When I was a medical student in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, a yellow haze often enveloped the meadow at Golden Gate Park as I and other students listened to free concerts every Sunday afternoon by the likes of the Loving Spoonful and the Grateful Dead. So while studying we didn’t light up, but we did inhale. Ah, those warm summer days. But enough of that, let’s answer some questions about pot that I’ve been accumulating from people who want their name withheld:
Q: I know I have to give up alcohol since I’m pregnant. What about marijuana, at least in brownies?
A: Smoking pot while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding is dangerous for your fetus and your child. Studies show that when you expose your fetus to marijuana chances are your child will have lower test scores on visual problem-solving and visual analysis, visual and motor coordination, behavioral problems and a decreased attention span. Those are lifelong handicaps you are giving her or him.
Unfortunately, according to a recent report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug during pregnancy, with roughly half of female marijuana users continuing to smoke it while pregnant. Self-reported prevalence of marijuana use during pregnancy ranges from 2 to 5 percent of all pregnant women and 15 to 28 percent of young, economically deprived urban women. And switching to edible pot may not be less hazardous for your offspring; the psychoactive chemicals still go into your blood stream and then the fetus’s. And a recent report shows 25 percent of the legal products deliver a lot more of pot’s active ingredient, THC, than their labels say.
If you want to mellow out while you’re pregnant, try yoga and meditation.
Q: My spouse has switched to vapor cigarettes as a way to cut back on smoking, as we want to get pregnant. Do I need to worry about secondhand vapor in the same way I had to worry about second-hand tobacco smoke?).
A: Smoking water pipes, or hookahs, regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes all creates hazardous concentrations of indoor air pollution and poses increased risk from diminished air quality for both employees and patrons of water pipe bars, regular bars, and even homes, according to recent studies. In an analysis of air quality in seven Baltimore water pipe bars, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that airborne particulate matter and carbon monoxide exceeded concentrations previously measured in public places that allowed cigarette smoking and that air nicotine was markedly higher than in smoke-free establishments. Spending an hour in a hookah bar is the same as smoking 16 to 23 cigarettes. So water pipe smoking as well as regular cigarette smoking in bars create substantial indoor air pollution from particulate matter, nicotine, and hydrocarbons, placing patrons and employees at increased health risk from secondhand smoke.
That said, the levels in bars and closed spaces (including cars) are considerably higher than in homes where smoking is done only outside. In that Hopkins study and others, air nicotine concentrations in hookah bars are not as high as in hospitality venues that allow cigarette smoking, but markedly higher than levels found in smoke-free bars and restaurants.
The dangers of e-cigarettes may not be as obvious as those of traditional smokes, but according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental poisonings are soaring, most notably among small children who come in contact with liquid refills for vapor versions. More than half of the poisonings have been occurring in children age 5 and younger.
Dr. Michael Roizen writes about wellness for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Follow him on Twitter @YoungDrMike.