Every pregnant woman at her first obstetrician appointment gets some version of the “can’t have” lecture: can’t have sushi, can’t have deli meat, can’t have alcohol, can’t have cigarettes. And don’t even dream about taking an Advil for your headache, you may only have a Tylenol, and really try not to do that. Only one cup of coffee per day — if you really must.
Taking drugs is a big no-no on that list, but in recent years — thanks in part to recreational legalization — more pregnant women have kept using marijuana even after becoming pregnant. A recently-released study that tracked both positive urine tests and self-reporting of women in California showed that between 2009–2016, weed use was up from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent of pregnant women. For those pregnant women under 18, the usage increased from 12.5 percent to 21.8 percent, and for those age 18 to 24, from 9.8 percent to 19 percent. Since most of the study was the result of self-reporting, researchers feel that these increases are underestimated and even more pregnant women are using weed than the study showed.
Some of the women who were part of the study said they were using marijuana to treat morning sickness, others anxiety, and still others just liked pot and didn’t think pregnancy should be a reason to stop enjoying it. For those under 18, drug use and pregnancy are both considered risky behavior, so pregnant teens using drugs isn’t that surprising. But for the rest of the participants, researchers feel that lax marijuana laws have sown confusion and misled pregnant women into thinking marijuana is harmless in pregnancy. Legal, they say, shouldn't be confused with safe.
Legal shouldn't be confused with safe.
Since marijuana is legal in Washington, doctors have seen a similar increase in usage among pregnant women. Initiative 502, which legalized pot in Washington, also provided funding for educational programs, but no specific populations were required for this education. This meant pregnant women weren't specifically targeted for funding by the state. Some doctors have reported that women are even showing up for delivery reeking of marijuana. Washington still doesn't have any specific programs for pregnant women, although some counties have individual initiatives.
Weed to Know for Baby and You, a campaign of the Spokane Regional Health District, was designed to spread the word that smoking, vaping or consuming pot isn't okay for pregnant ladies, no matter how natural or legal it is. If pregnant women are using pot, so are their babies. This can lead to premature birth and all its associated problems, as well as developmental issues of the brain, which can contribute to attention problems when the child is in school later on. And for pregnant teens, there are also health concerns for the moms themselves whose brains are still developing.
So even though weed is readily available for purchase in Washington, there’s no reason pregnant women should treat it any differently than alcohol and cigarettes — or that eel roll you’ve been craving. It’s just not worth it.