Representative Fred Deutsch (R-4/Florence) and Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) are proposing more government control of women… but this time, they may actually be listening to doctors.
Deutsch and Novstrup propose House Bill 1053, which would ban pregnant women and breastfeeding moms from getting medical cannabis cards in South Dakota. (I’d share details, but writing before breakfast, I find the LRC has not yet posted the bill text, but click on this link later to see if LRC catches up.)
We may not need a law to keep medical cannabis cards out of the hands of women in the family way. Patients can only get medical cannabis cards if their doctor says their use of medical cannabis is o.k. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists already discourages doctors from prescribing marijuana to women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or considering getting pregnant:
Because of concerns regarding impaired neurodevelopment, as well as maternal and fetal exposure to the adverse effects of smoking, women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use. Obstetrician–gynecologists should be discouraged from prescribing or suggesting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes during preconception, pregnancy, and lactation. Pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data. There are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged [ACOG Committee on Obstetric Practice, “Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Lactation,” Opinion #722, originally issued October 2017, reaffirmed 2021].
Note that ACOG is not saying medical cannabis definitely harms women and babies. ACOG is saying that we don’t have enough data to be sure medical cannabis is safe for women and the babies they are carrying or feeding and thus cannot encourage its use during pregnancy and lactation.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse agrees with ACOG that the science is thin on the health effects of marijuana use in general and that women and doctors should thus err on the side of caution and avoid marijuana use during pregnancy and lactation:
Some women report using marijuana to treat severe nausea associated with their pregnancy;99,100 however, there is no research confirming that this is a safe practice, and it is generally not recommended. Women considering using medical marijuana while pregnant should not do so without checking with their health care providers. Animal studies have shown that moderate concentrations of THC, when administered to mothers while pregnant or nursing, could have long-lasting effects on the child, including increasing stress responsivity and abnormal patterns of social interactions.101Animal studies also show learning deficits in prenatally exposed individuals.33,102
Human research has shown that some babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased trembling, and a high-pitched cry,103 which could indicate problems with neurological development.104 In school, marijuana-exposed children are more likely to show gaps in problem-solving skills, memory,105 and the ability to remain attentive.106 More research is needed, however, to disentangle marijuana-specific effects from those of other environmental factors that could be associated with a mother’s marijuana use, such as an impoverished home environment or the mother’s use of other drugs.96 Prenatal marijuana exposure is also associated with an increased likelihood of a person using marijuana as a young adult, even when other factors that influence drug use are considered.107 More information on marijuana use during pregnancy can be found in the NIDA’s Substance Use in Women Research Report.
Very little is known about marijuana use and breastfeeding. One study suggests that moderate amounts of THC find their way into breast milk when a nursing mother uses marijuana.108 Some evidence shows that exposure to THC through breast milk in the first month of life could result in decreased motor development at 1 year of age.109There have been no studies to determine if exposure to THC during nursing is linked to effects later in the child’s life. With regular use, THC can accumulate in human breast milk to high concentrations.92 Because a baby’s brain is still forming, THC consumed in breast milk could affect brain development. Given all these uncertainties, nursing mothers are discouraged from using marijuana.98,110 New mothers using medical marijuana should be vigilant about coordinating care between the doctor recommending their marijuana use and the pediatrician caring for their baby [NIH: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Can Marijuana Use During and After Pregnancy Harm the Baby?” 2021.04.13].
Deutsch and Novstrup appear to have found solid footing for this particular sally against the marijuana industry. Of course, if they were consistently concerned about women’s health, they would propose an amendment to this maternal health bill to prohibit the sale of alcohol to pregnant women. ACOG says there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol while breastfeeding is not nearly as dangerous, as long as women don’t overdo it and wait a couple hours after an occasional drink before having baby belly up mama’s bar.