By Jen Alexander

A recent article by Storm Crow sheds light on a study that demonstrates a dramatic decrease in infant mortality rates for babies born testing positive for cannabinoids:

A total of 2,964 babies were drug-tested at birth to see if they were positive for drugs – cocaine, opioids or cannabis were studied. 44% of the infants tested positive for all varieties of drugs, including the 3 being studied. During the first two years of their lives, 44 babies from the original group died. Since statistics are a drag to slog through, I’ll cut right to the chase – the deaths per thousand live births – the numbers tell the story.

“No drugs at birth” deaths……. 15.7 deaths per 1000 live births
“Cocaine positive” deaths…….17.7 deaths per 1000 live births
“Opiate positive” deaths…….18.4 deaths per 1000 live births
“Cannabis positive” deaths…. 8.9 deaths per 1000 live births [5]

The cocaine and opiate babies have a higher death rate than the “No drugs” babies – that was to be expected. But look at the “cannabis” babies! Having extra cannabinoids in their bodies at birth (and likely later, from 2nd-hand exposure, or breast milk) seems to have some sort of a protective effect. The “cannabis” infants have a mortality rate almost half of what the “No drugs” infants have!

The study raises many interesting questions.  As I read, these are some of the first questions that came to mind, along with my current research on the topics.  I would have waited to post this until I could find more concrete information, but unfortunately, prohibition interferes with sound science on these issues, so I am just going to share my own thoughts and research with the hopes that it encourages more public outcry for further scientific study.  Much of this is conjecture and guesses, but it is worth asking these questions and evaluating the information currently available and pursuing further research: 

1.  What further verification of this study can I find?  Much as I like the info, I know I need to find a credible source for verification and so that others will believe the information.

A credible source was found to document the truth of the data presented by Storm Crow:

Pediatrics:  Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published July 1, 1997;

The above source only contained the summary of the study, and I wanted to see more of the data.  I have learned that statistics and percentages can be very misleading.  Before long, I found the complete study using student access to PSU , and found even more surprising numbers than the above quote by Storm Crow reveals.  The following table itemizes each category of test result; for instance, a positive test for cannabis could also include a positive test for opiates and/or cocaine, so this table further breaks out the categories into cannabis only, morphine (opiate) only, cocaine only and the “total” of all positive cannabis, morphine and cocaine tests (click links to view table and chart):

TABLE 3. Mortality Within 1 to 2 Years Among Infants (n = 2964) Who Were Screened for Gestational Exposure to Drugs by Meconium Analysis


Meconium Drug Screen

Deaths per
1000 Live  Births

% of Total Deaths




Cocaine only


Morphine only


Cannabinoid only


[a] Includes in combination with the other illicit drugs (cocaine, opiate, and/or cannabinoid).

Infant Mortality Chart

The most interesting thing that stands out to me is that the drug-negative babies were technically MORE likely to die in the first two years of life.  This illustration helps shed light on why the study concludes that there is no significant difference between babies that test positive and those that test negative for maternal drug use, as there isn’t much of a difference between the 13.7 and 15.7 deaths per 1000 live births.

However, in this view of the information, the stark difference between the two cannabis categories and “morphine only” category as compared to the remaining categories is notable.  As a mother who is familiar with at least some of the drugs given at birth, I suspect that the “morphine only” category are those mothers that received some sort of drug during childbirth and/or pregnancy.  The presence of this drug only would most likely indicate proper drug use and not illicit drug use, since this drug is administered by a licensed physician – which could be why the mortality rate of these children is much lower than the other categories.

And the cannabis positive children are definitely in that same range with the morphine only infants.  However, when the two categories of cannabis-positive infants are divided into “cannabis only” and “cannabis positive” (indicating either opiates or cocaine were also present with the cannabis), the information is astonishing.  Of 338 infants born with cannabis in their systems at birth, only 3 total died in the first two years.  All three of those infants had either opiates or cocaine in their system as well, and not a single death was found in the two years after birth in the 157 infants that tested positive for ONLY cannabis!  These deaths include homicide, SIDS, illness, etc.  Not ONE death!

