Pregnancy can be a joyous, wonderful time in a woman’s life, but that isn’t to say it can’t come with its share of downsides, too. Nausea, exhaustion, hormonal shifts, sickness of both the morning and regular varieties – Pregnancy can be joyous, but that doesn’t always make it easy.
With all of the above (and more) in mind, having a quick puff off the vape pen or a nibble off an infused brownie can often seem like an incredibly appealing idea. But conventional wisdom says that when you’re pregnant you’re consuming for two, including the chemicals you partake of.
Kicking back off tired legs and sore feet with some cannabis for a bit of relaxation might seem it’s just what the doctor ordered, but news and information from researchers across the world – including our own High There medical staff – might just make you think twice about getting high while pregnant. Let’s delve in.
Pregnancy & Cannabis: An Overview
Assuming the majority of our readers have at least a basic-level knowledge of the birds and the bees, the act of carrying a child induces a vast array of changes in a woman’s body. One of the chief driving factors in these changes are the increases in hormones, such as progesterone and estrogen.
These increases are not minor, as the body’s endocrine system (now bolstered by the placenta acting as a temporary endocrine gland during pregnancy) produces vast amounts of hormones to help aid the pregnancy along. The enhanced hormonal levels help to provide a steady supply of nutrients and other important building-blocks of life to the developing fetus.
A Shared System
As the mother’s blood is passed to the baby through the shared umbilical cord, this often means a wide variety of restrictions on what the mother can consume – Many under cooked or raw foods such as eggs, meats, and seafood can be dangerous, and chemicals such as nicotine and alcohol are usually considered complete no-goes.
The primary food-related concern typically revolves around either contaminants, such as mercury, and any fashion of bacteria – Bacteria that can cause sickness in both the mother and the developing baby alike, causing serious health concerns including miscarriage and premature delivery.
Nicotine and alcohol are both notable for causing complications during pregnancy, up-to-and-including infertility in both women and men, and birth defects such as low weight or cerebral palsy. Alcohol in particular has been linked to a wide variety of disabilities collectively known as “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders”, or “FASDs”; hyperactivity, abnormal facial features, vision/hearing problems, and many more are typical signs of heavy alcohol abuse while pregnant.
Other chemicals, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, can also cause serious adverse effects during pregnancy; in 2020 the FDA issued a recommendation against pregnant women past the 20 week mark taking ibuprofen, as this “may cause rare but serious kidney problems in an unborn baby”, leading to other potential developmental disorders.
So no sushi, no rare steaks, no cold cuts, no cookie dough, no wine – With a list like this assuming “no fun things in general” would be understandable. But does that carry over to cannabis use as well?
Why Use Cannabis During Pregnancy?
Before we delve too deeply on the topic of whether or not it’s a medically-sound idea, let’s address up-front some of the major reasons why cannabis use during pregnancy could be appealing for some women.
As mentioned above, pregnancy is a time of vast change for a woman’s body. The hormones released alter both the physical form and overall mental state, with the two often playing into each other; this can, in some, lead to serious mental health issues such as depression, lack of self-care, and drug or alcohol abuse/addiction.
Outside of the obvious physical restriction of carrying a child, a woman’s body will also develop an overall loosening of the joints and ligaments; combined with changes in posture and increased weight gain, this places pregnant women at a higher risk for strains in the legs, or sprains at the knees and ankles.
Additionally, changes in blood flow and pressure can lead to dizziness, respiratory issues, fluctuations in body temperature, increased heart rate, and even fainting. Overall, there can occasionally be little about pregnancy that’s “easy” on the body or mind, and seeking relief may be one of the few distractions from the discomfort some women experience.
THC vs. CBD
Though there are a host of other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, the majority of focus revolves around the big two: CBD and THC. We go in-depth into the differences between these two molecules in our article “THC vs. CBD: What’s the Difference?” but as a quick overview:
“Cannabidiol”, or “CBD”, is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant; it is a cannabinoid, but it will not get someone “high” in the traditional sense. Rather than having a primarily mental effect CBD is often used as an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxing agent, and can have a lightly calming, sedative effect when administered orally or via inhalation.
“Tetrahydrocannabinol”, or “THC”, is the classically-recognized component of cannabis well known for its effects on the brain. Ingesting or inhaling THC will get you high, unlike CBD, but also has more pronounced effects on muscle relaxation, mental health, and pain management.
