Cannabis use in pregnancy linked to poorer outcomes for babies

The dangers of smoking during pregnancy are well known but now Australian and New Zealand researchers have added cannabis as an independent risk factor to the danger list.

Research from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, which looked at data collected from around 5,000 pregnant women, found that 314 women (5.6%) reported using cannabis in the three months before pregnancy or during pregnancy, and found that this resulted in poor health outcomes for the babies.

They found that the continued use of cannabis at 15 weeks of pregnancy was associated with significantly lower birthweight, head circumference, birth length and gestational age at both, as well as more frequent severe neonate morbidity or mortality.

Study leader, Dr Luke Grzeskowiak from the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, says cannabis is the illicit drug most wildly used by women of reproductive age in Australia, but the effects of its use during pregnancy on neonatal outcomes were unclear.

“In this study, involving researchers from Australia, the UK and New Zealand, we found that continued and high frequency of cannabis use during pregnancy were both associated with significantly poorer neonatal outcomes, independent of tobacco use,” says Dr Grzeskowiak.

“Further, the frequency of severe neonatal morbidity and death was higher for babies of mothers who continued to use cannabis at 15 weeks, which is consistent with the results of a recent American study.

“In contrast, no differences in any neonatal outcomes were seen among women who reported they stopped using cannabis in early pregnancy. This should be reassuring to women who used cannabis before the new they were pregnant.”

Dr Grzeskowiak adds that it’s unclear how “cannabis might impair neonatal outcomes” but that it’s known that “components of cannabis can cross the placenta, and this raises a number of concerns about effects on child health and development”.

He says that, given the recent findings, further research into the potential long-term effects of cannabis use during pregnancy is warranted.

“This is particularly important given the increasing perception in the community that cannabis is a safe drug,” he adds.

For more information and to read the research, click here.

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