Using marijuana during pregnancy may cause harm to your baby and increase the risk of premature birth. It may also affect fertility before pregnancy. Learn about the effects of marijuana and, if, seek help to quit. Research indicates the use of cannabis may affect human fertility, depending on gender, general health, socioeconomic status and several other factors.
Marijuana and pregnancy
No amount of marijuana has been proven safe to use during pregnancy.
Using marijuana during pregnancy may cause problems for your baby, like premature birth, problems with brain development and stillbirth.
It’s not safe to use marijuana to treat morning sickness. Talk to your health care provider about treatments that are safer for your baby.
If you use marijuana, don’t breastfeed. You may pass chemicals from marijuana to your baby through breast milk.
Talk to your provider if you need help to quit using marijuana or any other street drug.
What is marijuana?
Marijuana (also called pot, weed and cannabis) is a drug that comes from the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant. Marijuana is the most commonly used street drug during pregnancy.
Marijuana has more than 500 chemicals, including tetrahydrocannabinol (also called THC). This chemical can affect how your brain works and make it hard to think clearly. THC and other chemicals in marijuana may change your sense of sight, sound and touch.
Using marijuana during pregnancy may cause problems for your baby before and after birth.
What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana (also called medicinal marijuana) is sometimes used to treat certain health conditions, like cancer or severe pain. In many states, medical marijuana is legal to use with a recommendation from your health care provider. It can be smoked, vaped or eaten. The Food and Drug Administration (also called FDA) has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective medicine for any health condition.
In some states, marijuana is legal for personal use that’s not for medical reasons.
Even if it’s legal where you live for either personal or medical use, no amount of marijuana is safe to use marijuana during pregnancy, even to treat morning sickness. There is also no safe way to use marijuana. If you’re thinking of using marijuana to help with morning sickness, talk to your provider about other treatments that are less harmful to your baby.
Is it harmful to use marijuana before pregnancy?
Yes. Before pregnancy, using marijuana can affect your fertility and make it hard for you to get pregnant. Marijuana can affect:
- Hormones that your body needs to get pregnant. Hormones are chemicals made by the body.
- Your menstrual cycle. This is the process of your ovaries releasing an egg every month.
- A man’s sperm count (the number of sperm he makes). A man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg to begin a pregnancy.
Can using marijuana during pregnancy cause problems for your baby?
Yes. When you use marijuana during pregnancy, THC and other chemicals can pass through the placenta to your baby. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Chemicals from marijuana also may pass to your baby’s brain.
Researchers are continuing to study the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy. Women who use marijuana may smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use other street drugs, making it hard to know exactly how marijuana affects pregnancy. Some studies suggest that if you use marijuana during pregnancy, your baby may have problems, including:
. This is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- Fetal growth restriction (also called growth-restricted, small for gestational age and small for date) and low birthweight. Fetal growth restriction is when a baby doesn’t gain the weight she should before birth. Low birthweight is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Your baby also may have short body length or small head size.
- Anencephaly. This is one of the most severe neural tube defects (also called NTDs). NTDs are birth defects in the neural tube, the part of a developing baby that becomes the brain and spine. Babies with this condition are missing major parts of the brain, skull and scalp. Most do not survive long after birth, usually for just a few hours. Babies exposed to marijuana during the first month of pregnancy are at increased risk of having anencephaly. . This is when your baby doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
- Problems with brain development. . This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
If you use marijuana during pregnancy, your baby can have problems after birth and may need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (also called NICU). A NICU is the nursey in a hospital where sick newborns get care. These problems include:
- Withdrawal symptoms, like tremors (shakes), seizures, vomiting, slow weight gain or long periods of crying after birth. These symptoms usually go away within the first two weeks after birth.
- Problems with sleeping.
- Problems with behavior, memory, learning, problem-solving, depression and paying attention.
How does using marijuana affect breastfeeding?
If you breastfeed your baby and smoke marijuana, you may pass THC and other chemicals to your baby through the breast milk. Than can make your baby more likely to have problems with brain development. Marijuana also may affect the amount and quality of breast milk you make. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding moms stay away from marijuana to help keep breast milk safe and healthy.
Can using marijuana harm your general health?
Yes. The more marijuana you use, the more likely you are to have problems, including:
- Very fast heart rate
- Lung problems, including bronchitis and chronic cough (like a smoker’s cough)
- Trouble paying attention or thinking clearly
- Memory problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Clumsiness and poor coordination and balance
How can you get help to quit using marijuana?
Talk to your health care provider. He can help you get treatment to quit. Or contact:
Effects of Cannabis on the Male and Female Reproductive System, and Fertility
Use of cannabis may affect human fertility, depending on gender, general health, socioeconomic status and several other factors. Here, we look at existing research on cannabis and human fertility, in order to provide readers with an accurate, up-to-date summary of the current state of scientific knowledge.
To understand how cannabis may affect fertility, we must understand the effect it has specifically on males and on females. We’ll start by looking at the effects on the male reproductive system, and then focus on the more complicated effects on female fertility.
Cannabis use and male fertility
Some studies on the effect of cannabis use on male fertility have indicated that regular use may reduce spermatogenesis (the production of sperm in the testes) and testosterone levels.
