For teenagers who use marijuana frequently, it can have the longest of long-term effects: A premature baby when they become parents up to 20 years later.
That’s what researchers in England and Australia determined following a long-term study of daily marijuana users. Those who indulged in pot every day between the ages of 15 and 17 were considerably more likely to have a premature or low-birth weight infant than those who did not use the drug as teenagers.
The research tracked nearly 700 people based on their marijuana use between the ages of 14 and 29 — and before they conceived a child. The scientists determined 20 percent of all premature births involved parents who were daily marijuana users as teenagers.
Researchers say their findings are particularly relevant as marijuana use among adults becomes legal in more jurisdictions. While its use may become more normalized in some jurisdictions, they noted that it is important to assure that trend does not lead to greater marijuana use among adolescents.
The study is the first of its kind to explore the association between pre-conception substance abuse and birth outcomes. Because marijuana use is generally more common among teenage boys, the researchers noted the findings are particularly important for future fathers.
As the most commonly used illicit drug among teenagers, there is already evidence that cannabis heightens the risk of poor mental health. Now, the scientists say, it’s time to take a closer look at the drug’s unknown or unanticipated effects. That includes understanding the physical mechanisms associated with marijuana use and premature births.
For teens, the message is simple: Think before you smoke.