Research suggests a growing number of pregnant women are using marijuana, and according to a small new study, those experiencing severe nausea and vomiting may be more likely to use the drug.
The health effects of using marijuana while pregnant aren’t clear, but national guidelines recommend that women stop using marijuana while pregnant. The new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that pregnant women with severe nausea and vomiting used marijuana at more than twice the rate of women without those symptoms.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 279,000 pregnant women in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California health care system between 2009 and 2016. Women in the study completed a self-reported questionnaire about substance use and had their urine tested at roughly eight weeks gestation.
Based on the surveys and testing, 5 percent of women in the study used marijuana while pregnant. But the rate was far higher among women with severe nausea and vomiting, 11 percent of whom had used marijuana while pregnant. Among women with mild nausea and vomiting, roughly 8 percent used pot while pregnant.
Anecdotally, some patients — including pregnant women and people with cancer — have reported marijuana alleviates nausea. But the study didn’t determine whether pregnant women were using marijuana specifically to alleviate nausea and vomiting. It wasn’t designed to determine whether women used marijuana before or after they knew they were pregnant.
Other important caveats: The study only included pregnant women in a particular health system, and it also only looked at women who were screened for marijuana use at roughly eight weeks gestation. The results might not translate to women in other areas, women without health care, or women who don’t start prenatal care until later in pregnancy.
But still, the authors said, their findings point to a trend that’s worth studying more closely. Their recommendation: Clinicians should ask pregnant women experiencing serious nausea and vomiting about marijuana use and talk to them about safe and effective treatments for the issue.