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Recreational Drugs

Nearly 4 percent of pregnant women in the United States use recreational drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. A research report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released in May 2011 shows that in the years 2008 and 2009 combined, among pregnant women aged 15 to 44, the youngest mothers generally reported the greatest substance use. Also pregnant women aged 15 to 17 had higher rates of illicit drug use (15.8 percent) as women of the same age who were not pregnant (13 percent). Prenatal drug use has been linked to potentially harmful and even long-term adverse effects on children who are exposed to them. Recreational drugs commonly used during pregnancy in the United States include marijuana, Ecstasy, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, PCP and LSD.


Marijuana is the most frequently used controlled substance among women of childbearing age in the United States, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Babies exposed to marijuana during pregnancy may be born prematurely or may show withdrawal-like symptoms including excessive crying and trembling.

Ecstasy, Methamphetamine and Other Amphetamines

The use of these types of drugs has significantly increased in recent years. Studies have found links between use of amphetamines and congenital heart defects and a skeletal defect called clubfoot. A study published in Pediatrics in 2006 found that babies of women exposed to methamphetamine (street names include speed, ice, crank, crystal meth) are three times more likely than unexposed babies to be underdeveloped. Use of methamphetamine during pregnancy also increases the risk of premature birth, placental problems and cleft lip and palate in exposed babies.

Heroin and Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

Women who use heroin during pregnancy put their babies at risk for serious complications including poor fetal growth, premature rupture of membranes, premature birth and stillbirth. Many babies exposed to heroin throughout pregnancy are at risk for low birth weight, physical dependency on the drug and serious medical complications, according to NIDA.

Cocaine use during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage. It also increases the risk of permanent disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and urinary tract issues. Cocaine may cause an unborn baby to have a stroke, which can result in irreversible brain damage and sometimes death. Both heroin and cocaine exposure increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Prevention is the Key

Birth defects and other problems resulting from recreational drugs are entirely preventable. Women who use recreational drugs would be well advised to stop before they become pregnant or to not become pregnant until they are confident that they can avoid the drug completely during pregnancy.

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