A new study reveals marijuana use by pregnant women in the U.S. has doubled in the last 20 years, prompting researchers to call for more information.
A new research survey on women in the United States finds the rates of women using marijuana while pregnant more than doubled from 2002-2017.
According to the survey, 3.4 percent of pregnant women from 2002-2003 reported using cannabis in the last month. In the year 2016-2017, that rate increased to 7 percent.
A total of 467,100 women ages 12-44 participated in the national survey. The data was collected from women who self-reported medical and recreational marijuana use during personal visits, according to a press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA.)
Findings from the study suggest that most pregnant women are not obtaining their marijuana through their state’s respective medical marijuana program. Almost all cannabis use during pregnancy appeared to have been pursued without a doctor’s recommendation. However, pregnant women were found to obtain and use marijuana with guidance from a physician just as often as nonpregnant women.
“Although many states have approved cannabis for nausea/vomiting (including in pregnancy), the results suggest that clinicians might not recommend it during pregnancy,” the study authors wrote.
The team of researchers also found that cannabis use by pregnant women is more prevalent in the first trimester. Past marijuana use during the first trimester increased from 5.7 percent to 12.1 percent between 2002 and 2017.
The new study, Self-reported Medical and Nonmedical Cannabis Use Among Pregnant Women in the United States, was published in June by the journal JAMA. The research team was led by a team of scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Recent Scientific Findings on Using Marijuana While Pregnant
The authors of the NIDA study called for a need to screen for cannabis use among all pregnant women, following what they described as a trend of concern of low birth weights and preterm delivery amongst women who use marijuana while pregnant.
While the health effects of marijuana on a fetus have yet to be established, recent studies have found cannabis use alone during pregnancy has not yielded any evidence of significant risks.
A Washington University School of Medicine research study found that when used without tobacco or other drugs, marijuana showed no significant risks on infant’s weight or preterm delivery.
The study examined 31 observational studies on prenatal marijuana use and neonatal outcomes from 1982-2015 and found that “maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for low birth weight or preterm delivery after adjusting for factors such as tobacco use.”
Need for More Research on Prenatal Marijuana Use
With expanding marijuana legalization in the U.S. and an increase in reported use by pregnant women, scientists have emphasized the need for additional research to evaluate the potential impacts of prenatal cannabis exposure on unborn children.
One challenge in the current research is finding a study that examines women who use cannabis alone, without any other substances.
In May a team of researchers from the University of Washington began recruiting pregnant women for a new Mom + Marijuana study. One of the researchers conducting the study released a statement about the current lack of scientific research on exclusive cannabis use for mothers.
“The very few investigations that have studied prenatal cannabis exposure and infant brain development have all involved women who are polysubstance drug users. No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively,” the researcher said.
The findings of this latest NIDA study prompted an JAMA editorial by a separate team of researchers, who also urged for more research into the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy.
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