Consuming cannabis when you’re pregnant has been a highly contested subject for some time. On one hand, cannabis can be incredibly helpful with morning sickness, aches, and cramps that pregnant women experience. In other words, for the mother, cannabis can be therapeutic. But little is known about how cannabis might affect the fetus, whether in the beginning of a pregnancy or toward the end. In particular, the question is more pertinent when it comes to taking high doses of THC, the active psychoactive compound in weed, as opposed to high doses of CBD, another prominent, though non-psychotropic compound in cannabis.
Most conventional practitioners of western medicine will tell you point blank not to smoke weed when you’re pregnant. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Worrisome trends do emerge,” despite a general lack of data on the issue. Children whose mothers used cannabis when they were pregnant are more likely to have behavioral or cognitive problems later on in life.
For starters, cannabis, and THC in particular, could affect the development of a child’s brain. This comes into play not only in utero, but also with breastfeeding.
According to Dr. Diana Dow-Edwards at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, THC affects or interferes with how neurons connect to one another. “This of course is the whole essence of the brain,” she says. “One neuron connects to the next, which connects to the next.”
Two studies that began in 1978 and 1982, which looked at women who chose to use cannabis during pregnancy, as opposed to those who didn’t, followed the children for decades. The pregnancies in both sets of women were comparable, but the children whose mothers consumed cannabis were later on more likely to have issues with attention, memory, and hyperactivity.
Another study from Jamaica also looked at babies whose mothers smoked when pregnant as opposed to those whose mothers did not. The researchers found that babies whose mothers smoked weed scored higher in reflex tests and basic functions like blood pressure and heart rate, while also being more alert and less irritable.
When the research team followed up with the children four and five years later, they saw no difference in the IQs of both groups. “We can’t really conclude that there’s necessarily no impact from ganja use prenatally whatsoever, but what can be concluded is that the child who attends basic school regularly, is provided with a variety of stimulating experiences at home, who is encouraged to show mature behavior, has a profoundly better chance of performing at a higher level on the skills measured by the McCarthy [IQ testing] whether or not his or her mother consumed ganja during pregnancy,” said Dr. Melanie Dreher, who led the study.
All this taken into account, the kind of weed a pregnant mother is smoking could also affect the impact on her baby. To avoid the risks of THC, especially on the baby’s cognition, mothers might opt instead for cannabis products high in CBD.