Research shows that many women think marijuana consumption during pregnancy is harmless

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Researchers from the University of British Columbia released a report earlier this week that states that as many as one-third of pregnant women think it is safe to consume marijuana while pregnant.

The lead author of the report and assistant professor in the department of family practice at UBC, Hamideh Bayrampour, said that this study will hopefully help create an understanding for public health officials about some of the perceptions surrounding cannabis use since it’s become legal in Canada.

The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine and included data from six U.S. studies. One of the most important findings is that a lot of women have thought cannabis was safe during pregnancy because their healthcare providers did not tell them otherwise.  

“We know that from other types of research that when there’s no communication and there is lots of uncertainty in literature – which is true for cannabis use – then it is very important that health-care providers … educate [patients] about risk,” said Bayrampour.

Bayrampour said that the research also found that many women do not consider cannabis to be a drug.

“When health-care providers ask about drug use, some people don’t feel that cannabis is a drug, so they say, ‘No,’ [they don’t use it],” she said. “Somehow, information is missing in this communication.”

One of the studies that were analyzed for the purpose of the report found that 70 percent of pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users did not perceive cannabis use during pregnancy to be a high risk and in another study, 30 percent of women said they did not believe cannabis to be harmful to the baby during pregnancy.

However, the research did point out that cannabis use typically changes while a woman is pregnant. Rates of cannabis use are highest during the first trimester and lowest during the third trimesters. The research also found that 96 percent of women said they used cannabis to treat the nausea that is very common in early pregnancy.

There are also a lot of women who do stop using cannabis during pregnancy. In one sample of 306 women, 35 percent of pregnant women said they were “current users” when they found out they were pregnant. Half of those women said they continue to use cannabis daily or at least twice a week. There were also 18 percent of those current users who could be considered to be abusing cannabis or dependent. Two-thirds of women however, stopped consumption once they found out they’re pregnant.

Bayrampour said that even though the research is conflicted in a lot of areas, there are risks that women should be aware of.

“There are some outcomes that have very strong associations with cannabis use and pregnancy, like having a baby that’s smaller than average, so low birth weight,” she said.

In preparation for legalization, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) presented a warning that just because cannabis is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s safe to breastfeed if consuming.

According to the SOGC potential effects of marijuana use during pregnancy include:

  • Pre-term labour
  • Low birth weight
  • Lower IQ scores
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity in childhood

Bayrampour said that more awareness needs to be created so that women can understand the potential risks associated with consumption while pregnant or while breastfeeding and how it can affect their child.

“From a health-care-provider perspective, we do need to have conversations with our pregnant population,” she said.

“Also, people mention they want to understand the specific effects. Just saying, ‘Don’t use it,’ isn’t enough; we need to bring them some more information and let them know that yes, we don’t know for sure if it’s harmful, but we don’t know if it’s safe, so it’s best not to use [cannabis] during pregnancy.”


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