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Study: More Pregnant Women Are Using Cannabis for Nausea

Study: More Pregnant Women are Using Cannabis for Nausea
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Study: More Pregnant Women Are Using Cannabis for Nausea

Women suffering from nausea during their pregnancies are turning to cannabis as a potential solution.

Alarm, horror and recrimination followed the finding, released last year, that cannabis use among pregnant women had doubled since 2002.

A whopping five percent of pregnant women reported using marijuana during their pregnancies, according to a report published in JAMA — and of 12,000 women surveyed, 3,500 used cannabis during the first trimester.

Considering that there are 6.2 million pregnancies in America a year, a few thousand weed users doesn’t exactly qualify as a public-health crisis — especially when you consider that 10 percent of pregnant women report smoking cigarettes during pregnancy — although the reaction from the medical community was a swift and unequivocal “don’t do it.”

Unlike prenatal tobacco use, which we know is bad, it bears mentioning that nobody is sure exactly what motherly marijuana use does to a developing fetus. (Although according to some very famous studies out of Jamaica, prenatal marijuana use had no appreciable effect on a young person’s development, which has everything to do with what happens in the years after a baby is born.) That knowledge gap didn’t stop the predictable prohibitionist mob from accusing the marijuana industry of organized poisoning of the unborn and smearing any marijuana-using mother with a similarly ugly brush.

So why do pregnant women do this, despite the uncertainty, despite the warnings, despite the mob (of men, mostly) telling them they are bad and wrong and stupid to do this to their babies? Because being pregnant makes them feel terrible and using some cannabis makes them feel better, according to a new study published in the March 1 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Confirming anecdotal reports and fulfilling common sense, researchers from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, led by Kelly C. Young-Wolff, took a look at survey data from 220,510 women who’d used their hospital system for their natal care between 2009 and 2016. Of those, 17 percent reported nausea and vomiting symptoms severe enough to qualify as a pathology categorized as “nausea and vomiting in pregnancy” (or NVP). While NVP is most often just plain unpleasant, and not connected to birth defects, it can become so severe that the mother can’t stay hydrated and loses up to 5 percent of her body weight.

About 11 percent of women with NVP reported using marijuana during pregnancy — compared to 5.8 percent of women who did not.

“The elevated prevalence of marijuana use across years among pregnant women with NVP is notable,” the authors wrote.

One reason why is women do this is that they fail to see the harm, “despite potential risks and national guidelines that advise strongly against marijuana use in pregnancy.” In other words, it would appear that when faced with the choice of feeling like trash or smoking a little bit of weed, an increasing number of women are choosing the latter.

The study authors suggested that clinicians inform mothers that diet choices and other interventions might be able to solve their nausea woes — and to not smoke weed, even if medicine isn’t quite yet sure what harm it poses.

In some states, this trend has led lawmakers to propose slapping warning labels on marijuana. In Michigan, the labels would say all we can say at this point: that smoking weed might harm the fetus.

In context, it would seem energies are better focused on getting mothers to eschew tobacco during pregnancies, given that more women smoke cigarettes during their pregnancies than use cannabis, and given that we know it’s bad. Until we know more about marijuana, it’s probably wisest to advise mothers to also steer clear of weed, but that’s an argument you have to have in context, with a woman who is very tired of vomiting and is eager for any solution.

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