- Hollis Johnson/INSIDER
- Researchers at University of Washington are recruiting pregnant women for a study on the effects marijuana use has on their future children.
- They will follow both women who use marijuana frequently during pregnancy and those who don’t use the substance at all, from pregnancy through birth.
- Plenty of women have already been using marijuana while pregnant to help with nausea and vomiting.
- Existing research has proven inconclusive in determining the effects marijuana has on pregnancy.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
An increasing number of women are choosing to use marijuana while pregnant, and now researchers are launching a study to find more answers about how the substance affects their future children.
University of Washington researchers are recruiting women who have been pregnant for 13 weeks or less and either use marijuana regularly or not at all for a study on the effects of marijuana during pregnancy. Chosen applicants will meet with the researchers three times during their pregnancies to answer questions about their cannabis (and other substance) use, symptoms like nausea and vomiting, and changes in mood.
After the women give birth, researchers will do MRI tests of the babies’ brains at six months old to see if cannabis use affected their cognitive development.
Previous studies have looked at how overall substance use – including alcohol, marijuana, and other – affected prenatal development, but this is the first study to look at cannabis exclusively.
Plenty of women have already been using marijuana while pregnant, despite the lack of research.
A 2018 nationwide survey found that marijuana use during pregnancy in the US increased over a 14-year period, from 2.9% in 2002 to 5% in 2016, INSIDER previously reported.
Doctors believe this increase in use during pregnancy could be due women attempting to cope with symptoms like morning sickness. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 70% of women experience nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, but since they are unable to use over-the-counter pain medications, they may turn to marijuana.
“I used marijuana during pregnancy to ease my nausea as well as to help me sleep,” Laiken, 26, who asked to be identified by her first name only to protect her identity, previously told INSIDER. “It seemed I was constantly up at night and part of that was [because of] nausea.”
A small study published in February on women’s attitudes about cannabis use during pregnancy revealed that the majority thought the substance was safer than traditional medications. Many of them also said they liked using cannabis while pregnant to help with their moods and nausea. All of the 25 women interviewed by the researchers either tested positive for cannabis or reported using the substance.
“There was a belief that it was not a drug – they viewed it as natural because it’s a plant,” Dr. Judy Chang, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the study, told INSIDER. “They felt that this was more natural and therefore less concerning to them than even prescribed medications that they viewed as chemical.”
Existing research suggests cannabis during pregnancy could disrupt a fetus’s brain development and cause the baby to be smaller than average compared to babies born to mothers who did not use marijuana while pregnant.
Still, the existing data makes it difficult to draw a definite conclusion about marijuana’s effects on pregnancy, but this new study aims to do just that.
Until more is known, health professionals are continuing to tell their patients that no amount of the drug is safe to use while pregnant.