Though using one or the other by themselves can be effective, most physicians recommend using both in concert to receive maximum benefit, if not with a combination of other cannabinoids and terpenes available in the cannabis plant. There are also patients who receive more benefit from taking either CBD or THC alone, as CBD may not offer the more sedative effects that THC does, while THC can cause anxiety and other unpleasant feelings in some.
CBD and THC both seem like excellent candidates for treating the physical and mental ailments that are associated with pregnancy. Cannabis use is often prescribed for issues such as joint pain, inflammation, muscle tension, depression, nausea, and insomnia, all of which can be experienced as side effects of pregnancy. But, again, many medications and other body/mind-altering chemicals are harmful – sometimes fatally so – if taken when pregnant.
Is It Safe to Use Cannabis While Pregnant?
Of course, this is the big question. Conventional wisdom says that using any fashion of “drug” (pharmaceuticals or substances like alcohol and nicotine included) while pregnant will likely affect the child. That does not, however, make conventional wisdom always correct.
In a study from 2020, lead by New York’s Columbia University, researchers stated that “despite limited data demonstrating pronounced negative effects of prenatal cannabis exposure, popular opinion and public policies still reflect the belief that cannabis is fetotoxic” – Essentially concluding that the current available evidence on the subject is not enough to explicitly link cannabis use with cognitive impairments in a developing child.
Does that mean using cannabis while you’re pregnant is safe?
A lack of evidence does not equate to actual evidence. While studies such as the above can show that there is no currently compelling evidence to link cannabis use to developmental disorders, that is not the same as proving that there is no risk at all. Case in point:
A separate 2020 research paper from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, focused around the use of cannabis during pregnancy to ease nausea; symptoms associated with pregnancy that would seem somewhat logical to treat with cannabis use.
Ultimately there was no compelling evidence found to say that cannabis use eased the nausea associated with pregnancy; instead, linking cannabis use to hyperactivity, attention deficits, aggressive behavior, and “withdrawal-like symptoms” in children born to mothers who used cannabis while pregnant.
In yet another 2020 study, researchers at the Washington University in St Louis, Missouri tested 11,000+ children at a median age of roughly 10 years old.
The study found that children exposed to cannabis use both pre-and-postnatal had enhanced risk of developing sleep problems, irregular BMIs, psychopathological characteristics, and exhibited lower overall cognition and gray matter volume – Conversely, children born to those who ceased using cannabis upon discovering they were pregnant did not show any significant statistical difference from those who were born to mothers that did not use cannabis.
So, again: Is cannabis use while pregnant safe?
The real answer is, at the moment, we just don’t know. Studies such as the above show compelling evidence to say that it is not, but that doesn’t give us a conclusive answer – A wide variety of variables associated with cannabis use and how it affects the body, combined with both legal and ethical concerns, make cannabis research on pregnancy a difficult area, often lacking in study.
But while we may not be able to definitively answer whether or not cannabis use while pregnant is safe, a better question to ask might be…
Should I Use Cannabis While Pregnant?
While answering the question of whether or not using cannabinoids like THC or CBD is safe when pregnant might be currently impossible, answering the question of whether or not one should use cannabis while pregnant could be a bit easier.
Ultimately, treatment for any ailment or illness someone has should be left up to the discretion of themselves and their health care provider – Your doctor will know what is best for your health, and can offer solid advice on what sorts of supplements and medications one should be taking while pregnant (or otherwise).
But, as intimated above, a lack of concrete knowledge does not equate to safety, and there are plenty of reports and research papers tentatively linking cannabis use to developmental issues in unborn or breastfeeding children.
The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the CDC, and the FDA have all issued statements advising pregnant women to avoid any and all cannabis use while either pregnant or breastfeeding, and they are far from alone in their advice.
High There Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Melanie Bone, says this “may change in the future after we have more data available to us to study about the impact of cannabis on both mother and unborn child,” says Dr. Bone, “but I would not use cannabis [as treatment for] a pregnant woman, [and] cannot endorse it at this time.”
Though there may not be solid evidence available that shows cannabis use while pregnant shows a definite risk to a developing child, that doesn’t mean there’s solid evidence to the contrary either, and as stands, the advice of most medical professionals (including our own) is that women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding should avoid THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, just as they would be cautioned against avoiding other potentially complication-causing chemicals and medicines.
Hopefully today’s article has helped you feel more informed about your choices and decisions. Again, a lack of knowledge doesn’t equate to safety, and if in doubt? It may be best to stay on the side of cautiousness. Until next time!