Marijuana and Reproduction/Pregnancy
This information was prepared by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre in Australia, and used with permission. Some information may not be accurate for U.S. readers.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug amongst women of reproductive age or by women who are pregnant.
Even though there has been little research into the effects of marijuana use upon the unborn child, it is strongly recommended that pregnant women and their partners do not use alcohol or any other drug due to the potential harmful effects on the developing baby.
Can marijuana use affect fertility?
Heavy use of marijuana has been linked to decreased fertility in both men and women. In females, there is evidence that marijuana use may disrupt the menstrual cycle. In males, marijuana is thought to decrease sperm quality and testosterone levels. It is also thought to decrease the ability of sperm to move quickly and has been linked to sperm abnormalities.
These factors can make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant.
Can marijuana use affect pregnancy?
THC (delta-9-hydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is known to pass from the mother to the developing fetus through the placenta. This means that the fetus is affected by any amount of marijuana taken by the pregnant woman, placing it at a greater risk of complications occurring. The effect of the passive inhalation of marijuana as a result of breathing in the smoke of others is not quantified, but should be avoided.
Any form of smoking can disrupt the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus, which can result in restrictions in the growth of the fetus (including overall length, foot length, head size and body weight), and in rare cases premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth.
Can marijuana use affect the baby?
There is some evidence that women who use marijuana during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies with lower birth weight, delayed commencement of breathing, an increase in features similar to those found in foetal alcohol syndrome, exaggerated startle response, tremors, poorer eye-sight, poorer ability to adapt to new aspects of the environment, and a "hole in the heart" (ventricular septal defect).
Other studies have found that in the first six months of life, babies who have been exposed to marijuana in utero are also at greater risk of developing asthma, chest infections, and other breathing problems such as wheezing.
Research suggests that, at ages three to four years, children of mothers who used marijuana while pregnant have poorer verbal, memory and reasoning ability; poorer motor skills and shorter length of play; and are more likely to be fearful, impulsive, inattentive, hyperactive and delinquent. These difficulties appear to persist to age 10 years, when they may be accompanied by increased depression and anxiety, along with reading and spelling problems and general underachievement at school. Such deficits may also continue into adolescence and early adulthood, along with an increased risk for initiation of tobacco and marijuana use.
In addition, there exists some evidence that mothers’ marijuana use during pregnancy increases the risk of their children developing childhood cancers, including non-lymphoblastic leukaemia, rhabdomyosarcoma (a rare, highly malignant tumour that can occur anywhere in the body), and astrocytoma (a type of brain tumour).
Preliminary research suggests that fathers’ marijuana use in the year prior to their children’s birth is associated with an increased risk of rhabdomyosarcoma in their children, and that fathers’ marijuana use during conception, pregnancy or postnatally is associated with an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in their infants. Furthermore, some research suggests that children of fathers who experience marijuana dependence at least at some point in their lifetimes are more likely to experience negative outcomes during childhood, such as poor attachment relationships with their caregivers and psychosocial impairments, including depression and conduct problems.
Can marijuana use affect breast milk?
When a breastfeeding mother uses marijuana, THC passes into the breast-milk and thus into the baby, where it can be stored in the baby’s fatty tissue for several weeks.
Using marijuana while breastfeeding may cause the baby to be unsettled and disrupt feeding cycles.
As a result, marijuana use should be avoided when breastfeeding.
Can using marijuana impact on pregnancy care?
Other problems can be experienced by pregnant women using marijuana because they are less likely to disclose their use of marijuana to health care workers. The stigma associated with their use, as well as fear, guilt and shame about what they may have exposed their unborn baby to, may prevent these women from giving a full history to their obstetricians or midwives.
This may impact on the quality of care for both the woman and her developing baby as health care workers do not have a complete history.
What can you do?
If you are planning to become, or are pregnant, and you or your partner are using marijuana, then it is a good time to stop using.
If you or your partner have been using marijuana during your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife about this. With this knowledge they can help provide support as well as give you and your partner the care you need. They will also be able to help, or refer you to someone else who can help, you or your partner cut down or quit your marijuana use.
Factsheet information taken with permission from the NCPIC web site.
Coming soon: updates to this page with U.S. data and information.