Survey data shows that nearly 70% of Colorado dispensaries recommend cannabis for pregnant women who are suffering from morning sickness.
A study conducted by Denver Health, the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the University of Utah, and the Colorado School of Public Health, surveyed 400 cannabis dispensaries in the state and found that 69% of these stores recommend cannabis for the treatment of pregnancy-related nausea. Only 32% of the stores advice pregnant women straight up to consult their doctors.
According to lead researcher Dr. Torri Metz, a high-risk obstetrician at Denver Health, they found the results surprising and concerning because there are data that suggest that cannabis exposure can be harmful to the fetus.
In fact, one of these data points just came out recently, when researchers at CU found that cannabis consumption during pregnancy can contribute to low birth weight.
The phone survey among dispensaries
Metz explained that their study employed a “mystery caller approach,” with their callers reaching out to 465 medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries in Colorado. Only 400 of these dispensaries responded.
The mystery caller approach involves a researcher claiming to be eight weeks pregnant and telling the dispensary employee over the phone that she was feeling nauseated, then asking if they could recommend were any products for morning sickness.
An overwhelming majority of dispensary employees said that using cannabis while pregnant is OK. Only a few – or 32% – have recommended that the pregnant woman consult with a doctor. This percentage, however, grew to 82% if the caller asked directly whether she should be consulting a doctor.
The specifics of the advice given by dispensary employees were varied. Some of them recommended using a cannabis product containing high THC, which is the psychoactive component of the drug. Meanwhile, others recommended a product with only CBD, which is a component that does not get users high.
Some employees, on the other hand, expressed caution about recommending the drug without doctor’s advice, while there are also others who specifically noted that the packaging labels of the product warn against using cannabis during pregnancy — yet still recommended it anyway. There were also instances where the employee demonstrated a lack of basic understanding of biology.
What experts have to say
The health study, which was published in the June issue of the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal, stated that as cannabis legalization is becoming more common, women have to be cautioned that advice from medical cannabis dispensary employees may not necessarily be well-informed nor based on medical evidence.
Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a practicing pediatrician, said that the new study’s findings are concerning, especially in light of the amount of work that has gone into discouraging the use of cannabis during pregnancy.
However, he noted that other survey data have not yet shown an alarming increase in the number of pregnant women using weed.
According to the latest available numbers from the Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, the percentage of women who admitted to using cannabis while pregnant or while breastfeeding did not increase significantly between 2014 and 2016.
More specifically, in 2016, around 8% of the women surveyed used weed during pregnancy. This is similar to the percentage of women who admitted to smoking cigarettes while pregnant, yet a little less than half the percentage of women who claimed to have consumed alcohol.
Also, in this 2016 survey, it was found that women who said they got pregnant unintentionally were more likely to consume weed. This suggested that, for some women, their cannabis use may have come at a time when they were not yet aware of their pregnancy.
Because of these previous numbers, Wolk argued that marijuana use during pregnancy is not an epidemic. And this is the reason why he finds the results of the latest survey more concerning.
According to him, if this is the information that dispensaries are giving out, Colorado could see an increase in the numbers.