A report by researchers at the University of British Columbia shows that one-third of women surveyed think it is safe to consume cannabis while pregnant.
The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine and is based on data from six U.S. studies that examined women’s perceptions of cannabis use during pregnancy.
The report shows that women who used cannabis while pregnant often perceive no risk to their pregnancy, and that use of cannabis while pregnant is even increasing.
70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users said they perceived slight or no risk of harm from using cannabis.
Another study showed 30 per cent of pregnant women said they believed cannabis is not harmful to a baby during pregnancy.
In one study involving 306 pregnant women, 35 per cent said they used cannabis even after they knew they were pregnant.
When asked what substances are likely to harm a baby during pregnancy, 70 per cent said alcohol, 16 per cent chose tobacco and only two per cent said cannabis.
While information of the health risks of consuming cannabis is limited, some studies show it can lead to an increased risk of problems, such as anemia, low birth weight, stillbirth and newborns having to be admitted to prenatal intensive care.
The report says there is evident lack of communication by doctors about the risks of cannabis use while pregnant to patients, which causes women to think that the risks are not significant.
This perception is an important factor in the decision-making process for women considering whether to take cannabis or not, and the report suggests that doctors should ask specific questions about cannabis use during pregnancy to provide information that could reduce or eliminate its use.
Cannabis’ low cost compared to cigarettes and its legalization in Canada and parts of the U.S. have contributed to it being the most commonly used illicit drug among pregnant populations, despite recommendations to avoid it while pregnant.
While the report surveyed the U.S. population, it is still of interest to Canadians given cannabis has recently been legalized, creating a broader acceptance of the drug in the country.
Pregnant cannabis users were more likely to be under 25 years old, unemployed, single or uninsured, African American, have low income and education and use other substances such as tobacco and alcohol, the report shows.
Some women surveyed said they smoked cannabis while pregnant to cope with anxiety or depression, rather than taking strong pharmaceutical drugs, while others used it to cope with morning sickness.
A diagnosis of anxiety or depression was associated with cannabis use during pregnancy, the report shows, and cannabis rates were highest during the first trimester at 7.4 per cent, when early pregnancy nausea hits, and lowest during the third trimester at 1.8 per cent.