Sep 30, 2020, 17:13 PM by Patricia Beach, MD


There are some things you ought to know about marijuana.

Many people have watched with interest the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and other states.  Advocates point to a potential to increase state revenue.  But what about our children?

Until recently there was only a limited amount of information in the medical literature regarding the effects of cannabis on the developing brain.  That is no longer the case.  There is an increasing appreciation of the importance of the first 1000 days of life, starting at conception in providing a foundation for optimal health and development for a life.

Marijuana contains many cannabinoids-substances that bind to receptors in the brain.  The mind-altering cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but other cannabinoids also attach to the growing brain.  Infants who are exposed to cannabis before they are born have an increased risk of anencephaly, or the absence of the major portion of the brain.  It is thought that this anomaly develops during the first month of gestation, a time when many women do not know that they are pregnant.  More common but less devastating, cannabis-exposed infant average smaller head sizes at birth than non-exposed infants.

Many women assume that cannabis is safe during pregnancy and suggest that it should be used to suppress nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.  Given the potential impact, that view seems ill-advised!  There is no guarantee that the effects of marijuana on the developing brain will end with delivery, and the active ingredients of marijuana are concentrated in breast milk.

The impact of cannabis exposure during pregnancy is not limited to the first weeks of life.  A series of investigations done at 9 -10 years show adverse effects on behavior and cognition.  Children with cannabis exposure have elevated scores on measures of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  In addition, children of this age are more likely to have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and problems getting sleepy during the day.  Prenatal exposure to marijuana is also associated with academic underachievement, especially in reading and spelling.  Other studies note difficulty with problem-solving skills and subtle deficits in learning and memory.

So what do we know about CBD oil and pregnancy?  CBD oil contains cannabinoids.  Recall that there are many cannabinoids, and we do not know the impact of each.  THC content of CBD oil is supposed to be less than 0.3%, but amounts can vary because this is a natural produce, and not all “lots” may be tested before marketing.

Certainly not every child with developmental problems was exposed to marijuana.  Many different factors impact a child’s behavior, cognition, and sleep!  Pediatricians, educators, behavioral specialists, and teachers are well prepared to help each child fulfill their potential.  A decision to avoid marijuana, and a host of other toxins such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs before risking pregnancy is a wise choice in planning for the future of your child.

By Patricia S. Beach, MD
Co-Director, Division of General Academic Pediatrics
Director UTMB ABC Child Safety and Protection Team
Emeritus Scholar, John P. McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine

Published 10/02/2020

Also see:

UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics
CDC-What you Need to Know About Marijuana Use and Pregnancy
Child Welfare Government Website National Child Abuse Prevention
Prevent Child Abuse America 2020 National Child Abuse Prevention
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