How safe or medicinal is medical marijuana during pregnancy?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, January was national Birth Defect Month. As many pregnant people know, there are a lot of possible risks and dangers associated with pregnancy. Threats can vary from food or beverages consumed to drug use during pregnancy. Marijuana (cannabis sativa or weed) is one of the most common drugs used for recreation. One of every 33 babies is born with a congenital disability. Any agent that can cause this type of abnormality in an embryo or fetus is called a teratogen. These agents can lead to physical malformations, neurological problems or even miscarriage or stillbirth. Marijuana has recently gained recognition for its medicinal purposes; nevertheless, marijuana is still a teratogen drug that can cause congenital disabilities. 

In the United States, medical marijuana is most commonly used to treat pain. While marijuana isn’t strong enough to treat severe pain (such as post-surgical pain or a broken bone), it is quite successful in treating chronic pain, affecting millions of Americans, particularly as they get older. Its attractiveness stems from the fact that it is safer than opiates (it is difficult to overdose on and far less addictive). It can be used in place of NSAIDs like Advil or Aleve if patients cannot take them owing to kidney, ulcer or GERD problems.

Marijuana appears to help with the pain of multiple sclerosis and nerve pain in general. There are few alternative options in this region, and those like Neurontin, Lyrica or opiates are quite sedating. Patients indicate that marijuana permits them to resume their previous activities without feeling tired or uninterested.

Although marijuana has gained recognition for its medicinal properties, all of the effects of marijuana use are still not fully known. The use of marijuana during pregnancy is dangerous, even in small amounts. Therefore, there are a few things to be aware of when considering what is best for you and your baby. The March of Dimes (2020) compiled a list of possible congenital disabilities where the risk is increased with the use of marijuana. The list includes anemia, stillbirth, premature birth, fetal growth restriction and anencephaly, a severe congenital disability in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. It is a type of neural tube defect. It is important to note that these congenital disabilities can occur with any pregnancy. However, the risk becomes heightened with the use of marijuana while pregnant.

Morning sickness is perhaps the causal link to using cannabis sativa (marijuana) and maybe why it is the illicit drug most commonly used during pregnancy. Some use it to reduce the effects of morning sickness and to alleviate other symptoms or general pregnancy pains. The self-reports of marijuana use indicate that about 2%-5% of people use marijuana while pregnant. Usage of marijuana increases to 15%-28% in young, socioeconomically disadvantaged pregnant people, which is notable.

If you or someone you know uses marijuana, please share this information with them. If you are pregnant, it is essential to consult with a doctor before considering the use of any drug, including marijuana/synthetic. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and are struggling with the use of marijuana, help is listed below:

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: 800-622-2255.

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator: 800-662-4357. 

Taeylor Stokes is a Shalom Inc. prevention specialist.