Study after study has revealed the harm that occurs when adolescents regularly use marijuana. Permanent loss of IQ points, reduced ability to sustain attention, poorer memory and physical structure changes have been reported. One of these studies states that, “Apparently, vulnerable periods during brain development exist that are subject to persistent alterations by… cannabinoids.” It’s notable that one study defined “regular” marijuana use as once a week or more.
A number of researchers have weighed in on the alterations caused by exposure to THC, the primary intoxicant in marijuana. A University of Wisconsin researcher said, “”The higher the THC levels, the more brain changes there are.” Dr. Gregory Tau, a drug abuse researcher at Columbia University commented, ”It’s not rocket science to think if you smoke weed when your brain is developing, that it can’t be ‘good’ for you, just like any ‘toxic’ substance isn’t good for you.”
There’s widespread agreement that the human brain does not complete its development until age 25. Some scientists have said that in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, the law should set the legal age at 25, not 21.
What is not getting as much exposure in the media is the effect of THC on the rapidly-developing brains of unborn children.
Not Illegal to Use Marijuana During Pregnancy
In states where marijuana use is legal for either medical or recreational use, there are no specific prohibitions related to using the drug during pregnancy.
On the other hand, there is plenty of science describing the rapid growth of a fetus’ brain. Since one-third of the THC a pregnant woman consumes crosses the placental barrier, the unborn baby of a marijuana-using woman will be exposed to this drug that, in a teen, causes deficits in intelligence, memory and mental ability.
A newborn’s brain continues to develop rapidly, growing 1% a day for months. THC also crosses over into the breast milk of nursing mothers meaning that the nursing babies of marijuana-using mothers will continue to be exposed to this drug.
The AMA Calls for a Warning Label
In November 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for warning labels on marijuana products, citing the possibility of low birth weight, premature birth and behavior problems in children exposed to THC both before and after birth. The group stopped short of recommending any ban of marijuana use by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
The OB-GYN group of the AMA noted that while only about 5% of all pregnant women nationwide use marijuana, use rises to 28% among groups of some urban, low-income women.
In the meantime, some doctors recommend or approve of the use of marijuana for treatment of morning sickness or other problems during pregnancy. It can only be guessed that they have not seen the science on the problems that can result.
Apparently, more studies and publicity are needed before marijuana use during pregnancy or breastfeeding becomes unthinkable. At the moment, there is no safe level of exposure to THC for unborn children or newborns. The only safety is in finding alternative methods of dealing with problems such as morning sickness that will not dose a baby with a drug that could impair his intelligence for his whole life.