The most common illicit drug used by women of reproductive age and by pregnant women is cannabis (DrugInfo, 2005). Although there are limited national data available on illicit substance use among parents in Australia, the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey estimated that 12% of parents with children aged 0–14 years used either an illicit substance (such as marijuana or ecstasy) or a licit substance (such as painkillers) for nonmedical purposes in the previous 12 months (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2009).
'Maternal substance abuse is a potent risk condition' (Boris in Zeanah, 2000) as infant development can be affected by interrelated mechanisms that are all clinically important; These can be:
direct prenatal effects
genetic effects (that influence both parent and infant)
cumulative social risks
For maternal child and family health nurses, identification and early intervention through active engagement is a priority. It is also essential to have knowledge of alcohol and drug use, its impact on the user and the baby, and what this means for the parents’ capacity to care for their infant. This article addresses these issues and provides an update about cannabis use.