In the past Marijuana (or Cannabis Sativa and Indica) has been labeled as an “evil” drug and been associated with teenage rebellion, the “hippy” movement and unwashed miscreants of the user and slacker genres. It has been blamed for countess medical phenomena especially those relating to the reproductive system and pregnancy. However, as seemingly well known and accredited medical and scientific minds begin to condemn this drug and its uses, other scientific and medical opinions begin to surface bringing with them some surprising theories, studies and facts. Although, not all the “pro-marijuana pregnancy” opinions are the same they do seem to agree on the main point that perhaps the traditional conclusions may have been overstated or even wrong all together.
Marijuana became most widely known during the 60’s and 70’s and most widely used during the 80’s but has been suspected to have existed in the United States for much longer. ” Cannabis was an often used medicine in the United States in the 19th century. It was easily available without a prescription and was also widely prescribed by physicians.”(Willoughby, 1999) In the twentieth century however, because of the government run media, the historically medicinal herb known as Marijuana has been demonized and its medical properties buried and forgotten. Along with the spread of the drug itself, came the paranoia of adverse effects, especially those relating to reproduction and pregnancy. This is due, in large part, to the work of Dr. Gabriel Nahas, whose scientific experiments were comprised of tissue samples in Petri dishes and researchers who injected animals with almost deadly doses of cannabinoids (the part of marijuana that intoxicates the subject). In the end, Nahas’s biased theories were rejected as invalid by the greater scientific community. Unfortunately, the rejection of Nahas’s work by the scientific community was ignored by the general public and a door was opened on an abundance of myths now prominent in today’s world. Specialists such as Gerald Briggs furthered this fear fueled phenomena by promoting the “Evil Drug” perspective, which encourages the belief that marijuana is a health hazard to unborn infants. ” Smoking marijuana during pregnancy may affect your baby’s growth and the development of his nervous system. Studies have shown that children who were exposed to marijuana during pregnancy sometimes have problems focusing their attention and solving problems.”(Briggs, 2007) In the next paragraph, Briggs goes on to state that, “There’s no evidence so far, however, that marijuana use during pregnancy causes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder .”(Briggs, 2007) The rest of the entry states that marijuana use while pregnant may cause “higher risk of leukemia in young children”.(Briggs, 2007) Lending support to the anti-marijuana faction the APA (American Pregnancy Association) suggests that the ingestion of marijuana smoke (and also tobacco smoke) can cause an increase in the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the blood stream. These are then passed on to the baby through the placenta, resulting in lower oxygen content in the bloodstream. Another study conducted by Astley and Little in 1990 implied “that exposure to THC through breast milk in the first month of life could result in decreased motor development at 1 year old.”(Djulus, 2005)
The most detrimental obstacle to the overall assertion that marijuana is one of the leading causes of pregnancy difficulties is a lack of evidence. The main reason why there are so few unbiased studies conducted in this area is simply because there are so few patients willing to participate. Most of the patients who participated in the studies were also exposed to other factors such as exposure to pesticides (if the marijuana was grown with them), marijuana that had been laced with other drugs including but not limited to “PCP, Cocaine or Opiates”(Downey, 2008), low economical status, poor diet and little or no access to prenatal care. Also a majority of the patients that were willing to participate usually engaged in alcohol, tobacco or drug (other than marijuana) consumption during the studies themselves.
However, in Jamaica in 1994 a study was administered by Melanie C. Dreher, PdD, Kevin Nugent, PhD and Rebekah Hudgens, MA. They hypothesized that marijuana use in pregnant women was not just a good thing but possibly even improved the performance of the children in question. The study included thirty-one pregnant women who were exposed to marijuana and twenty-five pregnant women who were not exposed (the uneven numbers being a result of three women switching from users to non-users, two abortions, a preterm labor and a stillbirth). Using the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale the exposed and non-exposed children were compared at 3 days and 1 month old to determine any possible effects. The results were surprisingly noteworthy, “ There were no significant differences between exposed and non-exposed neonates on day 3. At 1 month, the exposed neonates showed better physiological stability and required less examiner facilitation to reach organized states. The neonates of heavy-marijuana-using mothers had better scores on autonomic stability, quality of alertness, irritability, and self-regulation and were judged to be more rewarding for caregivers.”(Dreher, 1994)
Although controlled clinical trials in this area of study have been relatively few, another approach has been undertaken by a most surprising faction. Technologies such as networking and the internet and websites have collaborated to provide a small measure of anonymity to the many people who take advantage of it. It is now possible to log onto websites and write entire articles or publish smaller pieces (known as posts) without ever having to divulge one’s name. It is because of this development that many mothers in America (and in other countries) have felt safe enough to come forward with what they have experienced. Many claim to have smoked marijuana throughout their entire pregnancy and have no adverse side affects. Subsequently some of the mothers suggest that marijuana use is ok during pregnancy up to a certain point (usually thought to be sometime within the first trimester). Still others strive to convince their readers that without a doubt, marijuana has increased their children’s cognitive and physical abilities and they can at least keep up with if not overtake the children of non-marijuana using mothers.
Although observations like the one mentioned above bring to light new and interesting facts and results there is still not enough supporting evidence to merit either theory. More in-depth studies will have to be conducted and differing opinions will need to be analyzed and tested. Never the less, due to the fact that so little is known about the affect that marijuana has on unborn infants at this time, most people would conclude that it is best to err on the side of safety and abstain from marijuana use during pregnancy.
APA (2008). Using illegal street drugs during pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association, Promoting Pregnancy Wellness. Retrieved February 10, 2011, from APA database:
Briggs, G. (2007). Is it safe to smoke marijuana during pregnancy. Baby Center. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from babycenter.com database:
Djulua, J., MD, Koren, G., MD FRCPC, Moretti, M., MSC. (2005) Marijuana use and breastfeeding. Canadian Family Physician. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from motherisk.org:
Downey, L. (2008). Marijuana effects on unborn fetus. Livestrong.com. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from livestrong.com database:
Dreher, M.C. PhD; Hudgins, R. MA; Nungent, K. PhD; (1994). Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal outcomes in Jamaica: An Ethnographic Study, Volume 93, Number 2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from druglibrary.org:
OTIS (2007). Marijuana and Pregnancy. OTIS. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from OTIS database:
UCSF Medical Center (2010). Substance use during pregnancy. UCSF Medical Center.
Retrieved February 10, 2011 from UCSF Medical Center database:
Willoughby, M. (1999). Marijuana Myths. Network Solutions. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from Network Solutions database: