Nav: Home

Study paints picture of marijuana use in pregnant women

February 04, 2020

As the use of marijuana is legalized in an increasing number of U.S. states, the number of people who use the drug daily is on the rise. This upward trend also holds up in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, despite evidence that using marijuana could harm their babies.

Published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, findings from a study conducted by a team of researchers at Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane delve deeper into pregnant women's use of marijuana, providing key insights that will help inform patient education efforts. Their study was conducted in Washington State and is the first study of its kind conducted in a state where marijuana is legal.

"We don't have all the research, but there's enough there to warrant saying that you should not use marijuana while pregnant," said lead author Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, citing prior research that suggests marijuana use during pregnancy it is associated with increased risk of low birth weight, still birth, and cognitive and behavioral issues. "Yet, there's a group of women who are using marijuana that have these other chronic conditions, and we need to help them manage those."

An associate professor in the WSU College of Nursing and the vice chancellor for research at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, Barbosa-Leiker said that, based on their findings, pregnant women's health care providers should more fully consider patient history and engage in a shared decision-making process with them about their marijuana use. She suggested health care providers adopt a harm reduction approach focused on limiting marijuana use, rather than asking women to go cold turkey. In addition, she said it's important to train all health care staff to interact with patients in a way that minimizes stigma.

"Many of the moms we spoke to reported feeling incredibly stigmatized as soon as they reported that they were using marijuana," Barbosa-Leiker said. "The worst thing that could happen is that one of these moms feels so uncomfortable that she doesn't come back for prenatal care, which is detrimental to the health of the baby."

Five themes emerge from study

As part of their study, the WSU research team conducted personal interviews with 14 pregnant women and 5 women who had given birth within the past three months, all of whom reported using marijuana daily while pregnant. They asked the women questions related to their perceptions of the risk and benefits of using marijuana during pregnancy. From the participants' responses, they identified five common themes:
  • Participants reported using marijuana as a way to manage their health issues, from physical issues such as nausea, pain, and difficulty sleeping to psychological issues such as stress, anxiety, and trauma. Many made this decision not just for themselves, but also for their baby. One woman reported that using marijuana was the only way she could keep food down, providing critical nourishment to her baby. Others said it helped them reduce stress and anxiety and function better as a parent.
  • Many carefully weighed their decision to continue marijuana use during pregnancy and reevaluated their use through each phase of the pregnancy and after giving birth. One common reason why they used marijuana was to avoid using other medications they felt were more harmful to their baby, such as opioids, anti-nausea drugs, and anti-psychotic medications.
  • Pregnant women are getting mixed messages from their health care providers. Mostly their providers told them to stop using marijuana, but some were asked to limit their use. A few women reported not ever being asked about marijuana use or their provider not saying anything when they disclosed it, which surprised the researchers given national guidelines that direct health care providers to counsel pregnant women about the risks of using marijuana.
  • All participants said they wanted more information on the safety and effects of using marijuana while pregnant. When women felt that medical providers were not giving them enough information, they sought out advice from other sources, such as budtenders.
  • Legal considerations appear to be driving whether or not pregnant women disclose their marijuana use to health care providers, as well as their pattern of use during pregnancy. Fear of being reported to child protective services made some women decide to stop using toward the end of their pregnancy, when test results might have exposed their marijuana use.
Barbosa-Leiker said the study completely changed her perspective.

"Going into the study, I thought that showing these women the research about how it impacts their baby would make them change their behavior," she said. "Once I heard these women's stories of going through incredibly traumatic experiences and making very brave choices to keep themselves and their babies as healthy as possible, it made me realize that we need to do a better job of knowing patients' perspectives before we try to get them to adopt healthier behaviors," she said.

In addition to providing key insights that can help health care providers better focus their patient education efforts, Barbosa-Leiker said the study also highlights the need for more research to determine the long-term effects of marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
-end-
Funding for the study came from the Washington State University Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research program.

Washington State University

Related Pregnancy Articles:

A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.
Cannabis use during pregnancy
The large health care system Kaiser Permanente Northern California provides universal screening for prenatal cannabis use in women during pregnancy by self-report and urine toxicology testing.
Questions and answers about cannabis use during pregnancy
A new study shows that women have many medical questions about the use of cannabis both before and during pregnancy, and during the postpartum period while breastfeeding.
The effect of taking antidepressants during pregnancy
Exposure to antidepressants during pregnancy and the first weeks of life can alter sensory processing well into adulthood, according to research in mice recently published in eNeuro.
Is ivermectin safe during pregnancy?
Is it safe to give ivermectin to pregnant women? To answer this question, researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institution supported by 'la Caixa,' conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that reported cases of accidental exposure to the drug among pregnant women.
Going to sleep on your back in late pregnancy
This study looked at whether going to sleep on your back in the third trimester of pregnancy was associated with average lower birth weights.
Opioid use disorder in pregnancy: 5 things to know
Opioid use is increasing in pregnancy as well as the general population.
Medical imaging rates during pregnancy
Researchers looked at rates of medical imaging (CT, MRI, conventional x-rays, angiography, fluoroscopy and nuclear medicine) during pregnancy in this observational study that included nearly 3.5 million pregnant women in the United States and Canada from 1996 to 2016.
New research on diet and supplements during pregnancy and beyond
The foods and nutrients a woman consumes while pregnant have important health implications for her and her baby.
Obesity in early pregnancy linked to pregnancy complications
In a prospective study published in Obesity of 18,481 pregnant women in China who had never given birth before, obesity in early pregnancy was linked to higher risks of spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, and large birth weight in newborns.
More Pregnancy News and Pregnancy Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.