Methamphetamine’s Effects During Pregnancy

Inexpensive euphoria, energy, and weight loss are associated with use of methamphetamine, or speed. This highly addictive central nervous system stimulant sparkles before it is smoked, injected, or snorted intranasally, hence its nickname: crystal. Meth impairs judgment, memory, and reasoning and enhances sexual encounters. Addicts are at high risk for violence and sexually transmitted diseases. Unprotected sex may also lead to pregnancy.

Speed Crosses the Placenta

According to the March of Dimes, methamphetamine crosses the placenta easily and directly affects the developing fetus. Like tobacco, speed constricts blood vessels, raising blood pressure and depriving the placenta of circulation, which the baby needs to grow properly and withstand the stress of labor and birth. Meth use in pregnancy makes preterm labor and stillbirth more likely.

Low birth weight is defined as less than 5½ lbs., even if the pregnancy goes to term. Abnormally small head circumference is associated with learning impairment. Babies born prematurely and those with low birth weight can suffer from respiratory distress, feeding problems, and jaundice. The result may be developmental delays or permanent disabilities.

Crystal Use Effects Brain Development

Prenatal exposure to methamphetamine changes the structure of a baby’s brain. In a study published in the “Journal of Neuroscience”, UCLA researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examined the brains of 21 children ages five and older who were born to meth-using mothers. Compared to normal kids, the meth-exposed children had a smaller part of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is associated with memory, learning, motivation, and motor control. Animal studies conducted at the University of Toronto seemed to confirm the neurodevelopmental effects of crystal meth. Scientist exposed pregnant mice to methamphetamine only once to produce impaired motor coordination in the babies that lasted for 12 weeks. The experiment was described in the f “Free Radical Biology and Medicine”.

Drug Abuse Can Cause Birth Defects

Records of the Hawaii Birth Defects Program were used to study infants with congenital anomalies born over a 16 year period to assess the impact of prenatal exposure to speed, marijuana, and cocaine. Methamphetamine use during pregnancy was correlated with a significant increase in heart defects, missing fingers and toes, and oral deformities such as cleft palate.

Improving Outcomes is Possible

Addiction changes the structure and function of the user’s brain; that is why it is referred to as a brain disease. The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure associated with behaviors such as being with friends, creative pursuits, falling in love, or playing with children. Crystal meth triggers dopamine release faster and stronger than normal activities, a strong reinforcement for drug abuse behavior. Over time, as the dopamine system continues to be hijacked by drug use, addicts become incapable of enjoying normal activities. The situation is reversible, but it takes months of hard work to overcome cravings and triggers. Social support, such as from Crystal Meth Anonymous, is needed.

Most mothers do not want to hurt their babies, destroy their families, or die. Fear and guilt about pregnancy may increase drug cravings, but it is important to know that stopping as early as possible gives the baby a chance to “catch up” and improves birth outcomes. Smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or taking pills along with methamphetamine only compounds the danger. The fewer chemicals ingested, the better. Replace drugs with nourishing food, rest, and extra fluids. Ask for help; many drug treatment programs are licensed to treat pregnant women and will give this population top priority.

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