Certain symptoms of pregnancy, like morning sickness or anxiety, come on fast and are so persistent that at times, it can seem like almost no remedy will do the trick. But with medical and recreational marijuana becoming legal in various states, a growing number of moms-to-be are turning to cannabis to help them cope. In fact, prenatal marijuana use is significantly on the rise, according to a new research paper published in the journal JAMA on Tuesday, December 26.
The letter looked at a sample of expectant moms in California. Between 2009-2016, the prevalence of self-reported cannabis use rose from 4.2% to 7.1%. Among younger pregnant women, the numbers are even more dramatic: For pregnant women under 18, use skyrocketed from 12.5% to 21.8%, and in the 18-24 bracket, it grew from 9.8% to 19%.
Of course this study only looked at women in Calfornia, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996 and recreational use was approved last year. But other research has looked at a wider sample across the country. Another study published in JAMA last year found in aggregated 2007-2012 data that among pregnant women, the prevalence of past-month marijuana use increased 62% from 2002 through 2014. Talk about a fairly significant stat!
Obviously, attitudes around cannabis use in general, as well as during pregnancy, have gotten more positive over recent years, but medical experts are still skeptical about its safety for moms-to-be. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' current statement on the matter notes that "women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should ... discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy." Their concerns stem from "insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding."
The CDC notes that "many of the chemicals in marijuana (in particular, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) can pass through a mother’s system to her baby and can negatively affect a baby’s health. Research shows that using marijuana while pregnant can cause health problems in newborns—including low birth weight. Using marijuana during pregnancy may also increase a baby’s risk of developmental problems."
That said, a review of research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2016 concluded that there was no significant risk of low birth weight and premature delivery when results were adjusted for factors such as smoking cigarettes.
One thing's for sure: Prenatal cannabis use is sure to be studied more intensively going forward! But for the time being, most moms-to-be will be discouraged from using weed to address any uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. With hope, these new stats and growing conversation will help expectant moms feel comfortable speaking with their health care providers about the pros and cons of their options. After all, nothing matters more than pinpointing the treatment plan that works best for them -- and their L.O.s.