Cannabis use has been historically beneficial for women’s health. I can vouch firsthand that suppositories are fantastic for obliterating menstrual cramps (and my sciatic pain). Inhalation or ingesting cannabis can be an instant mitigator for hormone surges that often leads to a poor mood. These facts, paired with sweeping legalization, have many pregnant women asking their doctors about the effects of using cannabis rather than prescription drugs for symptoms like nausea and mood swings.
Physicians most frequently ask that women don’t use cannabis during pregnancy. This could be based on the fact that it is still a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no potential for medical use and are considered highly addictive. For this reason, it takes quite a bit of financial backing and regulatory oversight to research cannabis medicine.
Due to these barriers, there are not many in-depth studies on the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy but we do have access to some relevant data.
Are Pregnant Women Smoking Weed?
In the Summer of 2019, Kaiser Permanente released a study based on data gathered at their facility over 9 years, documenting 367,403 pregnancies in Northern California. The data comes from an interview taken at the 8-week gestation mark during women’s initial prenatal visit. Of those people, 276,991 admitted to cannabis use during their pregnancy thus far. Another stat from 2009 to 2017 showed that the number of women who have used cannabis in the year before their pregnancy doubled from 6.8% to 12.5%, while self-reported cannabis use during pregnancy increased from 1.9% to 3.4%.
Another study released in February 2020 showed that women who were younger with lower annual household incomes were more likely to use cannabis while pregnant. Also, women with anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, depression symptoms, a trauma diagnosis, or self-reported intimate partner violence were more likely to use cannabis during pregnancy. These results show that despite warnings women are using cannabis during pregnancy to mitigate mood imbalances and stress as well as nausea, an indicator that research on efficacy and safety is needed.
Does Cannabis Use During Pregnancy Hurt Babies?
A 2014 study out of Arizona reviewed 24 studies of maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes up to six weeks postpartum. In comparison with those who hadn’t used cannabis, mothers who did partake were more likely to be anemic. Babies born to the mothers who used cannabis did have a lower birth rate and were more likely to end up in the NICU after birth.
Research analysts did note, however, that most cannabis users in this study were also tobacco users so it is hard to know which substance was responsible for the outcomes. These outcomes also combat data from a 1991 study on babies born to cannabis-using mothers. A researcher followed 59 Jamaican children from birth to age 5, all of which had mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy. There were no differences in women as compared to non-using mothers.
Though there are studies on cannabis use during pregnancy, it’s very hard to come to a conclusive result without a controlled study. For now, we can conclusively state that mothers who are dealing with depression will be more likely to use cannabis while pregnant. It’s also been shown that mothers who used cannabis while pregnant have experienced complications with low birth rates and issues that landed babies in the NICU.