A Research Letter published in the journal JAMA sheds light on the increasing “Trends in Self-reported and Biochemically Tested Marijuana Use Among Pregnant Females in California From 2009-2016.”
The study points to a slight increase in the use of marijuana among pregnant women to alleviate symptoms of nausea, morning sickness and other pregnancy-related issues, such as increased anxiety.
The findings – based on a study of 279,457 sample Californian women across all ethnicities, including Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others – have revealed that use of marijuana has increased, overall, from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent between 2009 and 2016.
The study, which also covered different age-ranges (12 to 17, 18 to 24, and 25 to 34 years), observed a significant increase in marijuana use among females under 18 years of age – from 12.5percent to 21.8 percent, while for those in the age bracket of 18-24 years, it increased from 9.8 percent to 19.0 percent.
For females between 25 and 34, the increase in weed use was relatively marginal, rising from 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent.
In an earlier nationwide study conducted on sample pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 44, published in JAMA in January this year, researchers noted that marijuana use had increased from 2.37 percent in 2002 to 3.85 percent in 2014.
Medical experts warn that expecting women who use marijuana are three times more likely to give birth to offspring with reduced birth weight, which could lead to respiratory complications, including asthma, as well “poor cognitive development during childhood,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest Research Letter explains that with the increase in the drug’s potency and relaxation of laws regulating its use, further study of trends in weed use among pregnant women, length of exposure, and offspring health is crucial to determine whether marijuana really affects fetal growth and neurodevelopment, as is indicated by the initial evidence gathered.
“Initial evidence suggests that prenatal marijuana may impair fetal growth and neurodevelopment, but 79% of 785 pregnant women surveyed between 2007 and 2012 reported perceiving little to no harm in prenatal use. Continued monitoring of trends, exposure timing, and offspring outcomes is important as marijuana potency rises5 in an increasingly permissive legal landscape,” says the JAMA report.
“Prior nationally representative studies have found that the prevalence of marijuana use among U.S. adult pregnant women has increased over time; however, these studies have not included objective measures of biochemically verified marijuana use and likely underestimate the prevalence,” lead study author Kelly Young and senior author Dr. Nancy Goler said, according to The Globe and Mail Inc. website.
“Our study is important because it addressed key limitations of prior studies by investigating trends in prenatal marijuana use using data from a large California healthcare system with ‘gold standard’ universal screening for prenatal marijuana use,” the authors said in an email, further reported the website.
Commenting in an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Norah Volkow is concerned about the findings and has urged health caregivers to abstain from prescribing marijuana to pregnant women.
“Some sources on the Internet are touting marijuana as a solution for nausea that commonly accompanies pregnancy,” said Dr. Volkow, adding that “doctors must be aware of the risks involved and err on the side of caution by not recommending the drug for pregnant patients.”
In another study published in the same journal, researchers noted that 10 percent of adult weed users in the U.S. have partly used the drug for medical purposes. 20 percent of these 3 million users belong to states where marijuana is not legalized – yet.
Dr. Volkow also mentioned that in Washington, D.C. and 29 other states where marijuana is legal, the laws do not make it mandatory to list likely conditions – including risks to the fetus – that may arise out of marijuana use among pregnant women.
Newborns of marijuana users also face the risk of anemia, as well as other complications, and may require intensive care.
According to some data, it is during the first three months of pregnancy – when the fetus is at maximum risk from exposure to the drug – that most women turn to weed.
As per the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant and breastfeeding women should be discouraged by caregivers from using marijuana, or other substances, for that matter. The same applies to women who are contemplating pregnancy.
Doctors have long cautioned that alcohol use by pregnant women is also not without its risks. With no data on how much alcohol is safe during pregnancies, total abstinence would be the ideal approach, which is what doctors in the U.S. recommend, saying that regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed when pregnant, miscarriage, stillbirth, or physical and behavioral problems in the baby is always a potential risk.
“I have found that women frequently fall into two groups during pregnancy. There are those who want to reduce risks of bad things happening to as close to zero as possible and improve outcomes any way they can. These women start folic acid, lose weight and reduce medication exposure of any kind before becoming pregnant. They absolutely don’t smoke, drink or use any drugs during pregnancy,” blog editor for Your Pregnancy Matters Horsager Boehrer said.
“Then there’s the other group who take a more pragmatic view of pregnancy. They know there are potential risks involved with many decisions they make involving medication exposure, alcohol use, and smoking, but they decide those risks are acceptable, especially if the risks are not well-defined or conclusive,” she said.
“For individual patients, I think they need to ask themselves what their goals are for the pregnancy and how they are going to achieve them — essentially make a decision on which camp they are going to be in,” she added.