Are Pregnant Women Using Marijuana More?

By Maggie Ethridge 11/09/18

A new report examined the most recent trends for smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy. 

pregnant woman holding her stomach after smoking marijuana.

New federal data shows that while fewer women are using cigarettes and alcohol during pregnancy, more are using marijuana. A research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics examined the data.

According to the data, gathered between 2002 and 2016, the percentage of pregnant women who reported smoking cigarettes during pregnancy changed from 17.5% to around 10%. Alcohol use also fell from nearly 10% to close to 8.5%. While cannabis use among pregnant women was rare, the data shows it has increased from nearly 3% of pregnant women to almost 5%.

The National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provided the data, which came from 12,000 pregnant women ages 18 to 44. Close to 3,500 of these women were in their first trimester of pregnancy, a critical time for fetal development especially for brain and neurological function.

The CDC asks expectant mothers not to use cannabis, to avoid potential harm to the fetus. While pot and cigarette smoke differ, they both are known to cause harm to the lungs, as reported in the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

According to NIDA, “Marijuana smoking is associated with large airway inflammation, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation, and those who smoke marijuana regularly report more symptoms of chronic bronchitis than those who do not smoke.”

The increase of cannabis use among pregnant women may be due to new laws allowing marijuana use, which is now legal in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Marijuana for medical use is legal in 33 states and Washington, D.C.

Overall, the percentage of cigarette smokers in the U.S. is at a new low, having dropped from 45.1 million smokers in 2005 to 36.5 million in 2015. The researchers did find that decreases in smoking were less pronounced among certain subgroups of pregnant women, including black women, women ages 26 to 44, and those who did not finish high school.

This data suggests that increased stress, the cost of living, and lack of access to proper health care may increase the probability that a pregnant woman would smoke marijuana.

Alcohol use among the overall American population, including pregnant women, remains generally consistent. In other countries, especially in Europe, drinking during pregnancy is acceptable in small doses and even considered beneficial to the pregnancy.

The National Survey researchers concluded, “Greater public awareness regarding the consequences of prenatal cannabis exposure in offspring health is necessary."

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.