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The Risk of Taking Psychoactive Drugs During Pregnancy

A psychoactive drug is any medication that affects the functioning of the brain, changing behavior, mood, cognition or consciousness. They are used to treat physical and psychological disorders but are also sometimes used recreationally. Many psychoactive drugs have a tendency towards being addictive.

Three Primary Classes of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs are grouped into three classes depending on their primary action on the central nervous system.

Depressants, like alcohol, barbiturates or benzodiazepines, sedatives, hypnotics and narcotics, slow down or inhibit the functioning of the central nervous system. Drugs that fit into this class are Valium, Xanax, Percocet, Ambien, morphine and codeine. They are often used to treat anxiety or panic disorders, sleep disorders and pain.

Caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and cocaine are stimulants. They increase activity in the brain and nervous system and stimulate the mind. Stimulants are used to treat conditions like fatigue caused by multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome, narcolepsy or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Prescription medications that fall into this category include Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Provigil.

Psychedelics or hallucinogens are drugs that alter mood, thinking and perception. Drugs in this class include marijuana, LSD, peyote and psilocybin, usually referred to as “magic mushrooms.” Prescription medication in this class includes nitrous oxide, a dissociative, often used for anesthesia during dental work and propofol, used to induce general anesthesia during surgery.

Common Usages for Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs are used in a variety of medical settings. General anesthetics are used to block pain and induce unconsciousness so that patients can endure surgery without pain or trauma. Opiate narcotics treat severe pain. A second class of pain treatment, the analgesics, includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and aspirin.

The field of psychiatry makes great use psychoactive medications. Psychiatric psychoactive medications fall into six major classes:

–Antidepressants, which treat clinical depression, eating disorders, anxiety and panic disorders
–Stimulants, which treat ADHD, narcolepsy and can be used as appetite suppressants
–Antipsychotics, which treat psychosis, schizophrenia and mania
–Mood stabilizers, which treat schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder
–Anxiolytics, which treat anxiety disorders
–Depressants, which include hypnotics, sedatives and anesthetics

Psychoactive Drugs in Pregnancy

Most psychoactive drugs do in fact cross the placenta and can have effects on the unborn child. Many are contraindicated in pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. It’s important to weigh the potential benefit to the mother against the potential risk to the fetus. For example, a pregnant woman with severe depression who is at risk of suicide without antidepressants would do well to continue taking her medication. This decision should be made in consultation with the woman’s medical provider. Most psychoactive drugs are listed at Class C by the Food & Drug Administration, which means that not enough information is present to determine their safety in pregnancy.

Possible Risks to the Fetus from Psychoactive Medication

— addiction
— premature birth
— spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage
— stillbirth
— malformations, such as clubfoot, improperly attached umbilical cord, and vascular pigmentation
— death after birth, due to malformations
— respiratory distress

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