More than two-thirds of cannabis dispensaries recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness, despite doctors' warnings against it, a new study suggests. Cannabis has not been tested in pregnant humans, but animal studies have linked its use to low birth weights, premature infants and neurological defects. As it remains untested and smoke itself can be harmful to developing embryos, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discourages doctors from suggesting marijuana to women who are pregnant, nursing or trying to conceive. New research from the University of Colorado found that 70 percent of dispensaries in the state nonetheless recommend their product for treating morning sickness.
More than half of pregnant women have morning sickness - which can cause nausea and vomiting - in their first trimester. Medical marijuana is most commonly prescribed to treat either pain or gastric symptoms like nausea, vomiting and appetite loss in states where it is legal. In Colorado, where the new study was conducted, doctors are legally allowed to prescribe medical-grade marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, pot-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a chronic conditions, including severe nausea. Notably, there are three forms of synthetic cannabinoid-derived medications approved by the FDA, but none of them would be prescribed to pregnant women and are not made from the whole plant.
Dispensaries may sell cannabis oil - which does not include the psychoactive ingredient, THC - but many products are made from the whole plant. Though there are no laws prohibiting pregnant women from using marijuana, hospitals may drug test babies after they are born. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, if a baby tests positive for THC after birth, the hospital is required to notify Child Protective Services. The new study does not delve into what particular products dispensaries recommend to pregnant customers, but their broadly positive stance on the use of cannabis for morning sickness was worrisome to the authors.
'Given the concern for fetal harm with maternal cannabis use, women should utilize nausea medications prescribed by a physician for treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and should not use cannabis for this,' said senior study author Dr Torri Metz of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. 'First line medical therapy for treatment of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is vitamin B6 and doxylamine,' Dr Metz said. 'This combination has been studied extensively and there is not concern for fetal harm, and there are numerous other agents that can also be prescribed if the first line therapy fails.' Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, and at least two more - Utah and Oklahoma - are moving to approve it this year, too. As legalization, broadens, concern is mounting in the medical community that many people including pregnant women may mistakenly assume that using the drug is risk-free, researchers note in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
For the current study, researchers posing as pregnant women with morning sickness called 400 randomly selected cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, one of about 30 US states that have legalized some form of marijuana sales. Overall, 69 percent of the dispensaries recommended cannabis to help pregnant women relieve this nausea, the study found. Medical marijuana dispensaries were even more likely than other cannabis retailers to recommend the drug to pregnant women: 83 percent of medical dispensaries did this, compared to slightly more than 60 percent of other dispensaries.