Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) During Pregnancy

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Rebecca of San Francisco, CA has a question that has probably crossed the minds of many expectant moms waging an all out war against that dreaded morning sickness. Here’s what Rebecca writes…

 

Dr. Patel,

I’m 7 weeks into my pregnancy and worn out from the nausea and vomiting that I’m having.

It’s funny that it’s called morning sickness because in my case the nausea nags at me not just in the morning, but all day long.

Certain smells send me running for the hills. These are the same smells that didn’t ever bother me before, like the smell of coffee at Starbucks.  

There have been times when I’ve puked on myself in the car on the way to work. I come from work so exhausted from feeling nauseous and vomiting that the current state of my home is a complete wreck. The laundry is piling up. I haven’t crossed off a single task on my to-do list for a couple weeks now. We’re moving into a new home in a couple weeks I have yet to start packing.

The “morning sickness” is clearly debilitating.

I’ve tried several different natural approaches to help ease the nausea and vomiting, like avoiding foods that are too spicy, high in acidity, or have a lot of fatty content.

I also kept crackers at my bedside to eat before getting out of bed in the morning.

I also tried alleviating the nausea and vomiting with foods that have ginger, like ginger-ale, ginger snaps, and ginger candies.

None of these natural remedies worked for me.

I did talk to my OB/Gyn about using prescription medications. She mentioned that in the past OB’s were prescribing Zofran, but aren’t anymore because it was recently found out that it causes cleft palate and heart defects. After I heard that I don’t want to take any prescription medications whatsoever. I don’t want to harm my growing baby.

One of my friends told me that she used medical marijuana during her pregnancy and it helped her a lot with her morning sickness. So the thought of using medical marijuana has crossed my mind. But, again, I don’t want to harm my baby by using medical marijuana.

Given your experience in treating patients with medical marijuana as a medical marijuana doctor, I’d like to know your thoughts on using medical marijuana during pregnancy.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks,
Rebecca
San Francisco, CA


 

MEDICAL MARIJUANA DURING PREGNANCY: THE RESEARCH

After scouring through a lot of research published on www.pubmed.gov, the only thing I can say with certainty is that the research on marijuana use during pregnancy is very limited.

There’s some research that points to the fact that cannabis use during pregnancy leads to lower birthweight and an increased risk of preterm birth. But there’s also research that shows that cannabis doesn’t have an effect on birthweight or preterm labor.

And, the research we do have is blurred by a lot of confounding factors. Many of the women that participated in these studies were already at an increased risk of an adverse pregnancy outcome anyway. They tended to be younger, had carried fewer pregnancies to birth, and also had a history of smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and abusing illicit drugs during pregnancy.

So, the researchers are left wondering, wait a minute, is it the marijuana that’s causing the results we’re seeing or is it the other factors that are leading to the results we’re seeing.  

I’m going to discuss research I came across that adjusted for these confounding factors, which helps to clear the muddy waters some.

One study was published fairly recent in 2016.

The study evaluated data from more than 5500 pregnant women from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The results showed that once all the other risk factors have been accounted for, continued marijuana use through 20 weeks’ of pregnancy is associated with five times the risk of preterm birth.

A preterm birth is a birth that’s earlier than 37 weeks. Babies born too early, especially before 32 weeks of pregnancy, are at risk of developing cerebral palsy and can also face breathing problems, vision and hearing issues, and developmental delays. They’re also more likely to have behavioral and psychological problems as well.

medical marijuana cannabis pregnancy

In the women that continued to use marijuana through 20 weeks’ of pregnancy, 36% delivered at less than 28 weeks and 64% delivered at less than 32 weeks.

Overall, the lead author of the study, Professor Claire Roberts from University’s Robinson Research Institute, said that “our results suggest that more than 6% of preterm births could have been prevented if women did not use marijuana during pregnancy, irrespective of other risk factors.”

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the organization that set the standards of practice for OB/Gyn’s, most reports do not show an association between marijuana use and preterm birth, with the exception of one study that found an increase in preterm birth among users.

In this particular study, a group of Australian women getting prenatal care at a hospital between 2000 and 2006 were interviewed. Researchers found that use of cannabis during pregnancy “strongly and significantly” predicted preterm birth and low birth weight. These effects were independent of the mother’s sociodemographic characteristics, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and the use of other illicit drugs.


MEDICAL MARIJUANA DURING PREGNANCY: THE RESULTS (or lack thereof)

As a doctor, I don’t know at this point if the benefits of using medical marijuana during pregnancy outweigh the risks. I’ve read studies that have said both that marijuana does do harm to a growing baby and that marijuana doesn’t do harm to a growing baby. So, the jury’s out. For this reason, in my own practice, I choose to err on the side of caution and do not recommend the use of medical marijuana during pregnancy.  

Rebecca, I hope this information helps to shed more clarity on the topic of medical marijuana use during pregnancy. I very much appreciate the question as it’s one that’s on the minds of many expectant moms.

With Gratitude,
Dr. Patel


 

Research Referenced:

 

More information on Medical Marijuana and Pregnancy:


 

Have questions about medical marijuana? Don’t be shy. Go ahead and post ‘em in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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