University of Adelaide led an international research team to find a link between marijuana use by women before or during pregnancy and pre-term birth. This was first-of-its-kind research that involved 5,500 women from United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. The results of the SCOPE (SCreening fOr Pregnancy Endpoints) study were pretty shocking, especially for the Australian women. The findings have been published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.

The study found out that the Australian participating centre had the highest proportion of women using cannabis before or during pregnancy (12%). Australia was followed by New Zealand (5%), Ireland (4%) and United Kingdom (4%). The study found a direct link between pre-term birth and marijuana use during pregnancy. Of all the women studied, 5.6% reported using cannabis before or during pregnancy.

Researchers considered a variety of factors for the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute study such as age, obesity, cigarette smoking and socio-economic status. Then they linked these factors to serious pregnancy complications. Once all the major risk factors were considered, the researchers found out that continued cannabis use through to 20 weeks’ gestation was independently associated with a five-fold increase in pre-term birth risk.

Lead author of the study, professor Claire Roberts, from the University's Robinson Research Institute, said that six percent of the pre-term births could have been prevented had the women not smoked marijuana during pregnancy. The Australian participating centre had a much higher proportion of women marijuana smokers and Roberts believe that 12 percent of pre-term birth could have been prevented.

“This is the first time that continued marijuana use in pregnancy has been independently linked to pre-term birth. Based on our findings, we consider marijuana to be a major public health concern for pregnant women and their babies,” Roberts said in a press release.

In the group of women studied, there were 236 pre-term births recorded and among them, those who continued using marijuana at 20 weeks’ gestation had a majorly shorter gestation compared to those who did not smoke cannabis. The study also found that even the proportion of very early pre-term birth was also higher.