Researchers have found that babies born to mothers diagnosed with cannabis use disorders at delivery are more likely to have health problems when compared to babies born to mothers without the diagnosis.
Cannabis use during pregnancy has been rising in recent years as some parents use the substance to alleviate nausea and vomiting linked to pregnancy. This concerns some however as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, can be transferred to infants via the placenta and breastmilk and has been shown to disrupt the endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in fetal brain development.
For the present study, the researchers analyzed data from 4.83 million mother-infant pairs between 2001 and 2012. Among those studied, 20,238 women received a delivery discharge diagnosis of a cannabis use disorder, characterized by continued use of cannabis despite negative outcomes. From the analysis, the researchers found that the incidence of cannabis use disorders at delivery increased from 2% of mothers in 2001 to 6.9% in 2012.
To understand how cannabis use disorder affected infant health outcomes, the researchers compared the mother-infant pairs linked to the disorder to 40,474 mother-infant pairs with similar demographics and maternal health factors who did not have the disorder. In doing so, they found that babies born to women with cannabis use disorders were more likely to be born prematurely, have a low birth weight and be small for their gestational age.
The researchers also found that children born to women with cannabis use disorders at delivery were 35% more likely to die within a year of birth than infants in the control group. However, analysis of the health records also found that children born to mothers with cannabis use disorders are less likely to be hospitalized within the same year than control group infants.
"Because we are looking only at medical records, there is a lot we don't know about the mothers and infants in this study," said Dr. Yuyan Shi, lead author of the study. "But our analysis supports the recommendation that health professionals screen for and address cannabis use disorders in their pregnant clients--to protect both their health and potentially the health of their infants."