20th December 2021
By Roland Sebestyén

A new study found that cannabis use has been on the rise among women during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Reports show that they consume the drug for the mitigation of various related symptoms and conditions.

The study titled Reasons for cannabis use during pregnancy and lactation: a qualitative study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that women opted to use cannabis despite “clinical evidence showing that cannabis use may be associated with low birth weight and childhood developmental deficits.”

However, according to participants in one survey, women use cannabis during pregnancy and lactation for a variety of reasons, including: sensation-seeking for fun and enjoyment; symptom management of chronic conditions and conditions related to pregnancy; and coping with the unpleasant, but non-pathologised, experiences of life.

Lead author Dr Meredith Vanstone, from McMaster University, said: “Our findings have very little resonance with evidence on motivations for cannabis use identified in nonpregnant populations, suggesting that motivations for use during pregnancy and lactation are unique.

“The reasons for use provided by our participants more closely match those identified in studies of medical cannabis use, such as for controlling pain, anxiety, depression, muscle spasms, nausea or appetite, and for sleep, with many using cannabis to manage multiple symptoms.”

A total of 52 participants were recruited from across Canada, of whom 51 identified as women and 1 identified as nonbinary.

All had used cannabis before their pregnancy. At the time of the interview, 30 people were pregnant and the remaining 22 were breastfeeding. The reasons that participants gave for using cannabis changed when they became pregnant.

Some people stopped using cannabis when they found out they were pregnant out of fear of harm to the fetus.

Other people stopped because of social stigma, guilt and health reasons. Those who kept using cannabis described their motivation as related to managing symptoms of pregnancy and conditions that pre-existed pregnancy.

After they gave birth, their motivations for using cannabis changed, more closely resembling the reasons they supplied for using cannabis before becoming pregnant.

These findings have implications for clinical practice, including counselling pregnant and lactating people on the potential harms of cannabis use and alternative approaches.

Dr Vanstone added: “I think it’s important for physicians to understand that people who use cannabis during pregnancy are often doing so because they perceive the important benefits of cannabis for controlling a variety of symptoms.

“There’s an opportunity here for exploring the benefits that pregnant patients are getting from cannabis and helping them find alternatives that we know are safe for both mom and baby.”

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