According to local news reports, Colorado is witnessing a "sad trend" of newborns testing positive for THC. St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado, told CBS that during one month, nearly half of the babies born there had marijuana in their system. The hospital is now supporting a ban on recreational pot sales in the city.
But some mothers insist that using cannabis while pregnant is completely safe, and even needed. VICE previously interviewed pregnant women who chose to smoke weed as remedies for morning sickness and loss of appetite.
In an interview with CBS, a new mother, Vicky Houston, said, "I believe it's beneficial; I don't think it's toxic in any shape or form." Houston moved to Colorado to be able to treat a health condition with medical marijuana. When she gave birth to her son, who tested positive for THC, she said, "Nurse upon nurse practitioner and doctor and social worker came into my room to exam him to see how he was deformed or how he was brain damaged," but he was perfectly healthy, she insists.
But there have been other repercussions for smoking while pregnant. When Dannette Christensen's child tested positive for THC, the hospital called Child Protective Services. Houston said that she was given a citation. It's troubling that mothers who are medical marijuana patients are being treated like criminals for their legal use of the drug.
There's one thing health experts agree on: more research is needed.
MotherToBaby, a teratogen (non-genetic causes of birth defects) information service, answers questions about the chance of birth defects and other negative pregnancy outcomes from exposure during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The service has affiliates all over the country that serve as a resource for expecting mothers.
MotherToBaby told Broadly that since the state of Colorado legalized cannabis, they have also received a slight increase in the number of questions coming in on the topic. "There are moms who contact us and seem somewhat concerned—but no more concerned than moms that called before the law was changed," Julia Robertson, a representative from MotherToBaby, said.
Robertson and Dr. Al Romeo answered our questions about cannabis use during pregnancy. One of the risks, they said, is low birth weight. "Similar to cigarettes, smoking marijuana increases exposure to many chemicals. During pregnancy, the carbon monoxide from smoking may decrease the amount of oxygen the baby receives and affect the growth of the baby. This may increase the chance of having a baby that is born at a low weight, which can be a health risk. It can take many years for children to catch up after being born with low birth weight," they said.
Similar to cigarettes, smoking marijuana increases exposure to many chemicals.
Compared to alcohol use, the risks of smoking pot are low, but the studies on weed's long-term health effects on newborns are limited. "In any study it is important to get information on the amount, frequency, and timing of the exposure. In most of the marijuana studies, this information is not available, meaning information is lacking from well-designed studies," they said. "Most studies are reassuring and have not shown an increased chance for birth defects with occasional use of marijuana. Studies among heavy marijuana users are needed before we can say for sure that there is no increased risk. Because there are many unknowns, the best advice is to avoid recreational use of marijuana during pregnancy and while breastfeeding."
The organization recommends that women who use weed for medicinal purposes explore other options while pregnant.