Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 26, 2017

When In Doubt, Abstain

"Women are thinking of this as medical marijuana in that they are treating some condition."
"If you're going to consider it like medicine, then treat it like medicine and talk to your doctor about it."
Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst, Guttmacher Institute

"Even early in development, marijuana is changing critical circuits and neurotransmitting receptors."
"Those are important for regulation of emotions and reward, even motor function and cognition."
Dr. Yasmin Hurd, neuroscientist, director, addiction center, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, Manhattan

"While current evidence on health consequences is inconsistent, some studies have found risks associated with marijuana use during pregnancy, such as low birth weight or preterm birth."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.

"All those really good earlier studies on marijuana effects aren't telling us what we need to know about higher concentration levels."
"We need to do a whole lot more research now."
Therese Grant, epidemiologist, director, University of Washington, fetal alcohol and drug unit

Research in the area of marijuana use during pregnancy was originally conducted at a time when marijuana was nowhere near as potent as it is at the present time. Marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient -- tetrahydrocannabinol/THC -- is capable of crossing the placenta, carrying its effect from mother to fetus, according to medical experts. In 1995 the THC content in marijuana was 4 percent; in 2014 it registered 12 percent of content.

Among pregnant women in the United States -- younger women in particular -- there seems a consensus that marijuana use in moderation harms no one, neither mother nor child, according to a recent survey. Women going into and in pregnancy are increasingly using marijuana, as various states have begun to legalize its medical and recreational use. This, at a time, when medical science does not fully understand the depth of its effects on human health.

Women are motivated by various factors in their lives, to use marijuana to ease the effects of depression, anxiety, stress, pain, nausea and vomiting, effects most commonly cited by women who had reported in a 2014 survey of low-income mothers receiving nutrition assistance in Colorado, among whom 6 percent used marijuana during pregnancy. The general thought being that cannabis use has no particular consequences.

THC can be present in the breast milk of nursing mothers. Experts note that marijuana use has the potential to harm brain development, cognition and birth weight. "There is an increased perception of the safety of cannabis use, even in pregnancy, without data to say it's actually safe", commented Dr. Torri Metz, obstetrician at Denver Health Medical Center whose specialty is high-risk pregnancies.

Two sets of researchers, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in Ottawa, Canada, have produced some of the most extensive data on the issue thus far. Six-year-olds in Pittsburgh whose mothers had smoked one or more joints daily in the first trimester, were found with a decreased ability to understand concepts in listening and reading, while at age ten, children exposed to THC in utero were more impulsive than others, less capable of focusing attention.

It was discovered that lower scores in reading, math and spelling were evident at age fourteen among children whose mothers were heavy marijuana users in the first trimester of pregnancy. "Prenatal exposure can affect the adolescent pretty significantly", stressed Dr. Lauren M. Jansson, director of pediatrics at the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Studies have discovered that the brains of fetuses 18 to 22 weeks reflected changes linked to maternal marijuana use.

The fact that the developing brains of teenagers can be altered, even eventually reducing I.Q. with regular marijuana use, has been well documented. What has not yet been seen is a definitive link between smoking cannabis during pregnancy and obvious birth defects. But that was when research was being conducted at a time when the THC content in marijuana was less than half what it currently is.
Line graph showing increases in the last decade in treatment admissions for pregnant women reporting any marijuana use and for pregnant women reporting marijuana as their primary substance of use.
Recent Trends in Treatment Admissions for Marijuana Use During Pregnancy
Source: Martin et al., 2015

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