The Inconvenient Truth About Pregnancy And Pot

In the era of mainstream medical marijuana, pregnant women have been turning to cannabis to treat severe morning sickness. Research suggests its a bad idea.

woman holds a joint of rolled marijuana while pregnant

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Marijuana moms” have been making headlines for their claims that smoking pot makes them better parents—“Mommy needs a joint as much as mommy needs a glass of wine,” one tells TODAY.

“I feel like I am actually more focused and attentive while I am medicated, it kind of gives me that spruce of energy that I don’t have,” says another. And while it may be one thing to get baked while you’re watching kids—which itself is a contentious idea—doctors are arguing that it’s another matter when you’re incubating them.

The use of marijuana during pregnancy has increased, the Washington Post reports, for individuals trying to ease morning sickness or anxiety. A report coming out of the Columbia University Medical Center looked at rates of pot use among pregnant women and found that 3.9% “reported past-month marijuana use.” VICE reported on some of these individuals, one of whom was “vomiting so much that [she] had to go to the emergency room at least once every week […] for IV rehydration.” This symptom, called “hyperemesis gravidarum,” put both mother and baby at risk and was relieved by vaping weed. Other cases are murkier—one of the mothers interviewed simply seemed to shrug and say, “I understand the doctors’ concern, but it’s not alcohol.”

Certainly, there are more legitimate medical reasons than others to put a baby at risk of complications from the use of any substance during pregnancy, regardless of how relatively harmless lighting up can be a vice for those who are not reproducing. Research is still largely out, but a multinational study found that there was an association between “spontaneous preterm birth” and marijuana use during pregnancy. The numbers, published in Reproductive Toxicology, are actually pretty stark,

“Women who continue to use marijuana at 20 weeks’ gestation are five times more likely to deliver preterm than those who do not […] with an estimated gestation of less than 37 weeks when [used] more than once per day for the preceding three months [before the 20 week point].”

The Case Against Pregnancy and Pot 1 of 2 Grab your weed, grab your snacks, theres going to be a Lord Of The Rings TV series
Bow, East London. An Expectant Teenage Mother. 2005. (Photo by: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images)

A physician’s response

Doctors are now chiming in with responses to the studies. Dr. Ira Chasnoff, a pediatrician who specializes in alcohol and drug use in pregnant individuals, takes a very clear stance on the whole matter. He tells VICELAND’s show WEEDIQUETTE that the use of “anything that affects brain functioning is not good,” mentioning low birth rates, premature births, and issues with executive functioning as resulting factors of marijuana use during pregnancy. He admits that “it hasn’t been studied, but […] physicians need to be aware that there are probably risks.” Host Krishna Andavolu points out that the hubbub bears similarity to the mythical crack baby “epidemic” of the ‘80s.

It’s important to take all current findings with a grain of salt, and Dr. Chasnoff does make some infuriating leaps suggesting that being of reproductive capacity means you have to avoid fun. “If you’re having sex,” he says, “don’t’ smoke marijuana.” But puritanical histrionics aside, the rates of preterm births shown as a result of pregnant pot use might just be enough to truly give some parents pause.