More Women Turning To Pot To Treat Morning Sickness, Study Says

By Kelly Burch 12/29/17

NIDA director Nora D. Volkow worries that the women may not understand the effect that marijuana can have on a developing fetus.

pregnant woman holding her stomach

Marijuana use is increasing among pregnant women, who may be using the drug to quell the nausea of morning sickness, according to a recent study. 

The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that more than 7% of pregnant women are using marijuana. The study relied on self-reporting and toxicology tests among pregnant women in California, which researchers hoped would give a more accurate picture of marijuana use among mothers-to-be than just relying on them to report their use. Among women ages 18 to 24, use was as high as 19%. 

Previous research found that in 2014, nearly 3.9% of pregnant women reported using marijuana during the last month. That’s an increase from nearly 2.4% of pregnant women reporting last month use in 2002. However, researchers believe that the number of women using marijuana during pregnancy might be even higher, since most studies rely on self-reported numbers. 

“Studies are limited to self-reported surveys and likely underestimate use due to social desirability bias and underreporting, leaving the scope of the problem unclear,” the authors wrote. 

Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), wrote an editorial that ran alongside the study. She said that the use of marijuana among pregnant women was “cause for concern,” according to USA Today

Volkow was particularly concerned that women are using marijuana to treat nausea without fully understanding the effects that the drug can have on a developing fetus. She pointed to a study that indicated that women with morning sickness were more likely to use marijuana than other pregnant women. 

“Some sources on the internet are touting marijuana as a solution for the nausea that commonly accompanies pregnancy, including the severe condition hyperemesis gravidarum,” she writes, noting that these woman are using marijuana “particularly during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is the period of greatest risk for the deleterious effects of drug exposure to the fetus.”

Although research on marijuana use during pregnancy is limited, there are indications that infants born to mothers who use marijuana have a higher likelihood of being anemic, having lower birth weights, and to need specialized care in the neonatal intensive care unit after birth. In the long term, marijuana exposure during pregnancy has been linked to impaired impulse control and attention. 

“More research is needed to clarify the neurodevelopmental effects of prenatal exposure to marijuana,” Volkow wrote. However, she pointed out that the endocannabinoid system, which marijuana affects, is present from day 16 of gestation, before many women even know they are pregnant. 

“Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should be advised to avoid using marijuana or other cannabinoids either recreationally or to treat their nausea,” she concluded. 

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