As more states legalize
marijuana and social media touts its use for morning sickness, the nation’s
pediatricians caution the drug may not be harmless.
Itasca, IL - With marijuana use
more commonly reported by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, a new
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report calls for more research on possible
developmental effects on children. Highlighting emerging evidence that
marijuana likely is not harmless as widely assumed, the AAP recommends women
avoid the drug while pregnant or nursing a child.
clinical report, “Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Implications for Neonatal and Childhood Outcomes,” published in the September
(online August 27), cites statistics showing that more babies than ever are
being exposed to marijuana.
marijuana now legal for medical or recreational use in more than half of U.S.
states, statistics show its use rising. Marijuana use among pregnant women
increased by 62 percent between 2002 and 2014, nationally. Meanwhile, marijuana
has become more potent, with average concentrations of the psychoactive
compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) more than quadrupling since the 1980s.
that marijuana is legal in many states may give the impression the drug is
harmless during pregnancy, especially with stories swirling on social media
about using it for nausea with morning sickness,” said Sheryl A. Ryan, MD,
FAAP, a lead author of the report and Chair of the AAP Committee on Substance
Use and Prevention.
fact, this is still a big question. We do not have good safety data on prenatal
exposure to marijuana. Based on the limited data that does exist, as
pediatricians, we believe there is cause to be concerned about how the drug
will impact the long-term development of children,” Dr. Ryan said.
chemical in marijuana mostly responsible for its psychoactive effects, readily
crosses the placenta and enters the rapidly developing brain of the fetus.
Research has shown that THC gets into breastmilk, including a study published
Aug. 27 that found THC present in breastmilk up to six days after the last use.
known about what happens once marijuana gets in a baby’s system, according to
the AAP, but the studies that do exist consistently suggest links between
prenatal exposure and possible neurodevelopment effects. These include harm to
children’s executive function skills including concentration, attention,
impulse control and problem-solving. Some studies also reveal a possibly higher
risk of substance use disorder and mental illness among teens and adults who
had prenatal exposure to marijuana.
these effects may not show up right away, but they can impact how well a child
can maneuver in the world,” Dr. Ryan said. “Children’s and teens’ ability to
manage their time, school work, and jobs might all be harmed down the line from
marijuana use during their mother’s pregnancy.”
research also shines light on the mechanisms behind these possible effects. The
AAP report describes evidence suggesting THC attaches to and essentially
“hijacks” and disrupts neurotransmitters in the brain that play a key role in
the normal development of nerve cell networks.
still a lot we don’t know about how marijuana affects a baby’s rapidly
developing brain,” said Mary E. O’Connor, MD, MPH, FAAP, a co-author of the
clinical report and an executive committee member of the AAP Section on
Breastfeeding. “But, based on what we know now, we’re advising women who are
pregnant or nursing that the safest choice for their child is to avoid
Editor’s Note: A solicited commentary, “A Modern Conundrum for thePediatrician: The Safety of Breast Milk and the Cannabis-Using Mother,” also
will release August 27.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds