Although there aren’t an abundance of studies, the ones that have been conducted show cannabis use alone during pregnancy is not a risk factor, at least for the baby’s health.
On the other hand, there can be some serious social and legal repercussions. In many states, your child can get taken away if you test positive for cannabis, which is odd considering there is no legal backlash for smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, while pregnant, both of which can have devastating and irreversible effects on the child.
So are these harsh penalties for cannabis really necessary? Research suggests that not only is cannabis use during pregnancy safer than tobacco, alcohol, and other substances, but if used in moderation, it can possibly be a better option for treating prenatal symptoms than standard prescription medications.
Dangers of Standard Anti Nausea Medications During Pregnancy
Various anti nausea medications are prescribed to pregnant women suffering from severe morning sickness, some of the most common ones being zofran, proton pump inhibitors, ondansetron, and diclectin. Most of these medications have a rather colorful history of lawsuits and studies indicating a link between these treatments and birth defects, most frequently, a cleft palate and/or congenital heart defects.
Nevertheless, they’re still prescribed with great frequency, even to women with only mild morning sickness. And even though these drugs are FDA approved for a variety of ailments, they haven’t been tested much for safety during pregnancy. Despite that, The Society for Obstetricians & Gynecologists back these medications, but many individual physicians and patients are becoming skeptical if their benefits outweigh the risks.
Surprisingly, nausea during pregnancy is not always a danger to the fetus. As a matter of fact, morning sickness is often considered a “mechanism for protecting mother and embryo” and has been linked to a reduced risk of pregnancy loss, according to a recent study of over 2,400 women. There is evidence that severe nausea can cause neural tube defects, but these risks were mitigated when women took prenatal vitamins containing folic acid. So by that logic, if the nausea isn’t severe and a woman feels uncomfortable using cannabis, it might be best to wait it out as opposed to taking pills right away.
The Research Backing Cannabis
In 2016, researchers, led by Dr. Shayna Conner of Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, scoured through data to come up with an answer to the age old question of whether or not cannabis is safe during pregnancy. This is what they concluded: “Maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes after adjusting for confounding factors. Thus, the association between maternal marijuana use and adverse outcomes appears attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors.”
That’s only the most recent data, however. One of the most notable studies on this topic comes from Jamaica. This longitudinal review, headed by Dr. Melanie Dreher, studied cannabis-using mothers and their children from birth to age 5. Shortly after birth and into early infancy, the babies were not only completely free of impairments and defects, but they were socially responsive, alert, autonomically stable, and somewhat less irritable than other babies. When the children reached 5 years of age, the research team conducted another round of multiple tests, including the McCarthy Test of Children’s Abilities, and found no difference in ability or performance between the children exposed to cannabis and those who weren’t.
There’s also an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence from mothers who used cannabis to alleviate their symptoms. Although these have no real, statistical significance, it’s still something to take into consideration. All the legitimate studies completed so far point to the same theory, the link between maternal cannabis use and negative outcomes can be attributed to tobacco use and other confounding factors.
Naturally, many medical professionals are not yet convinced that cannabis is safe for pregnant women. Although many of their ideas are a bit antiquated, they have some valid points. There is minimal evidence suggesting that heavy cannabis consumption during the first trimester could lead to an increased chance of behavioral complications. This study, performed on mice, determined that the endocannabinoid system is present from the first stages of embryonic development and that THC (not CBD), could adversely impact the development of embryos that were less than 8 cells. While this is something that should be studied further, the results from these studies are rather variable. No confounding or socioeconomic factors were accounted for.
Another concern is that modern day cannabis has much higher quantities of THC than it did back in the 1980s when the Jamaican research began, therefore, the effects could be different today than they were in this study. This actually is a valid point. Another one to contemplate is this widespread use of pesticides in today’s crops. It’s probably safe to assume that these types of chemicals weren’t used 3 decades ago on cannabis plants in rural Jamaica. This could also yield different results if a similar study was conducted today, although the issue of pesticides and chemicals can relate to any fruits and vegetables that we consume.
To summarize, cannabis and it’s derivatives have been used for many years by expectant women looking to relieve prenatal symptoms in a natural way. Is it completely safe? That has yet to be determined and it’s advised that pregnant women stick to non-psychoactive alternatives, such as hemp oil supplements, until more research is completed. On the other hand, it has been proven, without a doubt, that cannabis use alone is safer than all other illicit drugs, and even legal substances that are frequently used to self medicate. If you have any questions, talk to a healthcare professional that you trust to give you an unbiased opinion on the subject.
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