It’s worth mentioning that the side effects of pregnancy don’t magically disappear when the baby is born. Postpartum depression and anxiety are common, and disrupted sleep is the norm. Many of these women will look for a solution that can help address this, so could cannabis be the answer? So is it safe to consume cannabis during pregnancy, and or after?
The Risk to a Developing Fetus
A 2020 study done in California found that up to 11% of women admitted to consume cannabis during pregnancy, however, there was one limitation to the study: it didn’t control for cannabis composition – not strains or THC levels.
The effects of cannabis usage during pregnancy on the developing fetus and the baby later in life are inconsistent. In part, the timing of cannabis use during pregnancy may be associated with unique impacts. The receptors that THC activates to give you a high are not found in significant numbers in the fetus until 19 weeks.
In rhesus monkeys, THC easily crosses the placenta and can be detected in fetal blood within 15 minutes of the mother’s use. That doesn’t suggest that the fetus can get stoned; it’s not until the third trimester that the baby’s brain has the requisite structures for this effect, and even so it would be a highly different experience.
One alarming study found that almost 500 children born to cannabis-using mothers were lighter in weight, more likely to be born prematurely, and were more likely to be admitted to neonatal ICUs. These effects were persistent even when socioeconomic status was controlled for.
Additionally, if a mother had been a regular cannabis user and stopped during pregnancy, these effects disappeared, which would suggest the cannabis use during pregnancy does affect fetal development.
What About Diet?
It’s important to take these findings with a grain of salt, for they did not control for factors like frequency of use, dosing, or lifestyle differences, all factors which may impact the development of the unborn child.
There is some research to suggest that dietary choline, an essential nutrient found in eggs, meat, and potatoes, could have a protective effect against harm caused by gestational THC exposure.
The research of moderate cannabis use amongst pregnant moms-to-be appears to show very subtle effects on the fetal brain. There is emerging data that caution should be exercised, but cannabis use is certainly not as bad as alcohol use during pregnancy.
Some factors may exacerbate cannabis’s negative effects on the unborn baby, though. This includes using several substances; tobacco use together with weed had double the impairing effect on the infant’s ability to self soothe compared to infants from tobacco-only users.
Despite the risk of transferring cannabinoids to the infant, there is not always a simple right or wrong answer when it comes to considering using cannabis during or after pregnancy. Maternal bonding can be influenced by a multitude of factors, including the mother’s mental health and wellbeing.
Many new mothers experience baby blues within a couple of weeks of giving birth, and around 15% of new mothers develop postpartum depression within the first year. Anxiety, poor sleep, and postpartum pain only add to the challenges post-birth.