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Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week: Research indicates smoking weed during pregnancy is harmful for baby’s health
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Research indicates smoking weed during pregnancy is harmful for baby’s health

Taking any kind of substance, including weed, by expectant mothers can be harmful for the baby. Chemicals from tobacco, weed or cocaine could interfere with the development process of the unborn baby, leading to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or other complications, infections, cognitive defects and lowered levels of immunity after birth. The risk of birth defects and behavioural problems is also quite high.

To spread awareness about the need to protect unborn children from the ill effects of alcohol and drugs, every year, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and its National Network of Affiliates observe Alcohol- and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week from May 13-19. Various programs are organized across the country to educate people (particularly pregnant women) that alcohol and drug abuse is detrimental to the health of both the mother and child.

A recent study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) indicated that prenatal marijuana abuse can have widespread ramifications on the health of the infant. It could result in weight issues at the time of birth and behavioural issues in adulthood. The risk of defects further increases when the mother smokes tobacco along with marijuana.

With several states moving toward marijuana legalization, the number of new-born babies with ill-effects is likely to show a corresponding increase. Speaking about her findings, senior research scientist from RIA, Rina Das Eiden, said, “Nearly 30 percent of women who smoke cigarettes during pregnancy also report using marijuana. That number is likely to increase with many states moving toward marijuana legalization, so it’s imperative we know what effects prenatal marijuana use may have on infants.” Though health benefits of marijuana in treating chronic illnesses have been cited in many studies, addiction to marijuana can be deadly.

Babies born smaller in size and more irritable

Eiden’s research found that infants exposed to nicotine and weed in the third trimester were smaller compared to those who were not. Visible differences were observed in terms of length, weight and head size. They were also more likely to be born premature. Compared to babies exposed to tobacco only, these babies were relatively smaller in weight and length. The disparity was more pronounced in boys than girls. The research also indicated that exposed babies had a multitude of behavioural problems. They were easily irritable, and the mothers experienced difficulties calming the baby after a bad episode.

The infant’s behavior also seemed to be linked to the mother’s frustration and stress at the time of delivery. Pregnant women who experienced stress were more likely to smoke weed and nicotine throughout their term. Eiden is of the opinion that any intervention for women who have nicotine or marijuana addiction problem during pregnancy should also be directed towards providing them relief from stress. This can help in the reduction of prenatal substance exposure and subsequent onset of behavioural problems in infants.

Though research is clear about the harmful impact of marijuana use during pregnancy, it has increasingly come to light that weed is being offered as a miracle cure for morning sickness that pregnant women often experience. Using a mystery caller approach, a statewide cross-sectional study found that in Colorado, nearly 70 percent of the 400 marijuana dispensaries offered cannabis products to women in the first trimester. Very few of such dispensaries suggested discussing with a health care provider before buying. This clearly goes against the protocols of the Marijuana Industry Group that urges those seeking medical cure to have a word with their doctor first.

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