Is cannabis use harmful during pregnancy?

Certainly seems like it could be. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t. Or perhaps it is, but not by very much.

Depends on who’s answering the question.

This is what researchers have been complaining about for decades. The restrictions around cannabis have inhibited studies that could provide us with far better answers than we currently possess. Instead, we’re way behind the learning curve, once again left to play catch up.

The Vox website has a podcast on pregnancy that focuses in part on the question of cannabis use. The reason: it’s clear that an ever-increasing number of women are turning to cannabis to relieve some of the less pleasant symptoms of pregnancy – mainly, nausea and vomiting. Cannabis appears to help, they say, so why not continue? At least until the worst of morning sickness has passed. It’s only pot, they’ll argue. What harm could it do?

It’s to answer that question that we need good research. Because right now, the answers aren’t entirely clear.

On one side are studies such as this, from Canada:

Cannabis use sending more pregnant Canadians to hospital, new study finds

Scary, huh? Then again, here’s a Vox piece that seems less worried about its impact.

Is weed safe in pregnancy?

Quoting from the text:

“Researchers aren’t entirely clear on whether cannabis use affects birth weights, and while there are some connections drawn between cannabis use in pregnancy and attention, hyperactivity, and aggression in kids, these results are also not clear-cut.”

In fact, their concern is for existing laws that impose harsh penalties on pregnant people for cannabis use.

It’s a legit issue. I came across one case where an Arizona woman’s name was added to the state’s child abuse registry because her newborn baby had tested positive for marijuana. Another where an Alabama woman went to jail because she couldn’t afford bond on a child abuse charge– based solely on a positive drug test taken while she was pregnant.

To me, that’s pretty nutty stuff. But such cases are vestiges of a legal system that for much of its history was designed for punishment and deterrence rather than prevention and treatment. I assume they’ll keep popping up as long as the laws are on the books and prosecutors are willing to make use of them.

From a treatment perspective, our goal has to be to provide patients with accurate information about cannabis use and its associated risks, so that their decisions will be informed ones. Cannabis use is now so widely accepted that we can’t expect pregnant women not to seriously consider using it when they’re suffering.

And where it’s already legal (and sometimes even where it isn’t), counselors will have to address it much as they do alcohol and tobacco problems — as a matter of personal health and wellness, rather than law.

To do that, we’ll need better, more conclusive research. So let’s get moving.