Should Pregnant Women Use Cannabinoids?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a critical role in the creation of life. Our own naturally occurring endocannabinoids are necessary for fertilization, the growth of the fetus, and the survival of the newborn. So, the question is, are phytocannabinoids—industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids—safe to take during pregnancy?
Women usually experience many uncomfortable symptoms during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth. Chronic pain, nausea, and migraines are just a few of the physical symptoms. Additionally, women experience psychological stress during pregnancy, mostly from anxiety and depression. It is well-established, anecdotally and scientifically, that these symptoms can be relieved by cannabinoids.
How CBD Can Potentially Alleviate Symptoms Suffered During Pregnancy
Some women suffer terrible side effects caused by pregnancy. Morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting, can last all day. Contractions, migraines, and moodiness can also affect quality of life during pregnancy.
Doctors will often prescribe pharmaceuticals to relieve these symptoms. Some women do not want to take anti-psychotics (sometimes used for nausea) and antiemetics that can cause side effects like drowsiness or dizziness.
We already know that cannabinoids have many of the following beneficial therapeutic properties:
- Anti-nausea: Previous studies have shown that nausea can indeed be controlled by cannabinoids. The most effective are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The reason is that both have a high affinity for the CB1 receptor of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Activation of this receptor suppresses the vomiting reflex. Research has shown that the efficacy of CBD in producing anti-nausea effects could also be attributed to its indirect activation of the somatodendritic 5-HT1A autoreceptors present in the brain stem.
- Reduction of inflammation: Cannabigerol (CBG) reduces inflammation by acting on special molecules that trigger the inflammatory processes in many disease states such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and pain syndromes.
- Treatment for depression and anxiety: It has been proven that THC can have positive effects on patients suffering from depression. CBG has shown similar effects but without the accompanying psychotic effects that THC is known for. A 2016 report has suggested that CBG and other non-psychotic cannabinoids could effectively treat depression and anxiety.
- Pain reliever: Studies have shown that cannabicyclol (CBC) has analgesic effects. The efficacy is enhanced when combined with CBD.
- Anti-acne: CBD has effects on immune system receptors which helps reduce inflammation in the body. This, in turn, improves acne symptoms – this is more noticeable when using CBD oil. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation has discovered that CBD oil prevents activity in the sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands are responsible for the production of sebum. An excess production of sebum leads to acne.
Is It Safe to Take Cannabinoids During Pregnancy?
One doctor in Northern California, who has many patients that admitted to taking cannabis during pregnancy or who admit considering it, has formulated some “in the meantime” guidelines for her patients; that is until there are more definitive studies and outcomes.
In the absence of any conclusive studies about definite negative effects on fetuses of women who ingest cannabis during pregnancy, she felt there was a need to give some honest and well-researched (by her) advice for safety if her patients were going to take cannabis while pregnant and breastfeeding. The following is an outline of her research and resulting safety guidelines:
- The Studies Are Inconclusive
Dr. Kerr found that most of the studies that had been done to determine if there were any negative side effects to ingesting cannabis while pregnant were poorly conducted, and therefore flawed. Or there were too many differences between reports to draw any common conclusions.
- One Consistent Side Effect
Of all the studies she looked at, babies born from mothers that took cannabis while pregnant tended to have a lower birth weight. One case reported .8% less than average. The lower birth weight, however, was not associated with any other health issues or ability to thrive after birth.
- No Complications in Her Population of Patients
Drawing from her experience as a family physician in an area where cannabis is commonly used, and having attended hundreds of births during her career, Dr. Kerr has never seen complications due to cannabis. She has, however, seen them due to alcohol and other drugs.
- “The Farm” Survey
The doctor conducted a survey of 71 women who lived at collective that began in the 1970s. For 40 years, cannabis was a part of the culture for people who lived on “The Farm.” This often included pregnant women. In her survey, Dr. Kerr found no evidence of adverse effects of the children who grew out of that lifestyle, i.e. mothers that used cannabis during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In the end, the doctor came up with what seems to be reasonable guidelines for anyone who is considering taking cannabis during pregnancy. The following points are taken directly from her article:
- Cannabis can be abused. Don’t abuse it.
- Smoke is an irritant on the airways. If you wish to inhale, vaporize flowers or use an alternate form of the medicine.
- Federal law prohibits cannabis.
- Hospitals, physicians, and Social Services can have punitive responses to parents who test positive for THC.
- Babies exposed to cannabis during gestation may weigh less than babies not exposed.
- Be clear about why you are using it and re-evaluate those reasons each time.
- Avoid smoking – vaporize herb or use non-smoked products from trusted sources.
- Use organic herb and concentrates that are clear of chemicals and pesticides.
- Be aware of the cannabinoid content and micro-dose medicine to the efficacy.
- Keep your children safe from accidental or passive exposure.
- Avoid dabs, oils, and edibles with unknown content.
Her advice obviously includes marijuana and takes into consideration a psychoactive amount of THC. Industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids, however, are not intoxicating (less than .3% THC) and legal.
- Can marijuana use during and after pregnancy harm the baby? (2017).
- Hudak ML, et al. (2012). Neonatal Drug Withdrawal.
- Marijuana and pregnancy [Fact sheet]. (2015).
- Marijuana pregnancy and breastfeeding guidance. (2015).
- Marijuana use during pregnancy and lactation. (2015).
- Substance use in women: substance use while pregnant and breastfeeding. (2016).
- E Fride, Multiple Roles for the Endocannabinoid System During the Earliest Stages of Life: Pre- and Postnatal Development, J Neuroendocrinol. 2008 May;20 Suppl 1:75-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01670.x