Health experts and industry officials have largely instructed pregnant women to avoid weed while carrying, but new research shows that budtenders are not taking heed to those warnings.
A recent study has found that some Colorado dispensaries are promoting cannabis use during pregnancy. Researchers posed as pregnant women looking for help with morning sickness. A majority of the dispensaries contacted recommended medical marijuana products, according to the study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. Torri Metz is a high-risk obstetrician at Denver Health in Colorado and one of the authors of the study. She told CNN that she did not anticipate the findings.
“I was really surprised,” Metz said. “I did not expect dispensaries to be recommending cannabis products to pregnant women.”
Researchers selected 400 dispensaries at random for the study. They then called the locations and said they were pregnant women with morning sickness. About 70 percent of employees recommended cannabis products to the callers.
Additionally, about a third said that cannabis is safe during pregnancy. Only 32 percent of employees recommended that the caller seek the advice of a healthcare professional without a prompt from the caller.
Medical marijuana dispensaries were even more likely than other cannabis retailers to recommend the drug to pregnant women: 83 percent of medical dispensaries did this, compared to slightly more than 60 percent of other dispensaries.
Dr. Metz said that pregnant women often look for advice from many sources other than their doctors. And the stigma of cannabis can often make them wary of being fully honest with their physicians.
“Women are hesitant to disclose any kind of drug use in pregnancy to their health care providers for fear of potential legal ramifications or involvement by social services,” she said.
One limitation of the study is that it’s possible mystery callers might get different advice by phone than pregnant women might get in person at dispensaries, the study team acknowledges.
Still, the results are concerning because medical marijuana laws prohibit dispensing cannabis to pregnant women, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland.
Another problem is that scientists don’t know how different types and amounts of cannabis use might impact pregnant women and their babies,” said Kelly Young-Wolff, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland who wasn’t involved in the study.
Experts Say No Pot During Pregnancy
Medical experts caution against cannabis use during pregnancy. Researchers still have challenges studying pregnant women and their babies, even though much more study is necessary.
“It is unethical to purposely expose women and their unborn babies to marijuana during pregnancy to study outcomes,” Dr. Mark said.
Dr. Metz noted in the study that Colorado does not regulate the advice or recommendations dispensaries may offer. But the state has mandated that product labels warn women that cannabis during pregnancy may not be safe. Packages must include the following statement:
“There may be additional health risks associated with the consumption of this product for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning on becoming pregnant.”
Dr. Metz believes that women will take good care of their health and that of their babies if they have the information they need.
“I think that the majority of women are really trying to do the right thing for their pregnancy and for their baby,” she added. “I just think we need to get that information to their hands.”
Dr. Mark noted that the end of cannabis prohibition does not mean that marijuana is safe. And she believes that dispensaries should leave offering medical advice to the doctors.
“Legalization does not equate to safety, particularly in pregnancy,” she told CNN. “I actually think that the fact that dispensaries are providing any recommendations for treatment of medical conditions is very much overstepping appropriate boundaries.”
While cannabis can indeed ease nausea, most of the research in this area has focused on cancer patients who have nausea as a side effect of chemotherapy, said Marcel Bonn-Miller of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“I would not advise pregnant women to use cannabis for nausea, especially because we already have a number of good treatment options,” Bonn-Miller, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “There are just too many risks and unknowns at this stage.”