Using cannabis to manage symptoms of pregnancy and breastfeeding

Using cannabis to manage symptoms of pregnancy and breastfeeding
© iStock/damircudic

According to new research, more people are using cannabis to manage symptoms of pregnancy and breastfeeding, such as nausea, vomiting, mental health problems and insomnia.

Cannabis use by pregnant and breastfeeding individuals appears to be increasing, even with the lack of evidence on the effects of cannabis use on babies. The new study provides insight into the motivations behind using cannabis to treat symptoms of pregnancy and lactation.

The findings can be found in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Controlling symptoms of pregnancy with cannabis

“Our findings have very little resonance with evidence on motivations for cannabis use identified in nonpregnant populations, suggesting that motivations for use during pregnancy and lactation are unique,” wrote Dr Meredith Vanstone, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, with co-authors.

“The reasons for use provided by our participants more closely match those identified in studies of medical cannabis use, such as for controlling pain, anxiety, depression, muscle spasms, nausea or appetite, and for sleep, with many using cannabis to manage multiple symptoms.”

The study included 52 people from across Canada, 51 identified as women and one as nonbinary. All participants had used cannabis before their pregnancy. At the time of the interview, 30 people were pregnant, and the remaining 22 were breastfeeding. The reason that participants gave for using cannabis changed when they became pregnant.

Some people stopped out of fear of harm to the foetus when they found out they were pregnant. Other people ceased use because of social stigma, guilt, and health reasons. Those who continued using cannabis described their motivation as related to managing symptoms of pregnancy and conditions that pre-existed pregnancy. After they gave birth, their motivations for using cannabis changed, more closely resembling the reasons they supplied for using cannabis before becoming pregnant.

Finding alternatives for cannabis

These findings have implications for clinical practice, including counselling pregnant and lactating people on the potential harms of cannabis use for managing symptoms of pregnancy and alternative approaches.

“I think it’s important for physicians to understand that people who use cannabis during pregnancy are often doing so because they perceive important benefits of cannabis for controlling a variety of symptoms. There’s an opportunity here for exploring the benefits that pregnant patients are getting from cannabis and helping them find alternatives that we know are safe for both mom and baby,” said Dr Vanstone concludes.


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