"Weed To Know" Campaign Informs Expectant Mothers About Pot Use

By Paul Gaita 07/10/19

The campaign focuses on providing expectant mothers with the possible outcomes from marijuana use on unborn children.

expectant mother

Health officials in Spokane, Washington are using a public information campaign to encourage young pregnant women to exercise caution when using marijuana.

As coverage in the Spokesman-Review noted, the Spokane Regional Health District's "Weed to Know" campaign is intended to provide information to expectant mothers who may have "less concern" about using marijuana, which is legal in Washington state.

Starting a Conversation

Representatives from the district know that while definitive information about the impact of marijuana use on a fetus has yet to be produced, they want to "stimulate some conversation" in order to give mothers information to make informed choices.

According to statistics cited by the Spokesman-Review article, marijuana use among pregnant women remains relatively rare at 7%, but that number is higher than data culled in 2014, when just 3.9% of pregnant women reported using marijuana. That number was enough for the Spokane Regional Health District's Community and Family Services division to launch "Weed to Know."

The campaign focuses on providing possible outcomes from marijuana use on unborn children, including the chance of negative impact on brain and body development.

As Melissa Charbonneau, a public health nurse with the Community and Family Services division, pointed out, the information featured on the site was culled from studies that used lower-income mothers who utilized public health care in other countries, and who had used other substances, including alcohol or tobacco, while pregnant. 

More Research Needed

Efforts to obtain more conclusive evidence have been also been historically hindered by the federal government, which has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. "It is frustrating, because [we] don't have all the answers," said Charbonneau. "But the answers we do have, I think, are enough to give you pause."

Charbonneau also points to statements by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, both of which encourage medical professionals to dissuade expectant patients from marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as support for their concern. 

They also look to a pair of studies, one of which is being conducted in Spokane by the Washington State University Nursing School, which is looking into how information about marijuana use is being disseminated to mothers by health care professionals and marijuana retailers. A second, recently funded study at the University of Washington hopes to use in-utero imaging to determine if marijuana use has any effect on the formation of the fetus's brain.

As the Spokesman-Review noted, research such as these efforts is crucial in developing a more cohesive understanding of marijuana use during pregnancy without the studies cited in the "Weed to Know" campaign, which are skewed by other substances. 

"Universally, we would all like to see good research that would answer these questions," said Crystal Oliver, director of the cannabis advocacy group Washington Sungrowers Industry Association. "We can exclude things like tobacco use."

Until those studies are produced, the Health District plans to continue to advise mothers on the possible side effects of marijuana use on their unborn children.

"We don't have all the answers, but we want people to think twice about this before I'm going to be put in charge of children, before I'm going to breastfeed my child, before I'm going to get pregnant, or even while I'm pregnant, let's have some conversations here."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.