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Marijuana use by mothers-to-be may have increased by as much as one-quarter during the pandemic, a new study suggests.
Researchers found a substantial increase in the number of women in Northern California using pot early in their pregnancies after the pandemic emerged compared to the previous year.
"Our previous research has shown that the prevalence and frequency of prenatal cannabis use is increasing over time and that pregnant women are more likely to use cannabis if they are depressed, anxious, or have experienced trauma. It's very possible that more pregnant women are using cannabis in an attempt to self-medicate these issues during the pandemic," said lead author Kelly Young-Wolff. She is a clinical psychologist and research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.
"The stay-at-home mandates, concerns about getting COVID-19, economic challenges, increased child-care burden, and other difficult aspects of the pandemic could contribute to pregnant women feeling more stressed and depressed during this time," Young-Wolff said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.
For the study, the researchers analyzed urine toxicology tests of more than 95,000 women having their first prenatal visit in Northern California Kaiser Permanente offices from January 2019 through December 2020. The team compared the results to those for the 15 months prior to the pandemic.
The investigators found a 25% increase in the rate of cannabis use. In the year before the pandemic, about 6.75% of pregnant women were using cannabis early in pregnancy in that area. During the pandemic, that rose to 8.14%.
The study did not differentiate among types of cannabis products used or concentrations of CBD or THC. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana) but it does not cause a "high" by itself, while THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation.
Prenatal pot use has been associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children. It also may carry the risk of low infant birth weight, the study authors noted.
The new findings were published online Sept. 27 in a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings can't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the pandemic and greater prenatal pot use. Still, "we need to get the word out more effectively that cannabis is not a healthy choice during pregnancy," said study co-author Dr. Deborah Ansley, regional medical director for Kaiser Permanente's Early Start prenatal health program.
"Women may be trying to manage nausea or mood problems early in pregnancy or may simply be continuing a habit from before they became pregnant. Clinicians — and people who work in cannabis dispensaries — need to help educate women that during pregnancy they should abstain from any type of cannabis use because of potential health risks to their babies," Ansley added.
Young-Wolff is also co-author of an editorial that was published earlier in JAMA Network Open that highlighted the need for legal and regulatory policies to protect infants and children.
She said she plans more in-depth, long-term research on use of various types of cannabis products and their health impacts on mothers and children.
SOURCE: Kaiser Permanente, news release, Sept. 27, 2021
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