The impact of in-utero cannabis exposure on the first week of life outside the womb: Insights from neonatal health professionals

Author Identifier

Jessica Dantaz

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Nursing (Research)


School of Nursing and Midwifery

First Supervisor

Esther Adama

Second Supervisor

Evalotte Morelius

Third Supervisor

Maggie Zgambo


Background: It is common knowledge that cannabis is a widely used illicit drug in Australia. As legalization becomes more common across the globe, evidence points to an increase in cannabis consumption by pregnant women and subsequent increase in cannabisaffected neonates born to these mothers. Not only is this cause for concern for individual neonates, but it has an impact on the staff who care for them, as in-utero cannabis use can have detrimental effects on newborns.

Aim: The main aim of this study was to explore the observed outcomes of recreational cannabis exposure during pregnancy on infants in the first week of their lives through the reports of neonatal health professionals. Secondary aims were to explore feelings of nurses and midwives towards working with cannabis-affected neonates; their opinions on health promotion and education surrounding cannabis use in pregnancy, in the neonatal period, and in workplace environments; as well as the legalization of cannabis.

Methods: This study used a qualitative descriptive design, and purposively selected participants to interview using a semi-structured format. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and the data were analysed. The data collection period commenced in December 2022 and was finalized in June 2023. A six-step method described by Braun and Clarke was used as a guide for thematic analysis of the data, with the assistance of the NVivo12 software for coding and organization.

Results: Interview data were collected from 11 participants, all of whom were female nurses or midwives and had worked in metropolitan neonatal or maternity units. Three main themes were derived and are explained, along with eight subthemes, leading to recommendations for future practice. The main findings of this study include the observations that cannabis-affected neonates experience difficulty adjusting to extra-uterine life and manifest physical symptoms; that these observed outcomes can be connected to drug-related and maternal factors; and that in-utero cannabis use affected public health in the areas of health promotion and education. Opinions on cannabis legalization were also explored and the conclusion was that, should cannabis be legalized in Australia, it would have an impact on neonatal and pregnant populations.



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