According to a new review done by researchers at the University of British Columbia, up to one-third of pregnant women do not believe that consuming cannabis is harmful to their fetus.
In some cases, women believe that not having their health care providers talk with them regarding the risks of using cannabis automatically indicates that the drug is safe for use during their pregnancy.
These findings were outlined in a new review published in Preventive Medicine journal. In their review, UBC researchers sought to identify the perspectives of women on the health aspect of cannabis consumption during pregnancy as well as post-partum. They also sought to find out whether the women’s perceptions influence their decision about using cannabis.
According to lead author Hamideh Bayrampour, their research suggested that more women over the past decade seem to be using weed while pregnant even if evidence regarding its safety is conflicting and limited.
Bayrampour, who is an assistant professor in the UBC department of family practice and an affiliate investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, said that as many countries and states around the world are legalizing marijuana, it is becoming more important for public health officials to understand these perceptions on cannabis use and to promote awareness of the health concerns surrounding the consumption of the drug, especially among pregnant women.
For their review, the UBC researchers identified six studies that have looked at women’s perceptions about the use of cannabis during pregnancy. Across these studies, which have all been conducted in the United States, the rate of cannabis consumption among pregnant women considerably varied.
One of these, which is a large U.S. population-based study, found that nearly 4% of women reported using pot within the past month, while 7% reported using the drug within the past year. Another study saw researchers also testing hair and urine samples and finding that the rate of cannabis use increased to 28 percent.
The researchers also found that pregnant women who were also cannabis users were more likely to be under 25 years old, African American, single or uninsured, unemployed, have low income and education, or have used other substances like alcohol and tobacco. Diagnosed depression or anxiety was also associated with marijuana use during pregnancy.
When it comes to the patterns of use, researchers found that marijuana consumption rates were highest during the first trimester (7.4%) and lowest during the third trimester (1.8%). Most pregnant users reported using pot to manage nausea early in their pregnancy.
In one study, which involved 306 pregnant women, 35% of the respondents reported using weed when they realized that they were having a baby. Two-thirds of the women quit cannabis after finding out that they were pregnant, but of those who continued to use pot, half reported using marijuana twice a week or almost daily.
When both pregnant and non-pregnant female cannabis users were asked regarding their perception of the general harm that is associated with using pot, 70% responded that they perceive only slight harm or none at all.
In yet another study, 30% of pregnant women answered “no” when they were asked whether they believed weed is harmful to the fetus. And when the respondents were asked to identify the substances that are most likely to harm a baby during pregnancy, 16% said tobacco and 70% said alcohol. Meanwhile, only 2% said cannabis.
Some women reported that not being provided with specific counseling on the risks of cannabis use suggests that using the drug does not do any harm.
Bayrampour noted that one of their review findings revealed that there are some people who do not consider cannabis a drug. With this in mind, she said that it is especially important for doctors and health care providers to ask patients specific questions about their cannabis use during pregnancy and during breastfeeding in order to help spark a productive conversation regarding the potential health impacts to this and in order to help support women who have decided to slow down in their use of cannabis or to quit entirely.