More pregnant women in California using pot, per new study

Marijuana. Katharine Lotze/Signal
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More and more pregnant women in California are turning to marijuana to soothe morning sickness and cure anxiety, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“I have heard about it, I have a few that have done it,” said Dr. Rochelle Feldman, a pediatrician and neonatal specialist at Prima Pediatrics.  “I have some significant concerns about it… I don’t think it should be done until the proper research is done and until it is determined to be safe.”

The study found that from 2009 to 2016 marijuana use among pregnant women increased from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent among a sample of 279,457 women 12 years and older in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system.

This trend was most common among younger pregnant women, as use among females younger than 18 increased from 12.5 percent to nearly 22 percent and use among females 18 to 24 years old increased from nearly 10 percent to 19 percent.

However, marijuana use was reported to have increased among pregnant women in all of the study’s age groups from 2009 to 2016.

“I wasn’t surprised because, one, it’s becoming legal in California next week.  And two, as it becomes more legitimate to use marijuana, people are going to think it is safe to use it while they are pregnant,” said Dr. Navid Navizadeh, an OB-GYN and founder of the Valencia Center for Women’s Health.  “More urban areas and big cities have a higher use of it.  Santa Clarita and other suburbias have less use.”

California legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996 and expanded its legalization this year, with the passage of Proposition 64.  The JAMA study’s authors worry that the prenatal use of marijuana will increase in 2018 when recreational marijuana is available legally.

“Even though it is becoming more legal and people are feeling more comfortable using it, we don’t know the whole effect of it in pregnancy and later on,” Dr. Navizadeh said.  “Why use something that could potentially cause problems?”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cautions that the effects or marijuana on fetus are not clear and that it could lead to low birth rate and developmental problems. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also warns expecting mothers of the negative effects of marijuana use that include impaired neurodevelopment.

“Right now, we follow the guidelines from the CDC and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which are to not use marijuana in pregnancy in first, second or third trimester, that has not changed,” Dr. Navizadeh said.  “There may be effects in the future in development and after birth that could be issues with cognitive development later on, and for that reason we are not recommending for them to use it.”

Dr. Feldman said she also deters her patients from using marijuana to improve nausea or ease anxiety.

“I look at them and say not a smart move, don’t do it,” she said.  “If you’re not drinking and not smoking cigarettes when you’re pregnant, what makes you think marijuana is safe?”

According to Dr. Navizadeh, it is hard to determine the exact effects of marijuana use on babies and fetuses because, oftentimes, expectant mothers who are using marijuana may also be using other drugs.  This could create compounding factors in medical studies’ results.

So, until researchers determine the exact effects of marijuana on fetuses and babies, doctors are recommending that pregnant women do not use the drug for any pregnancy symptoms.

“As of now, the idea is not to use marijuana for morning sickness,” he said.  “Elements in marijuana are more than what you find in tobacco, so marijuana compared to tobacco has more carcinogenic elements.  THC is known to cause a blood-brain barrier and possibly effect their brain and you don’t know yet at what dose and what extent of use it can affect the fetus in-utero or after.”

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