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Drugs & Health Blog

Pregnancy and Drugs: Update (Part 2 – Marijuana, Opioids, and Illegal Drugs)

The NIDA Blog Team

This is the second part of an update to the post, “Using Drugs When Pregnant Harms the Baby.”

Last week we described some of the recent scientific research about the dangers to an unborn baby’s health if the baby’s mother smokes or vapes while she’s pregnant. Now let’s look at recent discoveries about how a pregnant woman’s use of marijuana, opioids, or other drugs can affect her baby.

Weed and pregnancy don’t mix

You’ve probably heard that marijuana can affect a teen’s brain, which is still developing. Well, think of how it might affect a tiny baby’s brain. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, may affect the way a baby’s brain grows and develops. A recent study found that if a pregnant mouse is exposed to marijuana, the baby mice have difficulty with solving problems, paying attention, remembering information, and socializing. The reasons aren’t clear yet, but it’s possible that THC is affecting the development of the brain cells (or neurons) that are important to those skills and behaviors.

Another study found that pregnant women who smoke marijuana may triple their risk for a stillbirth (a baby who dies after 20 weeks or more in the womb).

Research also discovered that using marijuana in pregnancy is associated with a 77 percent higher risk for having a baby with a low birth weight—which sometimes results in health problems such as sickness early in life or long-term learning disabilities—and can double the risk of a baby being placed in intensive care.

These studies didn’t show that using marijuana while pregnant directly caused stillbirths and low birth weight; more research is needed to see exactly what’s behind the connection. For now, it’s important for expectant mothers to know about the significantly higher health risks associated with marijuana use.

Pain reliever misuse = pregnancy problems

The dramatic increase in the misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers in the last several years has brought new attention to the dangers of using them while pregnant. Researchers have found that a pregnant woman’s use of opioids can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), where the baby becomes dependent on the drug just as the mother does. It can also bring a higher risk for the baby to have heart defects, spine problems, and buildup of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus).

Other drugs: not for babies, either

An expecting mother’s use of other kinds of drugs has all kinds of risks for the baby.

For instance, using cocaine can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and NAS. A pregnant woman who uses heroin has an increased risk of miscarrying, having a baby of low birth weight, and NAS.

And let’s not forget alcohol, which can cause brain damage in an unborn child, leading to problems with development, thinking ability, and behavior.

If you’re pregnant and you smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs, you can get help—and help your baby in the process. Your doctor can recommend programs to help you quit, or you can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357), the Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); visit SAMHSA’s online treatment locators; or use SAMHSA’s Step-by-Step Guides.

Update: For the latest on marijuana use and pregnancy, read this blog post.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


it is very sad that people do these kinds of things
that is so true... people shouldn't do that to there kids or themselves.
people who use drugs while pregnant should do life in prison
Yes I agree because they are harming the kid as well not just themselves.
While I agree that drugs during pregnancy hurts baby first and Mom. And Mom should be held responsible. But, what is doing life in prison going to do..But, put another drain on society to take care of her in prison and the child in foster care and/or on government assistance for a large portion of their lives. These Mom's needs someone to come along side them, if they will, and assist.
Life in prison??? They’re ill. They should be brought to rehab, not thrown in jail!
no because they still deserve a chance
people who use drugs while pregnant should do life in prison
I agree
People are dumb
This is so bad not only are they hurting them self s for a short time they are hurting the kid for a lifetime
I hope everyone who is expecting to become a mother someday sees this article because if they saw how important it was to not do stuff like that with a child they would hopefully not do it anymore and help effect the world in a positive way.
I can't think of someone so cold to do that to a baby
I understand that it is wrong but if the person is addicted they cant help it.
I have a grandchild,that the mother after delivery tested positive to drug use during her pregnancy, she also smoked cigarettes,and child was exposed to 2nd hand smoke, this child I now have in my care, this child always seemed to be such mild manner, & very smart. Then this last year I had been noticing more issues as like stated above, this child was having a extreme difficulty solving problems especially in school,paying attention, remembering certain things and retaining information, this child is becoming a bully in school has always had a socializing issue, everyone called this child bossy & controlling, this child is nine yrs old & in 3rd grade the teacher had been contacting me when things escalated,not learning or care to, falling behind etc. so this child was tested for disabilities & has one! I have always kept it in the back of my head this child having a mom that did drugs during pregnancy & smoked cigarettes that this child's development thru out those months of growing while she was pregnant did not create these behaviors. Everything that has been stated above with smoking marijuana while pregnant is exactly this child's issues".
Using of drugs can destroy our health,not only our health but also our lives.

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