Study Finds a Sharp Rise in Marijuana Use Among Pregnant Women

As more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, its use during pregnancy is increasing – along with the potential for abuse or dependence. A new study, co-led by researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University, has captured the magnitude and issues related to cannabis use disorders during pregnancy.

Cannabis is legal for medical and recreational use in 37 states, and legalization has likely lessened fears about its risks in pregnancy. Some pregnant patients use cannabis instead of prescribed medications, thinking it’s a safer choice. But both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have recommended against using cannabis while pregnant, chiefly because of known and unknown fetal effects.

The study found that the proportion of hospitalized pregnant patients identified with cannabis use disorder – defined as cannabis use with clinically significant impairment or distress – rose 150 percent from 2010 to 2018. Patients with cannabis use disorder alone had levels of depression and anxiety three times higher than patients with no use conditions. Mood-related disorders affected 58 percent of cannabis disorder patients but only 5 percent of those without any substance use disorders.

The authors note that screening for cannabis use during pregnancy could help, but state mandatory reporting requirements may deter some clinicians from asking about use. Better patient education could reduce the problem and get treatment to patients sooner, especially for those identified with co-occurring cannabis dependency and psychiatric disorders.

Angélica Meinhofer, assistant professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine and lead author of the study, stated that “hopefully, these findings will motivate better conversations between pregnant patients and their health care providers.”

The study, “Association of Comorbid Behavioral and Medical Conditions with Cannabis Use Disorder in Pregnancy was published in JAMA Psychiatry. It may be accessed here.

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