Due to standard problems of federal illegality and potential researchers’ lack of access to cannabis research, there is still little data on what happens when parents use weed before, during, or soon after a pregnancy. But as a recent Cannabis Wire article points out, data is mounting that suggests parents should proceed with caution when it comes to marijuana—and that in some places, the cannabis industry could be playing a role in postnatal usage.
Mothers bear the brunt of scrutiny when it comes to neonatal health, but fathers’ marijuana consumption may also play a role in their offspring’s development—or at least, it can reflect “shared genetic vulnerabilities for parental cannabis use and offspring behavioral problems.”
That was the conclusion of a 2018 study of 5,903 Netherlands children that found that kids whose parents used marijuana showed more behavioral complexities — but not just by their mothers before or during the time period that they when were pregnant with the kids. The study also showed that kids whose fathers used cannabis were more prone to externalizing behavior issues, e.g. aggression, disobeying rules, and destruction of property.
The Netherlands study failed to find any correlation between parental cannabis use and internalizing problems in children, e.g. social withdrawal, sadness, or suicidal behavior. And it turned up similar correlations to externalizing behavior problems when it came to parents’ use of tobacco while pregnant—though there is ample data on why parents should be avoiding that substance, anyway.
“Future studies with repeated assessments of parental psychopathology and substance use before, during and after pregnancy will be needed to address this,” the researchers concluded.
But there has been mixed results from other research that focused directly on the effects of cannabis use by pregnant woman can have on their children. A small (24 child) 1994 study on rural Jamaican mothers and their children turned up largely benign results—in fact, at one month, children who had been exposed to marijuana in the womb showed better physiological stability, which researchers attributed to their family’s socioeconomic status.
That early study’s limited results have been called into question by others, including one 2015 experiment that turned up evidence that cannabis use could up the risk for premature birth and admission to intensive care after birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourages care providers to talk to women about their cannabis usage when pregnant, and encourage them to switch to “alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data.”
But as legalization continues to spread, the issue of whether parents should be using marijuana becomes more urgent. In California, it was found that the rate of pregnant mothers testing positive cannabis use doubled between 2009 and 2016, an increase that is reflected in nationwide data.
The cannabis industry could even be playing a role in this increase. Last year, researchers found that almost 70 percent of Colorado dispensaries were recommending cannabis products for mothers experiencing first trimester morning sickness.