A recent report found that pregnant women are using cannabis at an increased rate, while cigarette and alcohol use during pregnancies have gone down. The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
In the study of 12,988 pregnant women, the number of women smoking cigarettes went from 17.5 percent in 2002 to 10 percent in 2016, while alcohol use dropped from 10 percent of women in 2002 to 8.5 percent in 2016. Cannabis was the only substance of the three that rose. In 2002, 3 percent of women used it — and that rose to 5 percent in 2016.
“Unlike alcohol and cigarette use, prenatal cannabis use has not decreased, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is a key phase of neural development for the fetus,” the report authors from the Washington University School of Medicine stated.
The authors called for more public awareness as to the consequences of prenatal cannabis exposure in offspring health.
Why are women taking marijuana when they’re pregnant? Some claim it helps tremendously with nausea, while others may have used it prior to conception and continued during their pregnancy.
Kelly C. Young-Wolff, PhD, a drug abuse researcher at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said that prenatal marijuana use has become more prevalent as changes with legalization, accessibility, and acceptance of marijuana have occurred.
There’s some preliminary evidence that women perceive marijuana as natural, and thus safe to use during pregnancy, she said.
Also, dispensaries could be misleading consumers. As part of a study published this past summer, researchers posed as pregnant women and contacted 400 randomly selected cannabis outlets in Colorado.
They found that more than one-third of dispensaries endorsed marijuana as being safe during pregnancy. And 69 percent of them recommended cannabis to relieve nausea.
The use of marijuana to relieve nausea is something Young-Wolff recently studied, too. Her team reported last month that the prevalence of prenatal marijuana use was significantly elevated among women with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and some women may use marijuana to self-medicate morning sickness.
She said more research is needed to fully understand why more pregnant women are using marijuana.
The recent report in JAMA Pediatrics didn’t speculate why cannabis use is up in pregnant women; it only reported on data indicating that more women are using it while expecting.
“The combination of assuming that cannabis might be relatively harmless, might have medical use, and thinking that it might even help with pregnancy-related features like nausea might be preventing its use during pregnancy from decreasing,” Arpana Agrawal, PhD, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, and lead author of the recent report, told Healthline.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a pediatrician from Colorado, told Healthline that he believes prenatal marijuana usage has increased due to more access.
“Since pot has been legalized in the state, it has become way easier to obtain,” he said.
Also, many people who moved to the state to legally use pot recreationally become pregnant and continue using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — a cannabinoid in cannabis — during pregnancy.
Brown said he wasn’t aware of any obstetricians giving eligible pregnant patients medical marijuana cards, which would allow a person to purchase marijuana for medical uses. In some states, women can purchase it legally without a medical marijuana card.
“My sense is that pregnant women using marijuana used it recreationally before they got pregnant and continued using it once they got pregnant,” he said.
Some women may perceive marijuana as natural and therefore safe. This could be another reason for the increase.
Cannabis hasn’t been tested in pregnant women out of concern about harming the mother or the baby. Animal research has linked it to having a higher risk of underweight and premature infants.
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