the potential risks of the herb against the potential risks of pharmaceuticals and the known risks of untreated depression. If left untreated, depression can actually cause behavioral and cognitive changes in a baby.
Cannabinoids and prescription antidepressants can both be passed along to a baby via breast milk. Though, admittedly, the breast milk transfer rate of some antidepressants seems to be relatively low. The long-term effects of either of these options have not been extensively studied.
In cannabis, THC has been the main point of concern. Little research has been conducted regarding the use of high-CBD marijuana or CBD extract. Our full article on postpartum depression dives into more detail about the potential risks of using CBD.
Though, only medical professionals and further research can say for sure just how safe and effective this option is in the long run.
The Jamaican study
Research conducted in Jamaica by Dr. Melanie Dreher helps put the marijuana and pregnancy debate into perspective. Her five-year-long longitudinal study followed 24 marijuana-using mothers and 20 non-users.
The cannabis-using mothers’ consumed spiffs (a joint in Jamaica) all throughout their pregnancies. Dreher’s team evaluated exposed and non-exposed babies at 30 days, three months, four years, and five years after birth.
At no point during any of the evaluations did the marijuana-exposed babies perform worse on any cognitive, behavioral, or motor tests. In fact, at the three-month mark, the marijuana-exposed babies actually performed better than non-exposed babies in several of the evaluated areas.
For more details on Dreher’s work, be sure to check out our article on the subject. We also discuss this study in several of the other articles in our marijuana and pregnancy series.
What to take away
As we mentioned earlier, there really are no easy answers when it comes to marijuana and pregnancy. Right now, medical opinion is extremely cautionary. All the while, anecdotes from marijuana moms have largely negated these protective viewpoints.
Cannabis has helped many mothers manage difficult-to-treat medical symptoms. It has provided a lifeline to many women seeking safer ways to manage chronic conditions during pregnancy. As the same time, Social Services has been known to get involved if an infant tests positive for THC.
The debate around pregnancy and marijuana largely mirrors the global debate about the herb; we’re still fighting the perception that cannabis is a dangerous drug, rather than a vital player in our natural ecosystem and strong medicinal tool.
Ultimately, it’s up to you and your family to decide whether or not this medicine is the best and safest option for you. Other than making a difficult personal choice, we can only keep pushing for reform and greater access to reliable information about this plant.