Effects of Marijuana Use May Extend Beyond the Womb
However, the concern does not end in the womb. A Swedish study published in December 2004 in Biological Psychiatry indicates that maternal marijuana use may have a negative impact upon the neural systems within the fetal brain.
These systems control emotional behavior and the negative impact elicits unusual neurological manifestations such as high-pitched crying, tremors, and atypical reactions to visual stimuli. All of these manifestations can be an indication of withdrawal symptoms.
A Canadian prospective study done in 1995 and published in Life Sciences looked at the adverse effects of prenatal marijuana exposure on the attention spans of pre-school children and on older children's problem-solving, reasoning, and analysis skills, attentiveness, impulsiveness, memory, reading, and language-learning. There was even a suggestion that prenatal exposure to marijuana causes pediatric cancer.
Does Marijuana Affect Pregnant Women Negatively?
However, there is another side to this story. Along with all of the negative reports, there are other scientists who argue that methodological flaws like the failure to isolate marijuana use from other maternal behaviors like tobacco and alcohol use renders the studies inconclusive.
By grouping marijuana use in with other substance use, the results are not clear. There is also failure by all studies completed so far to conclusively establish that occasional marijuana use by pregnant women leads to a higher risk of birth defects. Dr. Richard S. Abram, in his book, Will It Hurt the Baby, states that using marijuana infrequently during the first trimester of pregnancy isn't likely to result in congenital abnormalities.
Anthropologist Melanie Dreher conducted a landmark study in the 1990s on marijuana use by pregnant women in Jamaica and her findings lend another perspective to the marijuana debate.
Dreher discovered that Jamaican women were using marijuana in a cultural and medical framework to relieve pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, preventing fatigue and depression, and improving appetite.
Both mothers using marijuana and their infants were observed by her team and they found no signs of birth defects or behavioral problems in the exposed children either in the first month after birth or after several years.
Research into the Effects of Marijuana Use by Pregnant Women Requires Improved Methodologies
The point is not to say that women should throw caution to the wind and have no compunctions about using marijuana on a regular basis. Rather, Ms. Dreher urges scientists and the medical community to improve their methodologies, be more thorough, conduct more cross-cultural studies, and avoid jumping to conclusions without solid evidence that any amount of marijuana, regardless how little, will have a lasting harmful impact upon the unborn baby.
At the end of the day, to ensure the safety and health of both mother and child, a woman should take responsibility, stop smoking marijuana while pregnant and nursing. Additionally, she should stop cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption as well.