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Why Pregnant People Shouldn’t Use Cannabis

Green leaf of marijuana in a hand, marijuana plant close up

Most people are aware that drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco while pregnant can lead to a host of serious developmental defects in the unborn child. By comparison, the relative risks of taking cannabis products while pregnant are generally more vague, especially given common misconceptions about the relative safety of cannabis.

Here we’ll discuss the reasons why using cannabis when pregnant is generally a bad idea. To learn more, you can contact our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers.

What Effects Does Cannabis Have On Unborn and Breastfeeding Children?

Generally speaking, whatever an expectant mother smokes, vapes, ingests, or takes in will eventually make its way into the unborn child’s body. Additionally, traces of the substance will also make their way into the mother’s breastmilk, which can be ingested and absorbed by a nursing infant or toddler. The same principle holds broadly true for cannabis consumption.1,2,3,4

Consuming cannabis products during pregnancy and breastfeeding has been linked with several different negative health effects in children. Though many of the specific effects may require further research to confirm, different meta-analyses of recent studies of prenatal and postnatal cannabis exposure in children paint an overwhelmingly negative picture.1,2

Below are some of the confirmed effects of cannabis consumption in fetuses, infants, and toddlers:1,2,3,4

Low birth weight

Children of mothers who consume cannabis while pregnant tend to weigh less than expected at birth. While a low birth weight may not necessarily mean that a child is unhealthy, it may be indicative of various problems in early development. Infants with low birth weight are particularly prone to infections, breathing problems, and issues associated with delayed development in the womb.1,2

Slowed brain development

Today, it’s understood that the psychoactive compounds in cannabis can seriously impede the development of growing brains, not just of fetuses, infants, and toddlers, but in pre-teens and adolescents as well.1,2,5 The consumption of cannabis products while pregnant or breastfeeding has been strongly associated with learning disabilities, lower IQs, and poor cognition in children.1,2

May cause mothers to be inattentive

Apart from direct health effects, smoking cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding also raises risks to children from indirect causes. Cannabis can reduce inhibitions, potentially making mothers more likely to consume alcohol and other substances that can directly harm the child in the womb or through breastmilk.1,2,3,4 It may also raise the risk of the mother getting into a serious accident that may harm them as well as their child.4

Smoking-specific risks

Apart from the risks specific to cannabis consumption, the act of smoking any substance has risks for unborn children as well. Smoking cannabis broadly has effects on fetuses similar to smoking tobacco or living in areas with heavy air pollution. Additionally, secondhand smoke poses also risks to toddlers l.1,2,4,6

Negative health effects of smoking by mothers include the following:1,3,4,6

  • Elevated risk of miscarriage
  • Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Increased risk of cleft lip
  • Lung development issues
  • Slowed brain development

Are Edibles and Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

While edibles, vapes, tinctures, and other alternative cannabis consumption methods may allow mothers to sidestep some or all of the risks specific to smoking, they do not remove the risks that are directly related to cannabis use.1,2,3,4 In other words, these other consumption methods still pose a significant danger to fetuses and nursing infants.

Is CBD Safe?

Though initial evidence is encouraging, the U.S. FDA currently recommends against pregnant and lactating mothers from using less psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) products, as more research may be needed to confirm their safety.4

Are Hemp Seeds Safe?

While hemp seeds do have trace amounts of the psychoactive compounds associated with cannabis, the U.S. FDA does not consider these amounts to be especially problematic.4 Expectant and lactating mothers craving bagels or yogurt with hemp seeds should face no issues consuming them.

Are There FDA-approved Medical Cannabis Products for Pregnant Women?

Due to the risks outlined above and the continuing need for further study, there are currently no U.S. FDA-approved cannabis products for pregnant or lactating women.4

Find Help for Maternal Cannabis Use in New England

If you’re pregnant or lactating, it’s important to stop all cannabis use immediately to mitigate the risks to yourself and your child. Additionally, parents should refrain from smoking cannabis or other substances around their children.

Knowing that cannabis use is dangerous for your children but continuing to use or crave it may be a sign of a cannabis use disorder. Get in touch with a qualified mental health professional and call Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193 to discuss rehab treatment options suited for mothers.



  1. Gunn, J. K. L., Rosales, C. B., Center, K. E., Nuñez, A., Gibson, S. J., Christ, C., & Ehiri, J. E. (2016). Prenatal exposure to cannabis and maternal and child health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysisBMJ Open6(4), e009986.


  1. Crume, T. L., Juhl, A. L., Brooks-Russell, A., Hall, K. E., Wymore, E., & Borgelt, L. M. (2018). Cannabis use during the perinatal period in a state with legalized recreational and medical marijuana: the association between maternal characteristics, breastfeeding patterns, and neonatal outcomesThe Journal of pediatrics197, 90-96.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, March). What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use and Pregnancy.


  1. United States Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). What You Should Know About Using Cannabis, Including CBD, When Pregnant or Breastfeeding.


  1. Jacobus, J., & F Tapert, S. (2014). Effects of cannabis on the adolescent brainCurrent pharmaceutical design20(13), 2186-2193.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April). Smoking During Pregnancy.

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