For some pregnant women, marijuana offers a welcome reprieve from the extreme morning (ahem, all day) sickness they’ve been burdened with. For others, the habit continues while they’re carrying a little. Whatever the reason, 2017 research published in JAMA found that 3.9 percent of pregnant women have used pot in the past month — a jump of 62 percent since 2002.
So are more pregnant women really rolling up a joint?
“I’m not entirely convinced they are, but now that it’s legal in 29 states and more socially acceptable, more women might feel comfortable admitting it,” Katrina Mark, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Fox News.
And that’s a good thing, other experts say.
“Doctors aren’t here to get you in trouble,” Dr. Alison Cahill, division chief of maternal fetal medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Fox News. Letting your doc know everything you’re taking can help them get to the root of your problem and offer up solutions — and it’s probably not pot.
Despite this, Amy Margolis, shareholder of Greenspoon Marder and director of the Oregon Cannabis PAC noted that there’s no real evidence that pot in pregnancy is harmful.
“From a lawyer perspective, anything you ingest when you’re pregnant you want to make sure it’s not harming your soon-to-be-born child,” Margolis told Fox News. “It’s easy to say that putting anything in your body is dangerous, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case,” she said. “It should be an issue between a woman and her doctor, and they should do a cost-benefit analysis to figure out what’s right for them.”
And indeed, the science isn’t so cut-and-dried across the board.
For instance, research doesn’t consistently suggest pot causes birth defects, low birth weight, or infant mortality, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But there are concerns about pot harming a fetus’s rapidly growing brain, which can have effects on a child’s growth and development as they age (poor attention, for instance). For that reason, ACOG suggests that women should stop smoking pot ideally before getting pregnant.
One study Cahill co-authored in 2016 itself found that marijuana wasn’t an independent risk factor in low birth rate or pre-term birth. Yet, she points out that only two outcomes were studied (cognitive development was not) and said just because a study didn’t conclude something was harmful doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“Those two ideas are not equal,” she explained. (She, too, recommends women stop using before and during pregnancy.)
Besides, it’s pretty darn hard to prove it one way or the other. First of all, you can’t ask a group of pregnant women to use and then see what happens. Not exactly ethical. And in studies it’s difficult to untangle it from other factors, like socioeconomic status, smoking, and using other drugs, Cahill noted.
Being open with your doctor is key. If queasiness is hitting you like a ton of bricks, for instance, marijuana will probably help.
“It’s really good at relieving nausea,” said Mark, who has patients tell her it helps them feel normal again.
Another paper in JAMA noted that women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum — a condition of severe nausea and vomiting — may be drawn to using marijuana in the first trimester.
That said, rather than lighting up or indulging in a pot brownie, Mark will guide her patients toward medication known to be safe in pregnancy, like Diclegis.
“Some women feel like marijuana is more natural because it grows from the earth, but these medications have been well-studied,” Mark said.