Study Says More Pregnant California Women Using Pot
A new study published in JAMA this week revealed that more expectant moms in California are using pot.
The study, which says that the rise in pot use has jumped from 4.2% in 2009, to 7.1% in 2016, revealed that Californian moms-to-be are turning to cannabis for relief from morning sickness or anxiety. The climb also reveals that the trend is more common among younger women; where findings from the sample size revealed that for expectant teens below 18 years old, cannabis use increased from 12.5% to 21.8%, and for women 18 to 24 years old, it jumped from 9.8% to 19%.
Although the research focused on women in California, JAMA published a separate study of expectant women around the United States in January. They found that pregnant women aged 18-44 who reported using cannabis in the last month increased from 2.37% in 2002 up to 3.85% in 2014.
The news worries doctors. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use” and “to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy.” The recommendations also state, “there are insufficient data to evaluate the effects of marijuana use on infants during lactation and breastfeeding, and in the absence of such data, marijuana use is discouraged.”
The Reasons Behind More Pregnant Mothers Using Pot
The study involved 279,457 expectant mothers aged 12 and up, all of whom were enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system. The participants were asked to fill up surveys about their cannabis use, then took a toxicology test during prenatal visits from 2009 through 2016.
Once the women were at around 8 weeks’ gestation, they were tested for cannabis use. Researchers found that based on either self-reports or the test results, cannabis use mounted in all age groups although the most prevalent increase were from those aged 24 and younger. “We were concerned to find that the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy is increasing more quickly among younger females, aged 24 and younger, and to see the high prevalence of use in this age group,” says Kelly Young-Wolff, the study’s lead author and a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher at the Kaiser Permanent Northern California Division of Research.
Since the age group of 24 and below showed the biggest increase, they may hold the clues as to why there was such a significant change, says Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, chief of obstetrics and gynecology, and professor, at the University of Texas Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. “Think about marijuana use from their perspective, especially in Northern California. California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, so they have grown up with the idea of it not only not being illegal but being a medical therapy,” Horsager-Boehrer opines, although she isn’t involved in the study. “With the proximity to Oregon and Washington, they also have experience with any use being legal,” she says. “So I think the idea that use is rising is just because of greater legal exposure to marijuana that women have today versus 20 years ago.”
For participants from other groups, they found that cannabis use increased from 3.4% to 5.1% for those aged 25 to 34, while there was an increase from 2.1% to 3.3% for those aged 34 and above.
The report doesn’t directly state that the rise in use of cannabis among pregnant women has anything to do with California becoming more lax with legalization over the last few years; although the period covered does coincide with the same time that the state was relaxing penalties for cannabis use. The study’s authors state that “continued monitoring of trends, exposure timing, and offspring outcomes is important as marijuana potency rises in an increasingly permissive legal landscape.”
Back in 2018, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger enacted a law that downgraded cannabis possession of 1 ounce or less to an infraction from misdemeanor. This means that anyone who violated a law would have to pay a fine instead of going to jail. Last year, millions of California residents voted to legalize recreational cannabis, and the first few licensed shops for adult use are expected to open in the new year.