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Marijuana Use and Pregnancy: Learn the Risks

Learn the potential risks placed on yourself and your baby.


While marijuana use is still illegal in most places, many states have legalized the medical use of marijuana and some have even legalized its recreational use. Those who advocate for legalization cite potential benefits, such as easing side effects for cancer patients. While marijuana may help with some medical conditions, does that mean using marijuana is without risk, especially while pregnant? As with anything you put into your body while you are pregnant, it’s important to understand the potential risks placed on yourself and your baby.  

What is marijuana and why would someone use it during pregnancy?

Also known as cannabis, pot, or weed, marijuana is a drug derived from the cannabis plant. It has a history of use in various cultures as a medicinal and psychoactive drug. It can be smoked, vaped, or extracted and added to a variety of foods, oils, or waxes. Marijuana is the most commonly-used street drug in pregnancy and its popularity during pregnancy is increasing. One study found that self-reported use of marijuana in pregnancy jumped to 7% in 2016; in 2009 it was 4%. This has experts concerned as no amount of marijuana has been shown to be safe during pregnancy. The first trimester is when women report the highest use, presumably because they are using it to try easing morning sickness and other aches and pains of pregnancy. 

While more studies need to be conducted on the effects of marijuana use before and during pregnancy, there is hard evidence that it does cause complications, and some even before a pregnancy begins. In females, marijuana use can affect the hormones needed to conceive, and can cause issues with ovulation. In males, marijuana use decreases sperm count. The list of possible complications for use during pregnancy is longer and many of them are very serious:

  • Neurological issues: Critical brain development in babies occurs during the first trimester, just at the time when women may be using marijuana to ease nausea. This use may interfere with healthy brain development and put your child at increased risk for things like learning and behavior challenges, difficulty sleeping, and depression.
  • Premature birth: The risk of premature birth is up to five times greater in marijuana users, according to studies
  • Stillbirth: Defined as the death of a baby after 20 weeks gestation, stillbirth appears to be linked to marijuana use, reports WebMD.
  • Anemia: Anemia rates in pregnancy are higher in marijuana users. Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues in the body, and when their numbers are too low, anemia can occur. This can result in low birth weight, premature birth, and even the death of the mother.
  • Low birth weight: Moms who use marijuana have a higher risk of having a baby with a low birth weight, or weighing less than 5 pounds 8 ounces at birth. Low birth weights can contribute to a variety of health issues.

Your baby isn’t the only one who could be negatively affected by marijuana use. While it may ease your morning sickness, marijuana use also increases your risk of the following:

  • Issues sleeping 
  • Memory issues
  • Inability to focus 
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased heart rate
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic cough (smokers cough)   

Marijuana use is also not recommended while breastfeeding. Chemicals found in marijuana, such as the active ingredient THC, do pass through breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends staying away from marijuana use while breastfeeding due to potential risks to brain development.  

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