One-third of pregnant women don't think cannabis will harm their babies: study

WATCH: One-third of pregnant women think cannabis is OK to use during pregnancy. What do you think?

Some moms-to-be don’t believe that cannabis can harm their baby and still use the drug while pregnant, new research has found.

According to researchers at the University of British Columbia, around one-third of pregnant women think it’s safe to use cannabis while expecting, and are unaware of potential health risks to their child.

The findings, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, looked at data from six U.S. studies and found that “more women seem to be using cannabis during pregnancy than ever before, even though evidence of its safety is limited and conflicting.”

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The UBC researchers found that one of the main reasons women may think cannabis is safe is because there’s not enough communication between patients and doctors when it comes to the drug.

“We know that from other types of research that when there’s no communication and there is lots of uncertainty in literature — which is true for cannabis use —  then it is very important that health-care providers … educate about risk,” Hamideh Bayrampour, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at UBC’s Department of Family Practice, told Global News.

“When there’s no communication, may feel like is not significant or important.”

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Bayrampour added that her findings also indicate that many women don’t consider cannabis to be a drug, or that it’s a harmful one.

“When health-care providers ask about drug use, some people don’t feel that cannabis is a drug, so they say, ‘No,’ ,” she said. “Somehow, information is missing in this communication.”

In one study that Bayrampour and her team analyzed, 70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users said they perceived slight or no risk of harm around using cannabis while pregnant.

In another set of data, 30 per cent of women responded “no” when asked if they believed cannabis is harmful to a baby during pregnancy.

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When it came to when women used pot in their pregnancy, the research found that cannabis use rates were highest during the first trimester and lowest during the third trimester. Furthermore, 96 per cent of pregnant users said they used the drug to treat nausea early in pregnancy.

Despite the attitudes around cannabis, there were many women who quit the drug when they found out they were pregnant.

In one sample of 306 women, 35 per cent of moms-to-be reported being “current users” when they discovered they were pregnant, but two-thirds of them quit pot after confirming their pregnancy.

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Among the women who continued to use the drug, half reported using cannabis almost daily or twice a week, and 18 per cent met the official criteria for cannabis abuse or dependence.

While research is conflicted, Bayrampour said, there are some potential risks of using pot while pregnant.

“There are some outcomes that have very strong associations with cannabis use and pregnancy, like having a baby that’s smaller than average, so low birth weight,” she said.

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“We also have evidence for the impact of cannabis … on the brain.

The researchers found that women who used cannabis while pregnant also shared common factors including higher rates of unemployment, lower income levels, and used other substances like tobacco and alcohol.

Pregnant pot users were more likely to be under the age of 25, and have a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.

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Bayrampour said that it’s important for pregnant women to be aware of possible health risks, and should be educated on what cannabis can do to their child.

“From a health-care-provider perspective, we do need to have conversations with our pregnant population,” she said.

“Also, people mention they want to understand the specific effects. Just saying, ‘Don’t use it,’ isn’t enough; we need to bring them some more information and let them know that yes, we don’t know for sure if it’s harmful, but we don’t know if it’s safe, so it’s best not to use during pregnancy.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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