Study suggests that preconception cannabis use may cause increased risk of postpartum depression

7th October 2021

A new survey found that preconception cannabis use could increase the risk of developing postpartum depression (PPD).

According to Psy Post, researchers at the University of Queensland revealed evidence from their longitudinal study that suggests cannabis use before pregnancy may lead to future depression after giving birth.

Postpartum depression is a form of depression that is triggered after a woman has given birth to their child.

Despite around one in ten new mothers in the UK experiencing PPD to some extent, the condition does not get much attention – largely due to the ongoing stigma attached to it. Postpartum Depression can also affect fathers and partners.

In the study, researchers worked from a dataset of more than 17,000 women. When they were asked if they had used cannabis the previous year, the answers suggested that, across all age groups, women in their 20s are the most likely to use cannabis.

According to the findings, almost 22% of the women who gave birth during the course of the study reported that they had used cannabis three to 15 months before their pregnancy.

The responses also suggested that, compared with no cannabis use, any past-year cannabis use at 3–15 months before pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of PPD.

Compared with no cannabis use in the first three annual surveys before pregnancy, chronic use was associated with an 80 % higher risk of incident PPD for births in the following 1–4 years.

Sifan Cao, a PhD candidate at The University of Queensland and the corresponding author of the new study, told Psy Post: “The legalisation of cannabis use in many regions worldwide witnessed increased use and decreased perception of associated harms.

“Recent studies from the United States and Canada even reported significant increases in cannabis use during the preconception period in states that had legalised recreational cannabis.

“The Australian Capital Territory legalised personal cannabis use on January 31, 2020, so it would not be surprising to see an increase in preconception cannabis use here in the future.

“About 21% of young women in this study had used cannabis, despite it being illegal in Australia at the time of the surveys.

“Previous evidence has linked cannabis use with an increased risk of depression. Therefore, preconception cannabis use may be associated with a higher risk for postpartum depression; however, no previous studies have examined this.

“Given that postpartum depression affects about one in five women in their first year after delivery and has harmful impacts on the woman, her child, and the family, investigation of preconception cannabis use and its associations with postpartum depression will help inform possible prevention strategies.”

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