U.S. Surgeon General warns pregnant women that marijuana can alter a fetus’ brain chemistry.
The United States surgeon general is warning that marijuana is not as safe as it is made out to be, particularly for women who are pregnant. There is a risk to a fetus’ developing brain in more potent forms of the drug with contain higher concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The surgeon general is also warning the same risk applies to children and younger adults, since the brain continues to develop into one’s 20s. The announcement came at an advisory meeting to address the fact that marijuana has now been legalized in some capacity in thirty U.S. states.
“No amount of marijuana use during pregnancy or adolescence is known to be safe,” said U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD. “Until and unless more is known about the long-term impact, the safest choice for pregnant women and adolescents is not to use marijuana.”
He added, “While the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the scary truth is that the actual potential for harm is increasing.”
Adams is warning that the use of marijuana among pregnant women is on the rise now that more and more states are legalizing it and “with marijuana now legalized to some degree in more than 30 states, consumers may underestimate the risks of this drug.” He explained that the THC concentration rose from 4% to 12% from 1995 and 2014 and in some areas of the country, it is available in dispensaries at concentrations between 17.7% and 23.2%.
“This ain’t your mother’s marijuana. The higher the THC delivery, the higher the risk,” Adams said. He cited data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) which indicated between 2002-2003 and 2016-2017, the adjusted prevalence of past-month cannabis use rose from 3.4% to 7% among pregnant women, and from 5.7% to 12.1% during the first trimester. This could partially be due to the fact that retailers are marketing the plant for morning sickness.
In addition to altering the brain chemistry of a developing fetus, potent doses lower birth weight and lead to other adverse outcomes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists confirmed that it is making the same recommendations. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advised against marijuana use during pregnancy.
The risk of THC hurting an infant if a mother is using while breast-feeding is another concern. Adams warned that “THC [has been] found in breast milk for up to 6 days after a woman’s last recorded use of the drug” and this “exposure has been linked to hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and other long-term consequences.” He added, “Additionally, marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful components as tobacco smoke. No one should smoke marijuana or tobacco around a baby.”
Also, contrary to popular belief, marijuana can lead to addiction. Adams explained, “Nearly 1 in 5 people who begin marijuana use during adolescence become addicted. That’s scary to me as the dad of a 15-, a 13- and a 9-year-old.” He added, “Marijuana’s increasingly widespread availability in multiple and highly potent forms, coupled with a false and dangerous perception of safety among youth, merits a nationwide call to action.”