Local OB/GYNs back U.S. Surgeon General health advisory on risks of marijuana use by pregnant women


The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a health advisory on August 29th about the risks of marijuana use by young people and women who are pregnant.

According to the Surgeon General’s report through the Department of Health and Human Services, marijuana use in pregnant women has doubled in the past 15 years.

Between 2002 and 2017, that number grew from 3.4% to 7% of pregnant American women.

Local professionals in obstetrics and gynecology talked with News Channel 11’s Blake Lipton about how pregnant women who smoke marijuana can impact the health of their babies.

Obstetrician and Gynecologist Howard Herrell with Ballad Health said many who have smoked marijuana during pregnancy use it throughout their pregnancy.

“The endocannabinoid system is influenced by the two ingredients in marijuana, THC and CBD,” said Herrell, “and they can influence how the endocannabinoid and the brain and the nerves in the brain develop.”

According to health experts, marijuana use during pregnancy can have adverse outcomes.

“Women who smoke marijuana during pregnancy, about half their children have growth restrictions,” said Herrell, “and so that’s very significant compared to the general population, and then we assume that the children could have lower IQ’s or other problems with brain development. “

After birth, THC has been found in breast milk nearly a week after the last use, according to the DHHS.

“It appears that the marijuana smoking rate during pregnancy in women in Johnson City seems to be two to three times the national average,” said Dr. Martin Olsen with ETSU’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “so that’s a significant average here.”

Dr. Olsen said many of his patients believe marijuana helps with nausea and vomiting, but he reminds them that there are other safer and tested ways to treat that.

According the Surgeon General’s report, no amount of marijuana use during pregnancy is known to be safe and more research needs to be done.

“Patients who are abusing multiple drugs, marijuana is usually one of them,” said Dr. Olsen, “so that makes it hard to figure out the long-term effects of marijuana because frequently there’s other drugs on board too.”

Herrell said for most people, quitting THC and CBD products is not too difficult. He also said while marijuana addiction is fairly uncommon, there are treatment programs available.

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