Using cannabis can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health – for better and sometimes for worse. For this reason, it is important to consult a doctor before experimenting.
Here at GreenState, cannabis clinician Dr. Leigh Vinocur here to answer your questions about healthy living with cannabis.
Editor’s Note: The answer to this question is intended to complement, not replace, advice, diagnosis, and treatment from a healthcare provider. Always consult a doctor when using cannabis for medicinal purposes and do not disregard your doctor’s advice for everything you read in this article.
Q: Can you use cannabis during pregnancy?
ON: As states began legalizing cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use, we’ve seen increases in use during pregnancy, while alcohol and tobacco use decreased. In states that have recreational cannabis, there are many attitudes that, like alcohol, it can be consumed responsibly by adults. As a doctor, although I don’t disagree, we needed laws to prohibit and protect our children from the recreational use of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis. Additionally, we have extensive research showing the harm done to the unborn fetus from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, resulting in a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. For cannabis, however, the data are not yet that clear. We have data on some of the dangers of regular cannabis use in the normal adolescent brain. And we know that the adolescent brain develops into early adulthood. So imagine the potential effects on a newly forming brain and central nervous system (CNS) of the unborn fetus.
Our endocannabinoid system is critical to our normal function and homeostasis, which is the maintenance of all of our physiological processes. And we know that external cannabis exposure can affect our internal endocannabinoid system in terms of its function and structural neural development in our central nervous system (CNS). Likewise, we know that the endocannabinoid system occurs in early pregnancy in the first trimester, when the fetus’s brain and CNS begin to form. Just like in adults, exposure of a fetus to external phytocannabinoids in cannabis can downregulate or diminish our critical cannabinoid receptors, endogenous (internal) endocannabinoids, and their necessary signaling for normal brain and CNS formation and development.
In addition, longitudinal studies were carried out with these children after prenatal exposure to cannabis. The data were more contradictory in terms of growth or cognitive abnormalities when compared to other teratogenic drugs that cause developmental problems, such as alcohol. However, there is more consistent evidence that these children develop learning problems as they age, leading to problems with attention, hyperactivity, and executive function.
Another potential harm from prenatal cannabis use unfortunately comes from our public health systems and child protection services, which disproportionately target black mothers-to-be in poorer communities even in legalized states. It’s very similar to the way cannabis prosecutions unfairly and disproportionately target color communities. While state laws vary, public hospitals and clinics in general often do urine drug tests on antenatal visits, and then child protection agencies use that information against mothers and families. And while the risks are nowhere near as dangerous as prenatal exposure to opioids or crystal meth, unfortunately, given the federal list 1 status of cannabis, there is a potential risk of these families breaking up.
Aside from recreational cannabis use, I am aware of the risk some mothers-to-be may face while pregnant with critical prescription medications they need for conditions such as high blood pressure or seizure disorders. And that is a difficult subject for some women. However, these mothers are often at greater serious risk and ability to carry term if they do not take these medications. And as a doctor who also recommends cannabis to her patients, I still have the feeling that we are not yet at this level with medical cannabis science and its disease indications. We do not yet have all of the clinical research we need to consider cannabis as a major therapeutic agent that pregnant medical patients must take. So I ask my patients, with all the uncertainties that still exist, why take a risk at all if it is not necessary? And I’ve found that the majority of expectant mothers want the best chances for their babies, and they agree.
Do you have any questions about cannabis? Ask Doctor Leigh. Send your questions to GreenState Assistant Editor Elissa Esher at firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for new answers from Dr. Leigh Vinocur.
Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a state-certified emergency doctor who also runs a cannabis consultation practice for patients and industry. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and a first-grade graduate with the country’s first Masters of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
The answer to this question was not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.