February 1, 2024

Take a break from cannabis while expecting, study suggests

Research shows that marijuana use during pregnancy increases health risks for the baby.

Using cannabis while pregnant increases the chance that your baby will have low birth weight or be born too early.

Adult recreational use of cannabis, or marijuana, is legal in 24 states. That makes it easy for people to see it as safe.

But using cannabis while pregnant may create health risks for the baby.

A recent Kaiser Permanente study found that cannabis use during pregnancy increased the chance of poor health outcomes for infants. Infants were more likely to:

  • Have low birth weight
  • Be born too early
  • Need intensive care after birth

The more often pregnant people used cannabis, the greater the risk.

The study used health records from more than 360,000 infants born between 2011 and 2020. Six percent of the pregnant parents had used cannabis during pregnancy.

These findings support guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that expecting parents should avoid cannabis.

Making informed choices about cannabis use

Some patients interviewed by our researchers said they used cannabis to manage pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness and anxiety. They saw it as a safer choice than drugs prescribed by a doctor.

Salespeople at stores that sell cannabis may reinforce this belief.

“Mothers wouldn’t knowingly put their children in harm’s way,” said Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, a researcher and clinical psychologist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. “But many have seen friends and family use cannabis without any obvious problems.”

A desire for open conversation

Pregnant patients also said they would be open to talking with their doctors about their cannabis use.

“Clinicians can be most helpful by asking why patients are using cannabis,” said Deborah Ansley, MD, director of Kaiser Permanente’s Early Start prenatal program. “Then they can follow up with a nonjudgmental conversation about risks and options.”