As legalization of marijuana spreads, 7% of pregnant women in the U.S. are using this unregulated drug to help reduce morning sickness. But is it safe?
In some states that legalize marijuana, dispensaries can be as common as coffee shops. Like smoking cigarettes or alcohol consumption, anyone over the age of 21 can easily walk into a store and buy a variety of compounds recreationally for their own use. But there are risks to be aware of, especially for pregnant women. Are the people behind the counter knowledgable enough to give sound advice to pregnant women seeking medical advice?
A study at the University of Colorado looked into the type of information being provided by staff members of marijuana dispensaries. Investigators posed as 8-week pregnant patients and called 465 dispensaries which resulted in useful information from 400 locations. Investigators asked employees if they had products that were “safe for morning sickness.” Other questions were about any known risks to the mother or baby with taking these products and whether they should check with their own health care provider. Results were: 69% of staff members recommended marijuana products for morning sickness, and 36% said that it was safe to use in pregnancy. Only 32% recommended that the patient check with her physician, but after prompting, 81% eventually recommended it.
This may not be happening in every state, but this study gives you a glimpse of how many pregnant women are likely not asking their provider for advice on the safety of using marijuana for morning sickness. But instead are seeking medical advice from marijuana sales people who not only have a conflict of interest and lack of medical knowledge but also a lack of cautionary approach on the topic.
Currently marijuana products contain from 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) up to 15% and, even some concentrations up to more than 50% THC. THC acts on CB1 receptors that have psychotropic effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) acts through its effects on serotonin and not CB1 receptors for the most part. Cannabis, the marijuana plant, contains up to 100 cannabinoids with the two that we most know about described above. Dependence and addiction affects about 9% of users. This is compared to 15% of the population addicted to alcohol. This can lead to the risk of addiction to the newborn, let alone other potential consequences of cannabinoid exposure in utero.
There have been studies showing that children exposed in utero to cannabis performed more poorly in visual problem solving, motor coordination, had attention deficits and childhood sleep problems for up to a decade compared to unexposed children. Yes, thats right. According to a University of Colorado, Boulder study and lead author John Hewitt, director of CU’s Institute for Behavioral Genetics, marijuana use can impact children’s sleep long term!!
Other potential effects include increased risk of stillbirth, low birth weight (if using cannabis more than once per week) and preterm labor (those using cannabis and smoking cigarettes). A few older studies have not shown any differences in adverse outcomes with pregnant users vs nonusers. With marijuana products not being regulated and not knowing the specific ratios of THC/CBD, it can be very confusing to know what may harm mother and/or baby.
One thing for sure, marijuana use has not been proven to be safe in pregnancy. It is recommended not to use cannabis products during pregnancy-whether for recreational or medical purposes. Consult your practitioner about other safe and effective natural options for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
The medical use of cannabis is legal with physician prescription in 35 states. The recreational use is legal in 14 states.
Even though the use of cannabis is federally illegal, some of its derivative compounds have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration fo prescription use. For non-prescription use, cannabidiol derived from industrial hemp is legal at the federal level, but legality and enforcement varies by state. This map can identify what your state laws are regarding the use of marijuana State map of marijuana.
Dicson, B, et al. Recommendations from cannabis dispensaries about first-trimester cannabis use. Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131: 1031-1038.
Hudson, T. Marijuana in Pregnancy-Please Don’t. Townsend Letter. Women’s Health Update. Feb/March 2019. p. 30-33.