Study: Marijuana Use Doubles Risk of Premature Birth

Based on study of more than 3,000 women in Australia and New Zealand

Marijuana use has rapidly increased among young people and health researchers in Australia suggest there could be serious consequences. For women and their children, especially.

The study at the University of Adelaide found that women who use marijuana can more than double the risk of giving birth to a baby prematurely. The use does not have to be while they are pregnant, but can be in the months before they became pregnant.

Premature birth is defined as at least three weeks before a baby's due date and can result in serious and life-threatening health problems for the baby, and an increased risk of health problems in later life, such as heart disease and diabetes.

A study of more than 3000 pregnant women in Adelaide, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, has detailed a number of the most common risk factors for preterm birth. The greatest factor was a strong family history of low birth weight babies. Marijuana use by the mother was second on the list.

The results were published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

Widely used

An estimated 20.4 million people in the U.S. use some kind of illicit drug and marijuana is the most common among them. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates there are nearly 15 million marijuana users in the U.S.

Marijuana has been illegal in the U.S. since the early 20th century but in recent years efforts to make it at least partially legal have gained ground. A number of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, requiring users to obtain a doctor's prescription.

Law enforcement officials in Michigan, meanwhile, have recently tightened enforcement of the law, claiming drug dealers have abused it to legally sell the drug.

Marijuana is used to treat nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, unintentional weight loss, insomnia and lack of appetite. It is also used to treat pain, movement disorders and glaucoma.

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