Legal Risks Prevent New Moms From Getting Reliable Info About Cannabis Use

By Kelly Burch 01/31/19

The possibility of legal repercussions stop women who are pregnant or breastfeeding from starting a dialogue about marijuana use with their health care providers. 

pregnant woman

Pregnant women are finding it hard to get reliable information about the safety of cannabis use during pregnancy, in part because of very limited research on the subject, and in part because bringing it up with health care providers could trigger legal interventions. 

Speaking with Weedmaps, Dr. Thomas Hale, the acting executive director of the InfantRisk Center, said that he hears from thousands of women who want to better understand the risks of cannabis use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

“None of us will admit that it's safe because we just don't know,” said Hale.

Some studies have connected marijuana use with brain changes in infants, while others have indicated that some THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) passes to an infant through breast milk. However, the studies are not definitive, in part because it’s difficult to study marijuana due to its Schedule I status

The same status makes it difficult for many women to discuss marijuana use candidly with their health care providers. That’s why many parents turn to InfantRisk, where they can call in anonymously to get information, Hale said.

“A pharmacist like myself or my colleague obstetrician, if we know a mom is using or encounter a mom that's using a drug in pregnancy or during breastfeeding, in most states it is what we call a reportable offense. You're supposed to report it.”

This could cause providers and patients to take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to cannabis use. However, this is dangerous in and of itself. A new study published in Preventive Medicine found that many women interpret their providers’ silence about marijuana as an indication that the drug isn’t dangerous during pregnancy. 

“Some stated not receiving adequate information about the risk of cannabis use or how to quit from the providers, even when they actively sought support,” the study authors wrote. “Some women perceived that not communicating and addressing cannabis health risk during pregnancy by the maternity care providers or social workers, or not having specific counseling provided, might indicate that cannabis does not represent a significant concern for the outcome of their pregnancy.”

This is particularly concerning because marijuana use during pregnancy is rising, and cannabis is the most frequently used drug among pregnant women. 

Overall, it’s important for women to be able to safely discuss marijuana use with their doctors. 

“A lack of communication with health care providers regarding the health aspects of cannabis was evident,” study authors wrote. “A discussion about health concerns surrounding cannabis use may influence women's perceptions of risk and help them to make informed choices.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.