JAMA Pediatrics revealed that alcohol and cigarette use among pregnant women has declined between 2002 and 2016. While this is good news, the research also found that marijuana use among pregnant women is increasing.
Now that more states have legalized the use of marijuana, more and more people are using the drug, including pregnant women. The research evaluated 12,000 responses from women responding to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. According to data, 2.9% of women reported using marijuana while they were pregnant in 2002. Data from 2016 shows that 5% of women said they used marijuana during their pregnancies.
The increase comes at a time when 33 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of medical marijuana. The recreational use of the drug has also been legalized in 10 states and Washington, D.C. One Pew Research poll found that 62% of Americans agree that marijuana should be legal. In 2000, only 31% of the country agreed with legalizing marijuana.
Although access to marijuana is easier than ever before, experts still suggest that pregnant women should not use the drug. This is because research in the area is still very limited, and the evidence we do have suggests that marijuana might put developing babies at risk.
Dr. Kjersti Aagard, maternal-fetal medicine specialist and professor at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, had the following to say about the increasing use of marijuana among pregnant women, “I think a misconception is that [marijuana] probably doesn't do any harm, and we simply don't know the answer for that. No amount of marijuana is known to be safe in pregnancy. Not for the mom, not for the baby."
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG) 2017 committee opinion on marijuana use in pregnancy, marijuana is the most common illegal drug used during pregnancy. In fact, studies have shown that 34% to 60% of marijuana users still use the drug while they are pregnant. Unfortunately, many of these soon-to-be mothers are under the assumption that marijuana is “relatively safe.”
Currently, there isn’t much data on the effect of marijuana on pregnant people and their babies, and research in this area is often difficult to conduct because the use of other substances and lifestyle factors can impact results, according to the ACOG. However, there are studies that concluded marijuana use during pregnancy might have health risks.
According to Dr. Aagaard, “What we know today is pretty sparse. When we've looked, there is evidence of harm. And we haven't looked at all the different avenues where that harm may occur and we don't have the long-term studies to really examine that carefully from a public health perspective."
Some research has suggested that using marijuana during pregnancy might disrupt brain development in the fetus and can even result in low birth weight.
"Probably the most consistent data we have is related to the growth of the baby - that marijuana [use] might relate to growth restriction," said Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Columbia University's department of obstetrics and gynecology. “There is some, at least, early data to look at adverse neurodevelopment, and there have been a handful of studies showing lower visual-motor coordination, visual analyses, lower neurodevelopmental test scores. That might be a huge downstream problem that we're underappreciating at this point.”
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