1 in 5 Young Mother’s in California Use Cannabis, But Should They? The perceived risk among moms who take cannabis or dabs during pregnancy is low, but is that the reality? Are babies put at risk of brain development problems from moms dabbing cannabis?
Is it safe to take dabs during pregnancy? Cannabis legalization is sweeping the nation and recent reports suggest that young mothers are using more cannabis than ever before. According to surveys, many young moms don’t think that dabbing cannabis or vaping concentrates during pregnancy is much of a risk to their child’s health. But what does the scientific evidence have to say about it?
It’s hard enough being a mother and growing a human inside of you for 9 months. Young women are under tremendous social pressure and are being constantly judged. Imagine how it feels to be a young mother who prefers cannabis to traditional pharmaceuticals.
She can barely breastfeed her child in public without being condemned to nurse in a bathroom stall. We won’t even get into the pro-life vs. abortion debate. Imagine the judgmental public outcry against young mothers who choose to use cannabis during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Jeanna, a maternal cannabis use advocate, recounts her experience after giving birth. She claims her children’s mental and physical health is a testament to medical marijuana’s safety during maternity. She reports her traumatic experience with government social workers in the hospital saying,
“It was clear they were ready to rip a newborn from a mother’s arms for using cannabis although I had refused pain medicine during labor, delivery, and recovery.”- Jeanna Hock (Cannamama)
She says that cannabis saved her first pregnancy and relieved her during the painful birth of her daughter. She breastfed both of her children while using medical marijuana. Her children seem perfectly normal, even advanced for their age, but is cannabis use really safe during pregnancy?
Is It Safe To Use Cannabis During Pregnancy?
According to an article in the journal Preventative Medicine, the care of pregnant women who use cannabis should be non-punitive and grounded in patient autonomy. 
Co-authors of the study, Katrin, and Terplin, represent their respective Departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology, Reproductive Sciences, and Psychiatry at the University of Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University.
According to their study,
“There is a theoretical potential for cannabis to interfere with neurodevelopment, however, human data have not identified any long-term or long-lasting meaningful differences between children exposed in utero to cannabis and those not.” 
A study published two months later in January of 2018 in the journal Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews conducted a meta-analysis of 36 studies on the relationships between highly prevalent substance use during pregnancy and offspring conduct disorders.
Their review reinforced clear associations between offspring behavioral issues associated with tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy. However, they made no correlations between cannabis or caffeine use during pregnancy and offspring conduct disorder problems. 
According to these studies, there seems to be no impact on child development outcomes from maternal cannabis use. In addition, these findings contradict previous studies that suggest otherwise.
A 2014 study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry offers an opposing perspective on the effects of maternal cannabis use in prenatal development. 
“Evidence seems to suggest that fetal development is affected by prenatal maternal cannabis use, while findings on effects on infant behavior or cognition are inconsistent.”
Many studies have produced similar conclusions suggesting that maternal cannabis use might have a negative impact on fetal development. But to what extent may cannabis affect the brain and physical development of an infant during pregnancy is debatable. While there is strong evidence to support some outcomes such as low birth weight, other associations still deserve further investigation.
Risks Associated With Cannabis Use During Pregnancy
Theoretically, if the mother consumes cannabis, then subsequently cannabis compounds would be transferred to the baby, as is with any other substance.
Now, just in my opinion, it’s kind of obvious that if a pregnant mother is blasting dab after dab of high-THC shatter, then her baby’s development will most definitely be negatively impacted. And according to some studies, that impact could last a lifetime.
It’s possible that heavy maternal cannabis use during pregnancy can affect the neuro-psychological development of offspring as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. According to some studies, heavy cannabis use during pregnancy could cause offspring to have –
- Increased risk of mental illness later in life
- Difficulty coping with stress later in life
- Cognitive and learning disabilities
- Issues with attention, mood, and behavior
- Increased vulnerability to developing substance abuse
But study results on the topic are often conflicting, and most studies are deemed inadequate or limited. However, these are serious links that mothers should consider, especially if using cannabis during pregnancy.
While there is some evidence that prenatal exposure to cannabis may be associated with deficits in language, attention, cognitive performance, and delinquent behaviors, it’s difficult to come to any concrete conclusions.
A 2017 report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine explains why it’s important to further investigate the links between maternal cannabis use and fetal outcomes and child development. 
