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Cannabis and Pregnancy | PotSaver

January 10, 2018
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Cannabis & Pregnancy

For many years, women trusted quick-acting, powerful anti-nausea drugs to battle their morning sickness and vomiting throughout their pregnancy. Now, more and more, recent studies are suggesting that these drugs are linked to severe complications in pregnancy. Some of these complications may include pre-term labor, as well as long-term afflictions in children exposed to such medication in utero. The FDA now warns against using medications such as Zofran, which is said to carry unknown risks to the health of the fetus and mother during pregnancy. Many doctors continue to prescribe these medications due to the lack of safety trials conducted and often due to their desperation to help a patient.

cannabis and pregnancy

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Morning Sickness

cannabis and pregnancyMorning sickness, a term most women would agree is a remarkable understatement, affects 50-90% of pregnant women and leads to hospitalization in 1 in 10 cases. The cause of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, or the pregnancy condition characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and electrolyte disturbance, still eludes medical professionals today. The affliction has not been found to be a result of any known pathophysiological mechanism in the body; therefore, the only option doctors can offer is treatment for the symptoms with anti-nausea medication.

With cannabis legalization efforts on the rise in many states and already legal in others, many women are wondering if the benefits of this plant could be used to treat their debilitating nausea. Cannabis has been used as an endemic to treat nausea since ancient times and is now considered a legitimate anti-nausea medication in many parts of the United States. But just recently in 2017, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review that stated, “pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should be advised to avoid using marijuana or other cannabinoids either recreationally or to treat their nausea.” This would suggest that some compound in the cannabis plant might not be safe for fetal development and term pregnancy.

Can Cannabinoids Cause Long-Term Negative Effects?

cannabis and pregnancyThe question of whether or not cannabinoids, the compounds produced by the cannabis plant, can create negative long-term neurological effects in the child due to perinatal exposure is what scientists are still trying to determine. If you consider that the endocannabinoid system, the one whose receptors respond to cannabis and are found throughout the body, is involved in fertility, egg implantation, and onset of labor, it makes sense to be concerned about exposure to the plant during fetal development. Endocannabinoid receptors can turn on and off the production of essential hormones and proteins involved in the development of the central nervous system of the child. Phytocannabinoids, the resulting molecules of cannabis used to diffuse through the body, are able to travel through the placental barrier, as well as a mother’s use of cannabis will in turn expose the in utero. Phytocannabinoids are also found in high concentrations in breast milk.

Cannabinoids Are Easily Transferred from Mother to Child

cannabis and pregnancyThough we know cannabis can pass easily from mother to fetus or child via the placenta or breast-milk, clinical studies to date have been inconclusive in determining if cannabis can negatively impact the fetus or the child. In 2002, a major study was published that sampled over 12,000 expectant British women. It concluded that use of cannabis during pregnancy was not associated with infant mortality. This study, along with dozens of others from the past forty years, provide some evidence that frequent cannabis usage during pregnancy may be associated with pre-term labor and low birth weight.

The Studies

cannabis and pregnancyIt should be noted that there are certain methodological issues that make studying cannabis usage among pregnant and breast-feeding women in the United States particularly difficult. Firstly, there are often extraneous confounding factors, such as other drug and alcohol use, which are hard to rule out among women in sample pools. Secondly, most of the studies conducted in the United States, as well as Britain, have been cohort studies, which pose their own problems. Women users and non-users are matched up as equally as possible. Many times, certain factors (ex: socioeconomic class, psychological history, genetic predispositions, diets, etc.) are unable to be taken into account. These factors pose relevance when determining the causation of afflictions such as pre-term labor or slow fetal and childhood development.

Jamaica 1994

cannabis and pregnancyDr. Melanie Dreher, Dr. Kevin Nugent, and Dr. Rebekah Hudgins conducted an important study in Jamaica that was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1994. Their objective was to study neurobehavioral effects of perinatal cannabis exposure in communities in rural Jamaica. These areas were chosen because it’s common for women to use the plant to help with morning sickness and other afflictions associated with pregnancy and Post-Partum Depression. One of the reasons this U.S. funded study was conducted in Jamaica was because it is extremely rare for women in this culture to use alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs. The majority of women in Jamaica, at the time of the study, consumed cannabis only by tea or tincture. There are problems with this study too of course (for example, the sample pool only examined 20 exposed and non-exposed children) but the results are still worth consideration.

cannabis and pregnancyThis study, funded by the National Institute of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, examined newborns based on a developmental scale at certain time increments following birth. Five years later the same team followed up with children of the sample pool. It was determined that frequent cannabis usage among pregnant mothers did not cause pre-term labor or low birth weight. At the five-year mark, the children were across the board developmentally and it was impossible to determine if exposure to cannabis had caused any long-term neurobehavioral effects.

Do Your Own Research

cannabis and pregnancyBecause cannabis is still widely illegal in the United States, women have had to do their own research on the topic of usage during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Searching the topic on BabyCenter.com yields a plethora of women linking other women with studies, research, and helpful information about cannabis and motherhood.

The best thing a woman can do to have a healthy, happy pregnancy and child is to arm herself with knowledge. While the studies regarding cannabis use during pregnancy and breast-feeding can be taken as largely inconclusive, there are a few very important take a ways.

What We Do Know

cannabis and pregnancyFirst, it is clear that cannabis usage during pregnancy does not lead to infant mortality. Second, despite the Jamaican study, there is still a significant amount of research that still points to the link between cannabis usage and pre-term labor and low birth weight. Also, while there still is no concrete evidence of the long-term developmental effects on children exposed to cannabis in utero, we know that the endocannabinoid system plays an extremely important role in the development of the central nervous system. For this reason, the medical industry cautions against cannabis use during pregnancy and breast-feeding. In some cases, however, the benefits of cannabis usage to curb dangerous and debilitating nausea may out weight the potential side effects.

Study Conclusions

cannabis and pregnancyOne unintentional conclusion of the Jamaican study was that women who experienced fewer traumas during their pregnancy had healthier babies. In many cases, these were the women who had used cannabis to fight morning sickness, insomnia, hormonal aches, and other ailments associated with pregnancy. The health of the mother has proved paramount time and time again in the development of the fetus and the term of the pregnancy. Pregnant and breast-feeding women must take their overall health into account before deciding whether or not cannabis may of benefit to their body.

Charlotte’s Webb’s Conclusion

As more and more states move toward full legalization of cannabis, the conversation surrounding the therapeutic benefits of the plant during pregnancy and Post-Partum will continue. For now, women must rely on the information available and most importantly, stay attune to and aware of their body’s needs.

cannabis and pregnancy



Written By 

Charlotte’s Webb


Do you think cannabis is harmful or beneficial to pregnant/breastfeeding women and their children? Let us know in the comments below!

cannabis and pregnancy