If you’re pregnant or planning to be, tobacco and alcohol are high on the list of things not to use. But do we need an equally loud message about avoiding cannabis too?
Yes, say some Australian researchers who’ve linked cannabis smoking both before and during pregnancy to a higher risk of preterm birth – and possibly an increased risk of birth defects. It’s a message that should make would-be dads prick up their ears too. Some studies have already found a higher risk of health problems and childhood cancer in the children of fathers who smoke cigarettes. Now research from the University of Western Australia suggests that smoking cannabis can damage sperm’s DNA, potentially increasing the risk of birth defects and childhood cancer.
But let’s start with preterm births. In May, a University of Adelaide study of 5,600 women linked smoking pot up until the 20th week of pregnancy to a fivefold increase in preterm births.The study, led by Professor Claire Roberts from the University’s Robinson Research Institute, followed women from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK and builds on earlier research from the Institute that found that women who used cannabis before pregnancy were twice as likely to have a preterm birth.
“We’re confident that marijuana shouldn’t be used in pregnancy and it’s important that the message gets out there,” says Professor Roberts. “This new study suggests that, over all, more than six per cent of preterm births could have been prevented if women didn’t use marijuana,” she said. “Among the Australian women in the study where there was a higher proportion of marijuana users, almost 12 per cent of preterm births could have been prevented.”