Gaps In Research on Cannabis Use & Pregnancy
The study reports that the effects of heavy cannabis use during pregnancy demonstrate some potential negative outcomes on conception, pregnancy, and fetal development. The report also suggests that the data indicating these links is severely limited by an overabundant reliance on self-report to determine – 
- Cannabis exposure
- Presence of confounding variables (poly-substance use, socioeconomic status, and potency of cannabis)
- Dosage and timing of exposure in pregnancy
- Small samples of women who use cannabis prenatally
In other words, the data does link maternal cannabis use and negative pregnancy outcomes, but being linked doesn’t necessarily mean that cannabis is the cause of negative outcomes. This is how the 2017 report summarized the scientific evidence regarding cannabis use during pregnancy. 
- Currently, there is limited evidence of an association between maternal cannabis smoking and pregnancy complication for the mother
- There is mixed evidence demonstrating an association between maternal cannabis smoking and lower birth weight of the infant and sudden infant death syndrome
- There is also conflicting, and inadequate, evidence to support or disprove an association between maternal cannabis smoking and later outcomes, such as cognitive and academic achievement, and later substance use.
Essentially, we just haven’t done enough research to come to any firm conclusions about cannabis’ effects on pregnancy and fetal development. The data we do have comes from limited studies that often have conflicting evidence.
It’s safe to say, in my opinion, that heavy cannabis use, especially in regards to THC, is not advisable during pregnancy. But what about a joint once and while to help with pain, inflammation, headaches, nausea, etc., would light cannabis use have such a negative impact on fetal development?
Well, some studies suggest that there would be no negative impact and others suggest there may be a significant effect on the baby. We just haven’t done enough research into the topic to definitively answer the question.
Cannabinoids & The Endocannabinoid System
The most commonly used drug during pregnancy is cannabis. The perceived risk is low and the anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, pain-relieving, sedative effects are generally considered therapeutic and beneficial.
However, there is little scientific research into the effects of dabbing cannabis during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is due in large to half a century of cannabis prohibition, which has made scholarly research into the benefits and risks of cannabis completely illegal, or at least extremely difficult.
But we do know that experts have discovered that humans have a physiological system that can modulate the nervous and immune systems. It’s called the endocannabinoid system and consists of specialized receptors on cell walls and the compounds, called cannabinoids, which bind with the receptors.
The endocannabinoid system begins developing in fetuses almost immediately and plays a vital role in having a successful pregnancy, fetal development, and many other aspects of maintaining health and wellness, whether pregnant or not.
The system works by actually producing cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids that bind with endocannabinoid receptors. Much of the endocannabinoid system’s activity is mediated by CB1 and Cb2 cannabinoid receptors, but there are others involved in the biomechanisms of the ECS.
CB2 receptors are typically concentrated in the peripheral nervous system where they help to modify the activity of the immune system, muscles, organ functions, and more. CB1 receptors are found mostly in high concentrations in the central nervous system and the brain, where they regulate many aspects of homeostasis.
What we don’t know much about is exactly how cannabis may affect the functioning of the endocannabinoid system during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Or most importantly, how maternal cannabis use may affect the healthy development of a child before and after birth.
If you want an easy answer to concerns you may have about using cannabis during pregnancy, consider this information. The CB1 receptor is responsible for embryonic neuronal differentiation and axonal pathfinding, which basically means it’s responsible for healthy and normal fetal brain development.
THC from cannabis binds to CB1,. This affects the receptor’s activity, altering the way it acts. That means that dabbing THC isolate, other cannabis concentrates, or even smoking can potentially cause developmental brain defects in the fetus.
Is it Safe To Take Dabs & Breastfeed?
As cannabis use becomes more prevalent due to legalization, this becomes an important public health question for society to consider. Take for an example, a woman uses medical marijuana to manage a chronic condition. Should she stop using her medicine while nursing out of concern for her child’s development?
Most mothers do take their babies health into consideration by reducing cannabis use or completely refraining from smoking or taking dabs during pregnancy. But what about post-birth when the infant begins to breastfeed? Is it safe to dab cannabis while breastfeeding?
Concrete evidence shows that mothers pass compounds like THC and CBD to their baby through breastfeeding.  We don’t fully understand how maternal cannabis uses affect infant development.
We know that THC can accumulate in high concentrations in breast fat. Research also shows us that THC is found in babies who feed from a mother who uses cannabis. So there’s no question about if mothers are transmitting cannabinoids to their babies during breastfeeding. They can and do. 
