Marijuana Use Among Pregnant Women Rises Drastically, Study Shows

By Kelly Burch 12/28/16

Marijuana use was highest among expectant mothers between the ages of 18 and 25.

Pregnant woman holding her stomach.

Marijuana use among pregnant women rose 62% between 2002 and 2014, raising concern about the potential effects on fetuses and infants. 

Researchers found that 3.9% of pregnant women reported using marijuana in the past month, according to a study reported by Live Science. Although the rate is still relatively small, it represents a significant increase as rates of marijuana use in the rest of the United States continue to rise.

Researchers wrote that although the rate “is not high, the increases over time and potential adverse consequences of prenatal marijuana exposure suggest further monitoring and research are warranted.” 

Use was highest among expectant mothers between the ages of 18 and 25, according to ABC10. The study used federal data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which was analyzed by Qiana Brown, an epidemiologist at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. The research was published Dec. 19 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 

In the same issue of JAMA, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, wrote that "although the evidence for the effects of marijuana on human prenatal development is limited at this point, research does suggest that there is cause for concern.”

Volkow’s editorial noted that some women use marijuana to control severe morning sickness, a practice that has not been thoroughly studied.

Some research suggests that prenatal marijuana use can lead to low birth weights and can affect neurological development, but it is hard to pinpoint the effects since many expectant mothers who use marijuana also use alcohol or other drugs. 

The news about the rising rates of marijuana use among pregnant women comes as concern grows about drug dependent infants. The CDC found this year that the number of babies born drug dependent has tripled since 1999. As of 2013, 7.5 babies per thousand are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which comes with a variety of physical and mental challenges and can leave the infants with seizures and trouble feeding. The babies have to withdraw, sometimes with the assistance of morphine or other medications. 

Earlier this month, researchers found that the rate of infants born dependent on drugs is higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas. This is especially concerning given that dependent infants need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, and rural hospitals are less equipped to deliver the specialized care that these babies require. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.