Research finds an increase in prenatal cannabis usage

Kaiser Permanente analyzed more than 100,000 pregnancies in Northern California and identified that there was a 25% increase in the rate of cannabis use early in pregnancy after the pandemic started in spring 2020.


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The research identified that in the previous year of the pandemic, 6.75% of pregnant women used cannabis during early pregnancy, and at the time of the pandemic that rate increased to 8.14% of pregnant women. The observations were reported on September 27th, 2021, in JAMA.

The research did not analyze the reason behind more pregnant women using cannabis.

Our previous research has shown that the prevalence and frequency of prenatal cannabis use is increasing over time and that pregnant women are more likely to use cannabis if they are depressed, anxious, or have experienced trauma. It’s very possible that more pregnant women are using cannabis in an attempt to self-medicate these issues during the pandemic.”

Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH, Study Lead Author, Clinical Psychologist and Research Scientist, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente

Young-Wolff further states, “The stay-at-home mandates, concerns about getting COVID-19, economic challenges, increased child care burden, and other difficult aspects of the pandemic could contribute to pregnant women feeling more stressed and depressed during this time.”

The research analyzed urine toxicology tests for cannabis from the first prenatal visit for 100,005 pregnancies (involving 95,412 women) at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California from January 2019 till December 2020. The researchers combined positive tests in the 15-month pre-pandemic period with those at the time of the pandemic period.

This trend is concerning due to the possible hazards to newborns like low infant birth weight and potential neurodevelopmental effects on children linked with prenatal cannabis use, added senior author Lyndsay Avalos, PhD, MPH, a research scientist at the Division of Research.

As the pandemic continues it will be important to identify subgroups of women who are most likely to use cannabis during pregnancy so we can provide more targeted interventions.”

Lyndsay Avalos, PhD, MPH, Study Senior Author and Research Scientist, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente

According to co-author Deborah Ansley, clinicians must discuss cannabis use with their patients, “We need to get the word out more effectively that cannabis is not a healthy choice during pregnancy.”

Women may be trying to manage nausea or mood problems early in pregnancy or may simply be continuing a habit from before they became pregnant. Clinicians—and people who work in cannabis dispensaries—need to help educate women that during pregnancy they should abstain from any type of cannabis use because of potential health risks to their babies.”

Deborah Ansley MD, Study Co-Author and Regional Medical Director, Early Start Prenatal Health Program, Kaiser Permanente

The study did not differentiate the types of cannabis products used or the concentrations of CBD or THC used by women. Young-Wolff and Avalos received funds from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to undertake detailed, long-term research on the use of different kinds of cannabis products in pregnancy and their effect on the health of mothers and children.

Recently, in an editorial in JAMA Network Open, Young-Wolff along with two co-workers emphasized the necessity for equal access to nonpunitive and supportive substance use treatment and suggested legal and regulatory policies to safeguard infants and children, at the same time not imposing discriminatory or criminal burdens on vulnerable communities.


Kaiser Permanente

Journal reference:

Young-Wolff, K. C., et al. (2021) Rates of Prenatal Cannabis Use Among Pregnant Women Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Network Open.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AZoLifeSciences.
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