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Is Cannabis Safe for Pregnant Women? A Cloudy Issue

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Author name: Lee Health


More women report using pot to battle morning sickness. A Lee Health expert weighs in.

Cannabis products are becoming more popular every day. Many believe they have magical healing properties and may be a great catch-all remedy for various ailments – especially as more states legalize the drug for recreational and medical consumption.

Even in pregnancy, more women are using pot to curb their nausea and morning sickness.

In fact, a new government study says marijuana use among prenatal moms has doubled since 2002. Another recent finding, from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, reports the percentage of women who used pot while pregnant rose from 1.9 percent in 2009 to 3.4 percent in 2017.

The studies didn’t make clear how the women used the drug -- whether they smoked it, ate foods that contained cannabis, or ingested it in other ways. The vast majority of the users weren’t on medical orders to use the drug, either. Only a few said their doctors had recommended it. Currently, 33 states allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.

So what’s behind the trend? Should it be stemmed for health reasons?

What you need to know

Lee Health pediatric neurologist Dr. Britt Stroud suggests pregnant mothers should avoid using marijuana.

“Although cannabinoids are considered ‘natural,’ their prenatal use can still pose risks,” Dr. Stroud says. “Certainly a natural remedy like cannabis carries great appeal for combatting nausea in pregnancy. But while it may help the mother’s symptoms, it may prove harmful to the baby.”

Dr. Stroud stresses we shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions about the safety of substances just because they are labeled as “natural.”

“Natural does not always equal safe or non-toxic, and even the manner in which someone consumes makes a difference,” Dr. Stroud says. “Smoking a marijuana cigarette fills the lungs with as many or more carcinogens than a tobacco cigarette, according to the American Lung Association.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says pregnant moms shouldn’t use pot because of concerns about impaired neurodevelopment as well as maternal and fetal exposure to smoking.

Also, some studies have linked marijuana use during pregnancy with increased chances of premature birth and low birth weight. Animal studies have linked high doses early in pregnancy with fetal brain abnormalities – but it’s less clear whether typical use in humans poses similar risks.

Dr. Stroud agrees with ACOG that pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should skip marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes and instead try a therapy that has a proven safety record.

Some treatments for nausea and morning sickness include supplements and ginger as well as frequent snacks and bland food such as soda crackers or dry toast. Experts also stress drinking plenty of fluids.

Talk to your doctor about new treatments

Dr. Stroud cautions that regardless if a product is labeled natural or as FDA-approved, when it comes to treatment it’s best to err on the side on safety. The recent studies highlight an opportunity for clinicians and women to talk about the risks of using cannabis, he says.

“The reality is more patients use herbs, cannabis, and other non-prescription medicines than are reported to doctors,” Dr. Stroud says. “Talk to your doctor honestly about what you’re thinking. You should never be afraid to bring up treatments you read or heard about that could be helpful. Your doctor can discuss with you the pros and cons of ALL treatments.

“Together, the two of you can make an informed decision on what’s best for you and your baby.”

Looking for an Obstetrics and Gynecology Provider?

Learn more from our obstetrics and gynecology experts including common maternity services on our Women's Health services page

If you would to contribute to Healthy News, please contact us at [email protected]

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