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More Pregnant Women, Especially Younger Moms, Are Turning to Marijuana

Photograph by Twenty20

If you've used marijuana during pregnancy or think it's OK for expectant women to use it in moderation, a new federal survey shows you're not alone.

The survey, published online by the American Medical Association in December, analyzed 200,510 women. The number of moms-to-be who said they used marijuana in the past month increased from 2.4 percent in 2002 to almost 4 percent in 2014. Younger expectant moms (ages 18-25) had the highest rate, at 7.47 percent saying they had used pot in the past month in 2014.

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As more states loosen up laws on medical or recreational marijuana, more moms are taking up weed, whether it's for pleasure or to help them relax, sleep, or cope with anxiety or depression.

In 2015, an Arizona mom said she didn't regret using pot while pregnant because it helped her through hyperemesis gravidarum, an intense morning sickness. She said she tried all sorts of recommendations she found online before but nothing offered relief. When her daughter was born, the mom's test for marijuana came back negative but her daughter's was positive, which prompted doctors to call CPS.

Another mom also told the New York Times that she had smoked marijuana every day when she was pregnant at 24, though she never drank or had a cigarette. She took a few puffs in her first trimester to help with the morning sickness and vaped marijuana oil during her lunch break to help ease her severe sciatica, which made it unbearable for her to stand during her 12-hour shifts.

There is limited evidence on the effects of prenatal marijuana, but preliminary studies do show there can be real consequences. We've listed some of the major studies below for those considering marijuana during pregnancy. Researchers do not want to alarm people, but they do think public health officials should inform mothers that there are studies that do show some risk. Talk to your doctor about whether or not it is right for you.

As Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute who researches substance abuse in pregnancy, told the New York Times, “If you’re going to consider it like medicine,” she said, “then treat it like medicine and talk to your doctor about it.”

- The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both advise against pregnant women using marijuana. THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in pot, can cross the placenta to reach the fetus and have both short- and long-term effects, which they both list in their reports.

- In studying kids ages 6 to 10, kids born to moms who had smoked daily in the first trimester showed decreased ability to understand to understand concepts in listening and reading, and were more impulsive and hyperactive than other children. And 14-year-olds of moms who used marijuana heavily in the first trimester had lower scores in reading, math and spelling compared to their peers.

- A few studies link marijuana use during pregnancy to changes in the brains of fetuses 18 to 22 weeks old, including the amygdala (which regulates emotions) functioning abnormally.

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- Kids absorb elements from marijuana, if they are around pot smokers. For kids whose parents and caregivers reported their child had been exposed to pot use, the urine of 75 percent of them showed traces of the drug, but whether traces of marijuana in a child's urine is risky has yet to be determined.

- Developed brains of teens can be altered (though not dramatically) with regular marijuana use, including IQ loss.

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