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Colorado Cannabis Stores Will Begin Posting Warning Signs About THC Risks During Pregnancy

Legal weed has been available in Colorado for years, but the law will add a new component in 2020.

Starting January 1, cannabis stores in the state will be required to post warning signs urging caution to pregnant customers about the risks of marijuana to newborns.

The law is a sign of weed’s ubiquity; what was once a taboo in a number circles is now an everyday routine for many, including those who are with child. Weed has long been considered as verboten to children as other drugs, including alcohol. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that doctors should encourage pregnant women to discontinue marijuana use. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says plainly: “No amount of marijuana has been proven safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.”

But the prevalence and changing attitudes toward marijuana has prompted some to wonder if that is indeed the case.

Researchers at the University of Denver are trying to bring clarity to that question. The school announced in October that Pilyoung Kim, a psychology professor at the University of Denver, is leading a team that is studying the effects of cannabis on pregnant mothers and their babies.

Kim said she was inspired to get to the bottom of the matter when she was working on a separate research project on poverty and pregnancy. While working on that study, Kim was confronted with a recurring question: “It’s OK to use cannabis while you’re pregnant, right?”

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“We were baffled about what to say to these women,” Kim said in a press release. “There is a limited understanding of the effect of cannabis use on themselves and their babies if they are exposed to cannabis inside the womb.”

Some cannabis shops in Colorado have hailed pot as a useful remedy for pregnant women. A study last year on recommendations given to pregnant women at dispensaries in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational pot, found that 69 percent offered the products as a remedy for morning sickness, and that 36 percent said marijuana is safe to use during pregnancy.

In order to help the nearly 800 Colorado businesses comply with the new law ahead of January 1, the nonprofit Smart Colorado has sent out warning signs to all of the stores throughout the state.

“We determined that the state was not providing signage to help Colorado’s marijuana businesses comply with the new law requiring the warning signs so we took the initiative to mail out signs at no cost to the dispensaries,” said Henny Lasley, executive director of Smart Colorado, as quoted by news station KKCO. “It’s important that these fact-based warning messages be prominently placed to counter widespread misinformation that puts the littlest Coloradans at risk.”

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How Marijuana Exposure Affects Developing Babies’ Brains

As states have begun to legalize marijuana, its use has been more openly discussed. While the effects of other commonly used drugs, such as alcohol, have been studied extensively, the effects of marijuana – especially on developing babies during pregnancy – have been much less studied and less widely publicized. This relative silence from the scientific community has affected the public’s opinion on the safety of marijuana: 70 percent of U.S. women think there is “slight or no risk of harm” to the baby from using marijuana during pregnancy. Expectant mothers may use marijuana rather than prescription drugs during pregnancy to relieve pain because they feel “natural” or home remedies are a safer option than prescription drugs. However, just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it is any safer or a better alternative to well-studied prescription drugs. This seems to be the case for marijuana. Given that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug during pregnancy, understanding its risks and impacts on the developing fetus is important.

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Three large-scale longitudinal studies tracked how maternal cannabis use affected their child’s development, and they have had surprisingly consistent results. The Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study surveyed 700 pregnant women who used marijuana in 1978 and has followed about 200 of those children into adulthood. The U.S.-based Maternal Health Practices and Child Development Study has studied 580 children of marijuana users from pregnancy through age 14. The Generation R study is tracking almost 8,000 children in the Netherlands.

Children of marijuana users were more impulsive and hyperactive, and exhibited behavioral issues, lower IQ scores, and memory problems when compared to children of non-users. These mental health problems persisted through their teenage years, where they were significantly more likely to have attention problems and depression. Marijuana-exposed children were also almost twice as likely to display delinquent behavior, such as drug use, by the age of 14 and were more than twice as likely to regularly use marijuana and tobacco as adults. The very consistent results between mice and human studies (summarized in the infographic from The Scientist below) highlights an increasing understanding of the impacts of marijuana use on development.

It’s important to note that some behavioral outcomes may not be completely related to fetal marijuana exposure. Children of marijuana users may have grown up in a different social environment with more lax views on drugs, contributing to their increased drug use.

As marijuana continues to be legalized, we should expect to see more studies on its health effects and safety.