More woman are finding a new way to relax while pregnant: using cannabis. Photo by: gpointstudio.
When the pandemic struck, the entire world faced a challenge like never before. COVID-19 put pressure on all aspects of life: finances, job insecurity, healthcare issues, and childcare, to name a few.
Everyone felt an immense amount of stress since the beginning of the quarantine. Consequently, during the pandemic period and stay-home mandates, many people turned to cannabis to relieve anxiety brought on by the novel coronavirus — including pregnant women.
Prenatal Cannabis use Increases During Pandemic
Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC), a integrated healthcare delivery system, conducted a study to observe the use of cannabis in pregnant women before and during the pandemic.
The company predicted that there was an increase in prenatal cannabis use during the pandemic. To see if their predictions were correct, KPNC took urine samples from roughly 10,000 pregnant women in Northern California. They then separated them into two periods: the pre-pandemic period, (January 2019 – March 2020) and the pandemic period, (April 2020 – December 2020).
During the pre-pandemic period, 6.75% of the KPNC pregnant women were using cannabis. This number jumped to 8.14% during the pandemic months
Overall, KPNC researchers attributed this increase to the stress and heightened anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic..
Moms Turning to Cannabis
More pregnant women are using cannabis in general, not just during the pandemic. For example, There has been a steady rise in prenatal cannabis use, climbing from 3.4% in 2002 to 7% in 2017, according to KPNC research.
The study attributed legalization and increased accessibility to the rise in cannabis use, especially during the pandemic, when officials in California considered cannabis retailers essential businesses and therefore stayed open.
Additionally, the Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics also reported an increase in prenatal cannabis use. For instance, one study in Colorado showed there was a 69% increase in prenatal cannabis use since the legalization of cannabis there. As cannabis grew more popular, pregnant women discovered its effects could be helpful to the more uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy.
Additionally, consumers thought cannabis to be a safer alternative to opioids. The pediatrics journal also stated that some women consider cannabis safer than prescribed medications.
Celestina Barbosa-Lieker, lead author of a prenatal cannabis study done by Washington State University (WSU) agreed with this saying moms “decided this [cannabis] was safer” when compared to opioids, she told WSU Insider. However, Barbosa-Lieker also added there are no studies on this.
Why Women Use Cannabis While Pregnant
The WSU study investigated prenatal cannabis use because of the spike shown by other studies. As part of the study, researchers interviewed 17 women — 14 pregnant and three new moms. These women had self-reported cannabis use while pregnant.
According to The Spokesman, WSU concluded that all of the women used cannabis as a self-prescribed medication to relieve pain and discomfort. Additionally, they discovered that rather than using it recreationally, cannabis was a cure for nausea and restlessness. It helped gain back appetite, ease aches and of course, manage stress and anxiety.
Using cannabis while pregnant decreased morning sickness, relieved nausea and aided with the discomforts of pregnancy.
Another thing that was common among all the women tested: the lack of information about prenatal cannabis use available to them. Furthermore, WSU reported that all of the women took it upon themselves to do research about consuming while pregnant.
Overall, the majority of the women said they wished there was more information for them from doctors and healthcare professionals.
Doctors are Unsure Where to Stand on Prenatal Cannabis Use
Additionally, the WSU study reports that expecting mothers are cautious to talk about cannabis as a way to deal with the side-effects of pregnancy in fear of consequences. However, after they did open up about it, they received mixed reactions from healthcare professionals.
This brings into consideration how using cannabis as a medication during pregnancy should be discussed.
An Instagram poll taken by @cannabisandparenthood highlighted the fear of being “discovered” as a cannabis user while pregnant. The poll by real women indicates they benefited from consuming cannabis while pregnant, but are scared others will shame them for it.
The poll also found that women using cannabis have minimal information about prenatal cannabis.
Healthcare professionals encourage a certain sensitivity when discussing use of cannabis while pregnant. Rather than diminish or shame women, doctors can provide the tools they need to make an informed decision about what is best for their baby. As every woman and every pregnancy is different, experts urge doctors and healthcare professionals to take every factor into consideration.
Doctors are often weary about cannabis use for pregnant women. Many of them don’t know enough to speak on the topic. That’s because there isn’t extensive research on using while pregnant like there is for alcohol or tobacco.
For example, the Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states that research on the subject lacks. Consequently, healthcare providers are hesitant to give stern advice about prenatal cannabis use.
The journal also mentioned that due to legal, ethical, and health reasons, it’s hard to conduct studies on prenatal cannabis use. However both cannabis users, providers, and doctors want more through research to further understand it’s effects, both positive and negative.
The Risks of Prenatal Cannabis
While research proves cannabis can be beneficial for many women, research also shows prenatal cannabis use is risky.
According to Dr. Jennifer Hohman with Blanchard Valley Health System, using cannabis while pregnant is far riskier than people might think.
Hohman explains that prenatal cannabis use increases the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and stillbirth. Additionally, she explains it makes it more likely for the infant to need intensive care. It also can cause neurodevelopmental problems for fetuses that could affect children well after birth.
Hohman also warns that using cannabis while pregnant can harm moms as well. Moms could experience the same symptoms non-pregnant cannabis users do, but at a higher risk. Symptoms include decreased blood pressure, increased heart rate, possible dizziness, risk of anemia, confusion and forgetfulness. In general, she says, prenatal cannabis use is more harmful to the fetus than mother.
Although, there are still very few studies on prenatal cannabis use. Furthermore, the stigma surrounding cannabis may lead to biased research that’s skewed towards harmful effects.
For example, neuroscientist Dr. Sanjay Gupta found that out of 100 cannabis studies, 94 of them were biased, he explained in a recent interview on The Joe Rogan Experience. Most studies will highlight the negative effects of cannabis use due to its federal illegality.
Easing the Symptoms of Pregnancy
Using cannabis while pregnant is proven to ease the side-effects of pregnancy, including: morning sickness, restlessness, discomfort, etc. According to CRx Magazine, cannabis is recommended for women struggling with nausea and migraines, pregnancy symptoms that are typically hard to treat. Additionally, cannabis’s effect on appetite can help pregnant women maintain their eating habits, ensuring their baby gets the nutrients it needs.
Moreso, many have also turned to cannabis to relieve stress and anxiety, especially during the pandemic. In fact, research shows that, when one consumes it in low or moderate doses, cannabis can help ease stress and anxiety, reports Medical News Today.
CRx Magazine also reported many women that used cannabis to manage stress before becoming pregnant continue their use into pregnancy for fear of exposing the baby to high levels of stress. Stress during pregnancy could have many negative impacts on infants, like low birth weight and premature birth. For this reason, pregnant women turn to cannabis to ease stress and anxiety that may harm their baby.
However, health professionals recommend that pregnant women use cannabis cautiously after understanding the risks. They also agree that the discussion of prenatal cannabis should be a gentler one.
The instagram poll mentioned before offered advice from real women that have used or use cannabis while pregnant. The women expressed that all women should do what they feel is best for their body and recommended starting with small amounts. Many of them stated cannabis was the best cure for nausea and discomfort.
Overall, prenatal cannabis is still up for debate.
Disclaimer: Emerald Media does not promote the use of cannabis in pregnant women.