Researchers at the University of B.C. have found that some women don’t consider cannabis a drug and believe it’s OK to light up a joint while pregnant.
The review of six U.S. studies, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, found that an alarming number of women, around one-third, don’t think cannabis could harm their baby.
That’s despite warnings from obstetricians not to consume cannabis during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, and studies that have linked pot with a higher chance of anemia, low birth weight, and stillbirth.
Although the UBC researchers analyzed U.S. data for their report, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, they say the information is relevant for health care providers in Canada, where consuming marijuana for recreational use became legal last year.
Lead author Hamideh Bayrampour, assistant professor in the UBC department of family practice, said they couldn’t find similar studies in Canada likely because of ethical issues. She said there is a need for more Canadian data on the topic.
The concern, said Bayrampour, is that many women surveyed perceived a lack of communication from their health care providers about the risks of cannabis as an indication that the drug is safe to use during pregnancy.
“This is important because if they don’t perceive harm they are more likely to use cannabis,” she said.
“What we know for sure is that we don’t know yet whether cannabis is safe to use in pregnancy, although there is evidence emerging that if a women uses cannabis their baby might be smaller than average.”
She said it would be beneficial here for health care providers to have a discussion with patients about cannabis, just as they do now with alcohol or cigarettes.
Some women surveyed said they smoked pot while pregnant to cope with an illness, such as depression or anxiety, instead of taking stronger pharmaceutical drugs, while others identified cannabis as a way to deal with the nausea of morning sickness.
“If they are choosing between cannabis and a sedative for pain they perceive cannabis as a safer choice,” said Bayrampour.
The UBC review shows pregnant cannabis users were more likely to be under the age of 25 and to have low income and education, or use other substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
In one study, women were asked about their perception of general harm associated with cannabis use, 70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users responded that they perceived slight or no risk of harm.
“I think we need to have a question specifically related to cannabis similar to alcohol. We need to provide a safe, non judgmental environment to talk about this,” said Bayrampour. “It is a great opportunity for caregivers to start this conversation and motivate and support them in their decision to quit.”
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommend women not use cannabis when trying to conceive, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.