Reasons for cannabis use during pregnancy and lactation: a qualitative study

Meredith Vanstone, Shipra Taneja, Anuoluwa Popoola, Janelle Panday, Devon Greyson, Robin Lennox, Sarah D. McDonald, Reasons for cannabis use during pregnancy and lactation: a qualitative study, CMAJ Dec 2021, 193 (50) E1906-E1914; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.211236


Background: Cannabis use among pregnant and lactating people is increasing, despite clinical evidence showing that cannabis use may be associated with low birth weight and childhood developmental deficits. Our objective was to understand why pregnant and lactating people use cannabis and how these motivations change across perinatal stages.

Methods: Using qualitative, constructivist grounded theory methodology, we conducted telephone and virtual interviews with 52 individuals from across Canada. We selected participants using maximum variation and theoretical sampling. They were eligible if they had been pregnant or lactating within the past year and had decided to continue, cease or decrease their cannabis use during the perinatal period.

Results: We identified 3 categories of reasons that people use cannabis during pregnancy and lactation: sensation-seeking for fun and enjoyment; symptom management of chronic conditions and conditions related to pregnancy; and coping with the unpleasant, but nonpathologized, experiences of life. Before pregnancy, participants endorsed reasons for using cannabis in these 3 categories in similar proportions, with many offering multiple reasons for use. During pregnancy, reasons for use shifted primarily to symptom management. During lactation, reasons returned to resemble those expressed before pregnancy.

Interpretation: In this study, we showed that pregnant and lactating people use cannabis for many reasons, particularly for symptom management. Reasons for cannabis use changed across reproductive stages. The dynamic nature of the reasons for use across stages speaks to participant perception of benefits and risks, and perhaps a desire to cast cannabis use during pregnancy as therapeutic because of perceived stigma.

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