2.  Are infants born to cannabis-consuming mothers less likely to die in the first two years of life, or are the results of this study an anomaly?

I wish I could answer this question conclusively, but this information definitely indicates the need for further study!  I sought out more research on this subject, and could not find much.  I did find an article on the importance of endocannabinoids on pediatric development and disease, the critical role of the endogenous cannabinoids system on mouse pup suckling and growth, and a study on cannabis and breastfeeding that seems to use some good data to make some bad points.

3. Are pregnant mothers less likely to continue their use of marijuana when becoming pregnant, compared to other drugs?

I also noticed that a substantial difference is noted in the positive test results, compared to the usage rates suggested in a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  According to their data for 2002-2009, marijuana has much higher usage rates than all other drugs (ie in 2008, 41% of the study used marijuana in their lifetime, and 10.3% had used it in the past year; contrast that with the total for all drug use (including marijuana) of 47% in their lifetime, and 14.2% in the past year.  Cocaine use was 14.7% in their lifetime and 2.1% in the last year and all other drugs, excluding marijuana, was 30.3% in their lifetime and 8.0% in the last year).  For comparison’s sake, I merged that data into the earlier table side by side with the comparable number (although it is worth noting that the SAMHSA data is both male and female, whereas the Meconium Drug Screen data is only pregnant females, so any gender variances would not be taken into account, as well as other confounding factors).  However, this data is still rather enlightening:

Meconium Drug Screen
N as %






It is complete conjecture, but it appears that pregnant mothers are more likely to give up marijuana than cocaine.  The total positive and negative percentages of drug use, however, were quite comparable.  But cocaine was far more dominant in pregnant mothers than marijuana – unlike the overall usage statistics which seem to show the inverse (a much higher usage rate for marijuana than cocaine).

While this is just conjecture based on these data, it could be concluded that marijuana was not as addictive and mothers were likely to significantly reduce their use and/or quit smoking marijuana all together, as compared to cocaine.  I presume the higher percentage of cocaine positive tests in the pregnant mothers’ results as compared to the general population is probably linked to more risky behaviors resulting in pregnancy among cocaine-addicted women – resulting in a larger percentage of pregnant cocaine users than the general population of cocaine users – but again this is pure conjecture.

4. What is the overlap in concurrent drug use, ie how many cocaine-using mothers were also using opiates and/or cannabinoids?

The first table above gives two categories for each drug, ie cannabis positive and cannabis only.  The cannabis only number is included into the cannabis positive category.  For an easier interpretation of the data, I created another chart using the same mortality rate data, but with more information from the student access of the study.  Some of these numbers are calculated based on the percentages noted in the study, so the “exact” numbers given here may not be as precise as it appears (for instance, the total participants in the study was 2964, but these numbers add to 2961 – these are just rounding errors):

Test results:
Total Number

Positive for all three

Positive for cocaine and opiate

Positive for cannabis and other

Drug negative

Cocaine only

Morphine only

Cannabinoid only


5.  For babies born to cannabis-using mothers, who did not use any other drugs, what is the mortality rate?

I was amazed that I was finally able to access this data, and even more astonished that my initial conjecture that there would be zero deaths among the cannabis only infants is correct.  Not a single death in the first two years of life for the babies that tested positive for cannabis.  Using the data for the drug-negative babies, it would be reasonable to see 3 deaths among this group.  It is possible that this is just coincidence, but it could also indicate a protective effect of cannabis, particularly when considering some of the other studies mentioned above.

6. Should cannabis be included in such a study to evaluate mortality rate in the first two years of life of “drug exposure?”  Or does cannabis skew the results?

Cannabis appears to seriously skew the results of the above study.  Clearly cannabis is starkly different than the other drug categories tested for, and while I wouldn’t throw cannabis out of the studies, I would certainly be looking at cannabis from a different perspective, inquiring about the potential BENEFITS for mothers.  Indeed, cannabis was used for centuries for morning sickness, cramping, and birthing pain – and with the above study in mind – it is definitely worth considering the potential benefits of cannabis in light of scientific advances and understanding.