The Effects of Alcohol vs Marijuana on a Fetus

Essay add: 1-12-2015, 12:25   /   Views: 29

The development of a child in its mother’s womb is affected by everything she consumes and inhales. All the nourishment is provided in all the vitamins, minerals, and important foods that she eats. So too are toxins. While this is not truly “providing” for the child, it is still affecting its growth and development in negative ways. The smoking of marijuana can affect the future behavior of the child while alcohol can cause severe physical abnormalities. These can be detrimental to a child and a burden for the parents for a lifetime. The following describes and explains the effects of cannabis and alcohol to a developing child in its mother’s womb.

Cannabis, weed, stink, and dank are just a few words to describe marijuana these days. Along with the creative names come even more potent hybrids of this illegal substance. These more certainly have the varying effects on the growing fetus of a mother that so chooses to smoke marijuana while she conceives and is pregnant. It’s bad to say that one substance is better than another when it comes to the malfunctioned development of a child, but it seems that the effects of marijuana pale in comparison to alcohol.

Many studies have been conducted concerning the effects of marijuana on a child while in the mother's womb and after being born. Dr. Beth Nordstrom acknowledges one of the lasting effects of marijuana when she states that, “Children prenatally exposed to marijuana are two times more likely than unexposed children to rail a standard hearing test by age 7” (Brunk p. 1). Upon further research, many hearing deficiencies were addressed as well as success in the classroom. Dr. Nordstrom adds that, “…children exposed to marijuana throughout pregnancy were nearly three times more likely to experience school-age hearing problems than children exposed to the drug around the time of conceptions only” (p. 1).

Hearing loss can be addressed and dealt with if income level allows. These victims of their mothers’ enjoyment will have problems if the problem is not addressed. Children who suffer from hearing problems tend to have difficulties in the classroom due to the simple fact that they are not hearing sounds correctly. Speech may be impeded thus leading the child to develop a lisp. The child may have to spend time with a speech therapist to rectify the problem (if it can be). These children may have difficulties with peers that may make fun of their lisp, thus withdrawing themselves from much needed adolescent interaction for normal development. Grades may also suffer if the problem is not addressed and that simple fact may also discourage the child as well. In this study the rate of hearing test failure was, “…8.3% in children with periconceptional exposure to marijuana, and 10.8% in children with pregnancy exposure to marijuana” (Brunk p. 1)

There has also been another noted side effect of marijuana exposure. In this study, rats were used instead of actual human being children. This study, conducted by Vincenzo Cuomo of the University of La Sapienza in Rome and his colleagues, concludes that, “Rats that were exposed to a marijuana-related chemical while in the womb show more memory lapses and hyperactivity than unexposed rats do” (Science Service, Inc. 1). This can also play a vital role in a child’s socialization and development. Hyperactive children had a higher difficulty in paying attention in a classroom, thus leading to lower grades and possibly a total “mental withdrawal” from learning. Cuomo expands on the cause of the memory lapses when he states that, “…rats exposed to the marijuana-related drug in the womb produced less glutamate, an essential neurotransmitter in the hippocampus, which is a memory-processing center of the brain” (p. 1). Memory lapses also can affect a child’s performance on tests and simple tasks. This and the hyperactivity can also be another source of ridicule and exclusion by peers. Cuomo also takes the smoking of marijuana one step beyond conceiving and pregnancy. “Our findings suggest that both pregnant and lactating women should avoid using marijuana” (Science News p. 1). Drawing a conclusion from this statement, it is possible that these effects can also be transmitted after birth through the mother’s milk.

In comparison with marijuana, alcohol can also create a multitude of behavioral issues in an affected child. In contrast, alcohol on a fetus can be physically devastating and the long-term repercussions can last a person’s entire lifetime. The care that parents may have to provide can lead to exorbitant medical bills and in home care.

Many effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, “…include fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects, alcohol-related birth defects, and alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder” (Jacobsen and Jacobsen p. 1) Symptoms of these noted disorders, “…include hyperactivity and problems with attention, learning, memory, and social and emotional development) These all ring in accordance in with marijuana and stipulate the same issues a child may have to deal with in school and with peers.

The most severe repercussion of alcohol consumption by a mother is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). One of the most severe symptoms of its effect on the fetus is its physical distortion of a human. “FAS was first described in the United States by Jones and Smith (1973), who identified a distinctive set of facial abnormalities—short eyelid opening (palpebral fissures), flat midface, thin upper lip, and a flat or smooth groove between nose and upper lip (philtrum)” (Jacobsen and Jacobsen 1). It highly resembles that of a Downs Syndrome child. These children are also known to exhibit growth retardation and, “significant cognitive and/or behavioral problems” (p. 1).

Many of the children that possess Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have the behavioral issues in addition. These children suffer in all aspects of learning, education, and socialization. The highest deficits are in Arithmetic. Jacobsen and his wife also note that, “FAS patients often perform relatively well on language test…although they tend to have difficulty with complex language tests” (p. 1) It is noted that most FAS patients are mentally retarded and rate very low on IQ tests.

These children have no chance at leading what most consider being a normal life due to the fact that their mother smokes marijuana, consumed alcohol, or both. While education is provided to those expecting mothers that can afford it, many are either from low socioeconomic areas where prenatal education is lacking or they just don’t care. The use of marijuana is the lesser of two evils when comparing it to alcohol. Overall, the use of marijuana and alcohol prove to be behaviorally and physically detrimental to a fetus in its mother’s womb.

Works Cited

Brunk, Doug (2004, February 15). Prenatal marijuana exposure tied to early hearing problems: urban, at-risk minority children. Family Practice News. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from

Jacobsen, Joseph L. and Jacobsen, Sandra W. (2002 Winter) Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child development. Alcohol Research & Health. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from

Science Service, Inc. (2003, April 5). Prenatal marijuana exposure may pose health risks. (Biomedicine). Science News. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from

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