But interestingly, studies also show that regardless of high concentrations of THC in the mother, babies don’t actually absorb much of it at all. 
What We Do & Don’t Know About Maternal Cannabis Use
Experts suggest there’s a possibility that newborns and infants don’t have many CB1 receptors yet formed in their brains or CNSs. That means THC may have little effect on the under the developed infant. However, long-term exposure to THC through breast milk could pose a risk to healthy CB1 receptor expression, and therefore child brain development. 
On the other hand, some babies may actually benefit from cannabinoids in mother’s milk, especially if the baby isn’t receiving the proper endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG naturally from the mother in nursing.
The mother passes naturally produced endocannabinoids to the baby through breastfeeding. This activates and encourages CB1 expression and feeding activity in infants. Studies show that 2-AG may encourage feeding by stimulating the tongue muscles to activate the instinctual suckling reflex and that anandamide may encourage increase appetite and feeding. 
If an infant isn’t getting the natural endocannabinoids from its mother, it may not suckle and it may not feel the urge to feed. Such is the case of many infants who suffer from a condition known as failure to thrive.
Experts think a failure to thrive may be the result of a deficiency or dysfunction in the endocannabinoid system of the infant and or mother It’s possible that cannabinoid compounds from cannabis transmitted via nursing could help stimulate the suckling response and encourage feeding by activating CB1 receptor expression and activity in infants. 
Is CBD Safe To Use While Nursing?
We talked a lot about THC in this article, but we haven’t really ventured into the effects of dabbing CBD concentrates or taking CBD oils during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is mainly because scientific studies have typically focused their attention on THC.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid compound in cannabis with profound therapeutic properties. And incredibly, it doesn’t cause the same negative side effects in the brain that THC can. In fact, CBD can actually protect the brain from the effects of THC.
CBD is a non-psychoactive and is permitted to be used in the treatment of various chronic conditions such as Epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. CBD is even being studied as a therapy to manage Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The properties of CBD and the industry surrounding it deserve their own library, so we won’t get too far off topic here. In short, mom’s experiencing post-partum depression, anxiety, or chronic pain and inflammation could potentially benefit from CBD therapy.
Honestly, science hasn’t investigated the effects of CBD much in infant development. However, results from studies in pediatrics and adults indicate that the substance has little to no adverse side effects. In fact, CBD is non-toxic, which means you can’t overdose even in high concentrations.
CBD also has neuroprotective, analgesic, remedy many various chronic diseases. 
If you’d like to review a comprehensive report of CBD and pediatrics you can read the recent publication Cannabinoids in Pediatrics. 
It’s not easy being a mom; everything you do affects your baby. For now, medical research suggests women who are pregnant or nursing should refrain from using cannabis in general.
That means no dabbing heavy globs of wax or budder unless maybe its high-CBD concentrates. But just in small doses every once in a while. We still don’t know enough about the potential long-term effects of Cannabidiol, unfortunately.
Compounds from cannabis, such as CBD, may actually be beneficial and therapeutic for overall newborns who fail to thrive. Findings from early studies greatly warrant further research. Most U.S. states have approved some type of medical marijuana program, but the USFDA has not approved CBD oil or cannabis as a therapy for any disease or condition.
The scientific community desperately needs to conduct more in-depth and long-term studies on the full benefits and risks of cannabis use. This is the only way to give mothers the best medical advice on CBD, cannabis or dabbing during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
1. Cannabis and Pregnancy: Maternal child health implications during a period of drug policy liberalization. Katrina Mark. Mishka Terplan. Preventative Medicine 2017
2. Maternal substance use during pregnancy and offspring conduct problems. A meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews. Hyun Ruish. 2018.
3. Prenatal cannabis exposure and infant outcomes: Overview of studies. Progress in Neuro-Psych. And Bio. Psi. Huzink 2014.
4. Cannabis Use During Pregnancy. CanFASD. 2017. Harding. Poole.
5. Marijuana use and breastfeeding. Can. Farm Physician 2005. Djulus.
6. Fetal cannabinoid receptors and the “dis-joint-ed” The EMBO Journal. Cristino. 2014.
7. Endocannabinoids and development: Embryos, newborns, breastfeeding and more. Jay. Sensi Seeds. 2015
8. Cannabinoids in Pediatrics. Campbell. J Pediatr. Pharmacol. Ther. 2017.