Why More Moms-to-Be Are Using Pot During Their Pregnancies

woman pregnant

With medical marijuana and legal recreational use spreading across the country, it seems as though the movement has extended to moms-to-be, according to a new study. More expectant moms are using cannabis to address symptoms like morning sickness or heightened anxiety. According to the research letter published in the journal JAMA on Tuesday, December 26, the prevalence of marijuana use among a sample of pregnant women in California jumped from 4.2 percent in 2009 to 7.1 percent in 2016.


The jump is even more significant among younger women: For pregnant teens (younger than 18), cannabis use climbed from 12.5 percent to 21.8 percent. For women 18 to 24, the climb was from 9.8 percent to 19 percent.

A previous study published in JAMA almost a year ago showed that the trend isn't limited to the Golden State: Across the country, pregnant women, aged 18 to 44, who reported using cannabis in the previous month had grown from 2.37 percent in 2002 to 3.85 percent in 2014.

CNN spoke with Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern's William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, who was not involved in either study but has interesting insight on factors at play here.

"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," Dr. Horsager-Boehrer told CNN. "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."

But while these young moms seem to be finding relief from using cannabis, the CDC still warns against it. They admit that "researchers don’t know a lot about what the effects might be" and "the research is in progress," but say "most experts advise pregnant women not to use marijuana," in part because "many of the chemicals in marijuana (in particular, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) can pass through a mother’s system to her baby and can negatively affect a baby’s health." 

They also note that "research shows that using marijuana while pregnant can cause health problems in newborns—including low birth weight— ... [and] may also increase a baby’s risk of developmental problems."

More from CafeMom: When It Comes to Moms & Marijuana, Lay Off the Judgment

At the same time, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement in October, noting 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." They also say 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."

The conversation -- and especially the CDC's call-out of THC as the problematic component -- also raises the question as to whether CBD (a cannabis compound that doesn't have the same psychoactive effect of THC, but is used for anxiety and pain) is safe. And it seems like, at least among MDs, the jury is still out on the safety of these products, as well. 

The bottom-line? Experts encourage women considering cannabis use during pregnancy to talk to their doctors, which is fair, considering the fact that we're our own best health advocates. And ultimately, talking to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of using cannabis or any other alternative treatments is the best way to figure out the ideal wellness plan for you and your baby.  

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