Here’s some new research that surprised me, and I imagine would surprise women who planned on using cannabis to relieve anxiety and morning sickness while pregnant. I understand that’s quite a few people. If the findings here are accurate, they may want to reconsider.
I’ve been wary of overstating the possible consequences of drug use since the early years of the crack epidemic, when flawed science and flawed reporting fomented unnecessary fear about the fate of future generations. We do not want a repeat of that episode.
Still, we should be concerned that in our eagerness to turn marijuana into a consumer product, we may be ignoring some important information on the possible negative impact on newborns and young children.
Take this recent piece that appeared in The New York Times:
Among commonly used drugs, marijuana is regarded as the least risky. Where we get frequent warnings about alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, cannabis seems to get a pass. I’m not sure why. It could result in a sense of false confidence. The study implies that it already has.
Women, according to one of the authors, “tend to think smoking and drinking during pregnancy need to be avoided at all costs, but not cannabis…” I’ve noticed that much. “We have a long way to go to educate pregnant women, policymakers and even OB-GYN doctors on this issue.”
Cannabis isn’t known for the sort of effects we normally associate with ‘hard’ drug abuse. Users don’t lose control or embarrass themselves in public or overdose and die from smoking pot. In that respect it’s a bit like tobacco, without many of the nastier long-term health consequences. That’s probably why so many women feel okay about continuing to use it while they’re pregnant.
Science suggests it may not be such a great idea. Some of the available research findings:
- A longitudinal study that linked maternal cannabis use with children’s behavioral problems, language comprehension, attention and memory.
- More research that linked cannabis with low birth weight, problems with IQ, among other consequences.
- Most recently, based on neurobiological testing of 300-plus healthy mothers who admitted using cannabis while pregnant: “…[Their children} were more than twice as likely as children of abstinent mothers to be anxious, aggressive or hyperactive” when they were three to six years old.
Researchers don’t draw a direct line from pot use to such dramatic outcomes. Other factors are surely involved. Nonetheless, they’re concerned that the importance of cannabis in these findings is largely ignored. The information simply isn’t getting out there to the target population. Or even to the physicians and other practitioners responsible for their care.
One theory points the finger at the pronounced increase in THC content in today’s cannabis products. I’m sure that’ll be grounds for further investigation.
By way of closing: the New York Times notes that the cannabis use among pregnant women is growing. One study found that “nearly twice as many reported using cannabis” in 2016 than back in 2009.
That was five years ago. I suspect it’s still escalating.