Research recommends abstinence from cannabis, other drugs during pregnancy

Babies exposed to drugs require more care and longer stay in hospital

Researchers focused on mothers and babies in Colorado, where recreational cannabis started legal retail in 2014. Photo by AHPhotoswpg/iStock/Getty Images Plus.


Women who use cannabis and other drugs may want to keep off these substances during pregnancy.

This is because their babies might develop a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS. As a result, their newborns will require more health care and longer stays in the hospital after birth.

Recently published research laid these issues out after a study of women and babies in Colorado. Recreational cannabis became legal for distribution in the state in 2014.

“This study found that drug-exposed newborns had a substantial financial impact on a Colorado community hospital…,” researchers wrote in their report.

The effect largely comes from “more expensive bed placement and longer LOS [length of stay] than for healthy newborns”.

The authors recommended that healthcare providers should “identify substance use during the prenatal period”.

Moreover, they can do this by “routinely screening for substance use”, through questionnaires, candid conversations with the patients, and measures such as urine drug tests.

“Once substance use is identified during the pregnancy, counseling abstinence and referral for treatment should be implemented,” the researchers wrote.

The Journal of Cannabis Research published the study on November 11 this year. The report is titled ‘Substance use during pregnancy: impact on Colorado community hospital’.

Cannabis use during pregnancy becomes a concern

Jacinda Heintzelman, Lisa Persons, and Igor Melnykov conducted the research.

Heintzelman and Persons work as assistant professors in the school of nursing at the Colorado State University. For his part, Melnykov serves as assistant professor in the department of mathematics and statistis at the University of Minnessota.

They described the current use of illicit and prescribed substances in the U.S. as a “national crisis”.

Accordingly, “pregnant women cannot be ignored in this situation since a newborn may be negatively affected”.

They explained that when a mother “ingests addictive substances, the substance(s) moves across the placental barrier”, potentially leading to NAS. The condition basically refers to drug withdrawal among babies after birth.

“Symptoms of NAS include excessive crying, tremors, sweating, poor sleep, increased muscle tone, hyperthermia, diarrhea, yawning, nasal stuffiness, and sneezing,” the authors noted.

Drug use can lead to longer hospital stay

In connection with the study, the researchers noted that the average length of stay at the hospital for cannabis-exposed babies ranged from 4.6 days to 9.5 days.

For babies exposed other drugs, their hospital stay extends from 14.2 days to 21.4 days.

In order to compare, a “normal, healthy” newborn gets to stay at the hospital for an average of 1.9 days.

Meanwhile, a baby with health concerns stays at an average of 2.3 days.

In connection with cannabis use and pregnancy, CannCentral reported in January 2019 about a review of studies on this matter.

Researchers revealed that 70 percent of pregnant women believe that cannabis use poses little to no risk to their fetuses.

Additionally, CannCentral posted in June 2019 a story about increased use of cannabis by women during pregnancy in the U.S.

The article noted that the percentage of pregnant women who used cannabis increased from 3.4 percent in 2002 to seven percent in 2017.

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