The health risks of pregnant women consuming alcohol and using tobacco products are well known, however a new report has highlighted the growing issue of pregnant women using marijuana.  The research, which used a sample of pregnant women in California, showed that the use of cannabis has increased from 4.2% to 7.1% between 2009 and 2016. It’s believed that a combination of morning sickness and higher anxiety could be behind the rise in numbers.

The study suggests the younger women had the highest prevalence of marijuana use. Among those under 18, it increased substantially during the period, from 12.5% to 21.8%. In women aged 18-24 it was 19% in 2016, compared with 9.8% in 2009. A separate study, which looked at women aged 18-44 across the whole of the US found that marijuana use in pregnancy had grown from 2.37% in 2002 to 3.5% in 2014.

Kelly Young-Wolff, licensed clinical psychologist and research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research who led the study, said “We were concerned to find that the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy is increasing more quickly among younger females, aged 24 and younger, and to see the high prevalence of use in this age group.”

Dr. Haywood Brown, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Duke University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new study also commented that “Think about marijuana use from their perspective, especially in Northern California. California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, so they have grown up with the idea of it not only not being illegal but being a medical therapy. With the proximity to Oregon and Washington, they also have experience with any use being legal. So I think the idea that use is rising is just because of the greater legal exposure to marijuana that women have today versus 20 years ago.”

The health implications of marijuana use to women and to the unborn baby are still unclear, however studies have shown that many of the chemicals found in the drug, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could be passed through the placenta causing adverse effects to the baby. Some of the effects associated with THC include developmental problems and low birth weight.

Recommendations from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that “women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use” and “to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy.” The guidelines also warn that “there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged.”

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