Consuming cannabis while pregnant can have serious social repercussions. In some states, you may even have your child taken away. But, are these harsh concerns about prenatal cannabis use really accurate? Recent research suggests that the herb may be less harmful than we make it out to be. A new study says that smoking cannabis while pregnant is OK, as long as it’s in moderation.
Maternal marijuana use isn’t a risk factor
A team lead by Dr. Shayna Conner set out to determine whether or not prenatal cannabis use is associated with negative health consequences.
They performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies that compared rates of cannabis consumption to birth outcomes.
It is unethical to perform potentially harmful health experiments on pregnant women, so the majority of research on cannabis and pregnancy are observational and cell line studies.
After examining all of the data, the team found two primary outcomes popped up consistently: low birth weight and preterm delivery. Those who oppose cannabis use often use these two potential impacts as an argument against the herb. However, this new study found something interesting.
After sorting out tobacco use and other confounding factors, the researchers found no statistical correlation between cannabis use and any negative birth outcome. This lead them to conclude,
Maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes after adjusting for confounding factors. Thus, the association between maternal marijuana use and adverse outcomes appears attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors.
The article was published online ahead of print and will be available in the October 2016 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.* It can currently be found in the Wolters Kluwer database. (http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/pages/results.aspx?txtkeywords=conner%2c+shayna).
Tobacco + cannabis increases risks
It’s important to note that this study found that when used independently, cannabis does not seem to increase the risk of negative birth outcomes. When you combine the herb with tobacco, however, your risk of low birth weight and premature birth increases.
If you are pregnant and want to avoid any risks, do not consume alcohol, tobacco, or other harmful drugs. Though cannabis has a wide range of therapeutic uses, the herb doesn’t seem to be enough to protect your baby from the harms of prenatal tobacco use.
Why in moderation?
Overall, Dr. Conner is still apprehensive about cannabis use during pregnancy. She tells NPR,
Any foreign substance that doesn’t directly benefit maternal or fetal health should be avoided.-Conner
Yet, she also articulates that when it comes to preventing negative birth outcomes, public health dollars should be put toward substances which have a greater risk of harm. This includes tobacco.
She also notes that her study did not look at long-term mental health and behavioral impacts like ADD/ADHD.
There is some evidence that heavy cannabis consumption during early pregnancy may increase the likelihood of behavioral complications later in life. However, even these studies have produced variable results.
Further, there is also interesting evidence to counter these claims. A longitudinal study of Jamaican women from the 1980s followed cannabis-exposed and nonexposed children from birth to age 5.
When the children were 5-years-old, the research team conducted a variety of tests, including the McCarthy Test of Children’s Abilities. Lead researcher Melanie Dreher found no difference between the exposed children and nonexposed children in terms of ability or academic performance.
What we still need
The only way we will know for sure how the herb impacts child development is through more studies. Conner’s research suggests that there is no evidence thus far that cannabis has harmful neonatal impacts.
However, to weed out the truth about long-term implications of cannabis use, we still need research that follows children into adolescence and adulthood.
We also need research that looks at cannabis use alone without confounding factors. As well as research on the differing effects of THC and other cannabinoids.
Unfortunately, studies of this depth are difficult to execute. Regardless, it seems like there are many things that are a lot worse for you than cannabis.
*Conner, S., & Macones, G. A. (2016, October). Maternal Marijuana Use and Adverse Neonatal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis [Abstract].Obstetrics & Gynecology, 128(4), 713-723. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from Wolters Kluwer.