More women are smoking pot while pregnant, and it could have serious consequences
Researchers assessed data from over 279,000 pregnant women and found that they’re smoking marijuana while expecting at increasing rates. Shutterstock/Stanimir G. Stoev

The number of women who smoke marijuana during pregnancy has significantly increased in recent years, according to a recent study. Meanwhile, scientists aren’t sure how much damage cannabis could do to unborn babies — and government regulations recommend that expectant mothers put the bong away.

Researchers used years of data from more than 279,000 pregnant women who were screened at Kaiser Permanente facilities. Asking about marijuana use is a routine there, and patients either self-reported their marijuana use or they submitted a toxicology test.

An analysis of all that data revealed that women across all age groups reported smoking weed while pregnant at higher rates in 2016 than 2009. However, young mothers showed the largest increase.

About 21.8% of pregnant teens (people under 18) reportedly used marijuana in 2016, compared to 12.5% in 2009. Meanwhile, pregnant women aged 18 to 24 who smoked weed increased from 9.8% to 19%.

“Marijuana use in pregnancy may be on the rise in part because the legalization of medical marijuana has made people think of the drug as less dangerous, even during pregnancy,” Barbara Yankey, a public health researcher at Georgia State University, told NBC News. Yankey said that marijuana use during pregnancy may be linked to early labor and birth, stunted fetal growth, low birthweight and even stillbirth, but these associations are “still debatable, though these adverse effects lean more toward an increased likelihood of occurrence.”

“More research is needed on how marijuana use during pregnancy could impact the health and development of infants,” the U.S. government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse stated on its website. “Given the potential of marijuana to negatively impact the developing brain, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that obstetrician-gynecologists counsel women against using marijuana while trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, and while they are breastfeeding.”

As it stands, using marijuana while pregnant appears to be a gamble. But even so, more mothers are willing to run the risk, it seems.