In 2012, the American Society of Andrology published a review of research on the effects of illicit drug use on male fertility. The researchers found that in the majority of studies, it was consistently concluded that cannabis use had a negative impact on male reproductive physiology.
Another study in 1992 (Vescovi et al.) found that levels of luteinizing hormone(LH), an important pituitary gland hormone involved in reproductive function, were reduced in male chronic cannabis users compared to a non-cannabis-using, age-matched control group. A previous 1986 study (Cone et al.) also found a significant reduction in LH levels immediately after smoking cannabis.
And an even earlier study (Kolodny et al, 1974) into testosterone levels in “chronic” cannabis users found that 6 of 17 subjects had oligospermia (low sperm count), and that average testosterone levels in the cannabis-using group were just over half that of the control group. The effect of cannabis on testosterone levels was observed to be dose-dependent.
Sexing Cannabis: Is My Plant Male or Female?
The endocannabinoid system and male fertility
Clearly, the endocannabinoid system has a role to play in the regulation of processes critical to male reproductive health, such as sperm count, testosterone levels, and levels of other key hormones such as LH.
For healthy adult males, it seems that use of THC does indeed cause some negative effects on fertility, which tend to increase with higher doses. However, THC’s endogenous analogue anandamide appears to be critical to the functioning of the male reproductive system.
The 2002 study found that sperm cells would bind to the agonist CP-55,940, demonstrating the presence of CB1-receptors. The study also concluded that the presence of THC and a synthetic anandamide analogue, AM-356, both reduced sperm motility in vitro. Interestingly, it was found that AM-356 exerted a biphasic dose-dependent effect on sperm motility, causing inhibition at high doses but hyperactivity at low doses.
Anandamide and the “capacitation” of human sperm cells
In a 1994 study, it was found that mammalian sperm, including that of humans, is actually incapable of fertilizing oocytes (eggs) immediately after leaving the testes. It requires a period of exposure to certain crucial hormones, enzymes and proteins on its journey through the vas deferens and ejaculatory ducts of the male reproductive system (as well as the reproductive fluids of the female vagina and oviducts) before becoming “capacitated” and able to fertilize an egg.
The 2002 study provides strong evidence that the presence of the anandamide in the seminal fluid, and its ability to bind to the CB1-receptors of the spermatozoa, are key to the “capacitation” of sperm cells on their way to the ejaculatory ducts. It has to be present in the appropriate concentrations, though. If the level of anandamide is too high, it can instead have a dramatic inhibitory effect on the sperm cells’ ability to fertilize oocytes.
How Does Cannabis Affect the Digestive System?
Why is anandamide beneficial, while THC may not be?
Although THC and anandamide are both agonists of the CB1-receptors, they greatly differ in structure and therefore have different effects on certain metabolic processes. Anandamide has a much shorter half-life than THC (just a few minutes for anandamide compared to as long as 24 hours for THC). So while anandamide will degrade shortly after it contacts a receptor, THC can remain in nearby adipose tissue for much longer periods, and can continue to stimulate the receptors, ultimately causing overstimulation and potential negative effects.
As is so often the case with cannabinoid science, dosage is everything—and it may prove to be the case that very small doses of THC could benefit males who have reproductive issues that can be tied to low levels of anandamide.
Cannabis use and female fertility
While the effect of cannabis use on male fertility appears to be quite straightforward—with male chronic cannabis users being likely to experience some degree of impairment to reproductive physiology—the effect on the human female reproductive system is less clear-cut.
Female reproductive health is vastly complex in itself, as it not only comprises the ability to become pregnant but also the ability to carry healthy offspring to term and successfully give birth.
Past research has indicated that cannabis use may disrupt the menstrual cycle, suppress oogenesis (production of eggs in the ovaries) and impair embryo implantation and development. Chronic use of cannabis has also been repeatedly associated with lower birth weight (as much as a 50% increased risk), decreased birth weight and early (spontaneous) termination of pregnancy.
However, most of these findings are far from conclusive. Either the study included very few participants or confounding factors such as tobacco use aren’t taken into consideration. In fact, more recent research, like this review on infants who were exposed to marijuana in-utero, concludes there aren’t any adverse risks.
For example, a 1985 paper on foetal abnormality (Qazi et al.) after prenatal exposure to cannabis discussed five infants whose mothers acknowledged use of cannabis prior to and during pregnancy and who were born with various symptoms of growth retardation, neurological dysfunction and deformity. While it may provide helpful insight, such a small sample size is far from being enough to draw concrete conclusions, and correlation does not imply causation.
Other studies seen as providing evidence that cannabis use can cause foetal abnormalities are animal studies (Geber & Schramm 1969, Phillipset al, 1971) in which rabbits, hamsters, rats and mice were injected with vast doses of crude cannabis extract (as much as 666mg/kg in one instance!). Such massive doses of cannabis would be practically impossible for a human to consume through conventional means, and are essentially useless as a point of comparison.
In fact, many early studies that indicated a correlation between use of cannabis (or other controlled substances such as cocaine) have been later contradicted by findings suggesting that socioeconomic status and level of poverty are far more causative of low birth weight and poor developmental outcome than use of the substances themselves. This doesn’t imply that use of cannabis or other substances during pregnancy has no adverse effect, but does give weight to the idea that the risks have been overestimated and overemphasized due to politics and anti-drug bias.