It’s no secret that mothers and pregnant women are scrutinized for cannabis use.
Because it is unethical to conduct research or experiments on pregnant women, and because there has been a moratorium on cannabis research in the U.S. for the past 50 years, there is little concrete data to show how weed affects the health of pregnant women and their children.
One of the places moms turn when they have questions or concerns about cannabis is the Internet. The safety and anonymity of online support groups offer mothers a reprieve from the judgments women receive both from society and in doctors’ offices.
“The dissonance between national health organizations and scientific evidence regarding the use of cannabis during pregnancy has led expectant mothers to seek safety information for themselves,” write the authors of a new study on cannabis and pregnancy. “Lack of provider counseling about cannabis use during pregnancy leads mothers to seek safety information for themselves.”
If a woman is honest with her nurse or doctor about using cannabis, in many states they can drug test her without her consent. She can then conduct a welfare check on Child Protective Services at the hospital and at home. She may also be forced to enter the list of “neglected women” depending on the state. This title has long been approved by mothers who use cannabis and work to destigmatize the plant. As more weed-friendly moms come out of the woodwork or out in the open, strong discrimination still persists.
In a recent study titled “’Ganja Mamas’: Online debates about cannabis use in pregnancyResearchers from New York University and the University of Miami School of Nursing examined the theme of comments and posts within a support group on w.hattoexpect.com It is called “Ganja midwives”. The study’s researchers are Cynthia Lebron of the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies; Vanessa Morales, University of Miami School of Medicine; Shantal Saenz, New York University; and Denise Vidot of the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies and the University of Miami School of Medicine.
A small group of 131 women was studied as part of the study. It looked at the content of 151 original messages and 1,260 relevant comments sent over a 7-day period. The findings show that people are looking for information and simply have nowhere else to turn and are creating their own safe online space to ask questions.
According to 2019 data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 4.7% of pregnant women in the United States admit to using cannabis. Among women with live births in eight states, 9.8% reported using cannabis before pregnancy. According to a 2020 study, 4.2% during pregnancy and 5.5% after pregnancy. But self-reported estimates may be low and represent half or less of reality. Self-reporting in a doctor’s office, telling the truth can mean CPS is knocking on your door, and many women feel they can’t be completely honest in this environment.
“Online support forums allow cannabis-using moms to ask questions and get answers from other moms in similar situations, especially those who live in their own state,” the study authors write. “Mothers asked for geographic experiences, testing and advice on involving Child Protective Services, as well as advice on the amount and different methods of cannabis use during pregnancy.”
The findings delve deeper into what expectant mothers are asking in anonymous online forums. “Top topics members are looking for information on include testing, government questions, postpartum, child protective services (CPS), hospital questions, birth announcements, cannabis use, quitting, breastfeeding, pregnancy symptoms, mental health, general health, and pregnancy. and amount of cannabis use.Among the many responses from the women, the researchers found conversations of “congratulations and relief, concealing cannabis use and symptoms.”
Harvard professor and primary care physician Dr. Peter Grinspoon says he is “very cautious” about any substance for pregnant women because there is so little rigorous research. “I do not recommend that anyone use cannabis for pregnancy or breastfeeding unless there is a serious medical reason, if what you are prescribed is more harmful.”
Studies showing that cannabis is harmful to infants or unborn babies often ignore factors that overlap with cannabis use: tobacco, alcohol, and poor diet due to poverty. “We have very little clean data to prove the harms of cannabis and pregnancy,” says Dr. Grinspoon. “At the same time, we don’t know if it’s safe.”
Medical professionals are often cautious when it comes to pregnancy because there are no studies on the effects of weed use in the womb. Low birth weight is commonly suggested as one of the possible side effects. One study refuted reports of cannabis as a cause of low birth weight in babies. The secret is that we can’t tease out other “psychosocial and behavioral factors, including stress, smoking, and late or no prenatal care.”