Pregnant Women with Depression are More Likely to Use Marijuana


Though it’s fairly common knowledge that smoking tobacco while pregnant can have harmful effects on the infant, there is far less public education about the effects of marijuana.

Meanwhile, studies show that using marijuana during pregnancy can lead to fetal growth restriction, a lower birth rate, and mental health issues for the child.

To create an effective public health campaign or prevention effort, educators need to know who the campaign should target. In this case that means finding out who is most likely to use marijuana while pregnant.

Now, researchers from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy are starting to answer that question. A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that pregnant women with depression are three times more likely to use marijuana than pregnant women without depression.

“Our findings are timely given rapidly shifting perceptions about risks associated with cannabis use and its legalization,” said Professor Renee Goodwin (CUNY SPH, The Graduate Center), lead author on the study.

Marijuana is now fully legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and is legal for medicinal use in even more. In the last 15 years, cannabis use in pregnant or reproductive-age women has risen by 62% and the prevalence of the idea that marijuana use during pregnancy is risk-free has tripled.

Marijuana use is more common in depressed, pregnant women than pregnant women without depression across all demographic groups, the study found. Additionally, one in four pregnant teenagers with depression uses marijuana, which could also be risky for the mother since brain development continues until age 25. The study used self-reported data from the 2005-2018 National Survey on Drug Use.

Education and prevention efforts have helped significantly decrease the rate of cigarette smoking during pregnancy, the authors note. With a better idea of who to aim educational campaigns at, the same could happen with marijuana.