Clearing the Air: Misinformation about THC and pregnancy can lead to serious, harmful effects

Experts warn misinformation about the use of THC products during pregnancy and breastfeeding are dangerous for moms and their babies.

There are some myths going around, including some who say, “It’s not harmful to me or the baby” or “It’s not addictive.”

In WJXT-TV’s hour-long discussion -- in collaboration with Drug Free America, Drug Free Duval and The Florida Poison Information Center -- News4JAX Anchor Melanie Lawson is joined by a panel of experts to bust myths and offer resources to help keep moms and babies safe.

It wasn’t that long ago that mothers drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes through pregnancy, but we are all better educated with warning labels and public service announcements spelling out the dangers of those types of decisions during pregnancy.

Fast forward to now. We have another potential threat to mom and baby. Marijuana products are quickly becoming more available, but THC -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- can harm developing babies and can cause lasting effects after the child is born.

The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association says the prevalence of marijuana use among pregnant women in Florida increased from 2.1% in 2002-2003 to 15.6% in 2017-2018 (the last year where published data is available) with experts warning that no amount of marijuana has been safe to use during pregnancy.

According to Drug Free America, studies show when marijuana is used by pregnant people -- regardless of method like edibles, smoking or vaping -- THC travels to the baby’s brain and fat cells and binds to areas that affect central nervous system development. Long-term effects on cognition and behavior can include:

  • Newborns: Fetal growth restrictions, low birth weight, increased NICU admission, increased trembling, high-pitched cry, and poor adaptation to visual stimuli
  • Early school age: Aggression, attention deficits, hyperactive, impaired verbal and visual reasoning, lower short-term memory, and lower academic scores
  • Pre-adolescence (about ages 9 - 12): Same issues can continue from early school age along with depression, autism spectrum disorder, learning disorders, psychotic behaviors, and sleep and social problems
  • Adolescence/young adulthood: Lower academic scores, problem behaviors, depression, psychosis, and higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.

THC can also pass into breastmilk, potentially harming the baby’s development:

  • Breastfeeding among heavy marijuana users is particularly dangerous since THC is stored in fat tissues and is slowly released over time -- exposing the baby even if the mother has stopped using it.
  • A study found 1-year-olds exposed to marijuana through breastmilk during the first month after being born had decreased muscle growth and body movements.
  • Other studies found infants exposed to marijuana through breastmilk had poor sucking, shorter/less regular feeding times, growth delays, and less activity.

Experts say for pregnant women using marijuana products to deal with morning sickness, there are several medications and natural supplements that can be used instead. They include:

  • Ginger, which can be taken in the form of tea, candy, or lozenge
  • Vitamin B6, which can be taken as a supplement
  • Drops flavored with ginger and lemon
  • Relief Band Device, which can be worn continuously for relief of mild to moderate nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy

Resources Available

If you or someone you love needs help, here is a list of local resources available: