Doctors should be more open to prenatal cannabis use to treat nausea and morning sickness, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, who say that the stigma may be a barrier to providing the best care.
On Thursday, the UBCO released a report on doctoral student Sarah Daniels and her recent research showing the results of a survey study published recently in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
In the survey, researchers found that even though people use cannabis during pregnancy they do not tell their doctor about it because of stigma.
“Historically, cannabis has been used during pregnancy and childbirth—orally, topically, by suppository and by inhalation—to treat nausea and vomiting, pain, sleep disturbances and other symptoms,” said Daniels in an interview with UBC Okanagan News.
Daniels and her team recruited 100 pregnant participants to fill out an online survey looking into their cannabis use if any and found that 34 per cent reported using pot during pregnancy.
Out of the people who use it to treat symptoms, 89 per cent said they used it for nausea and 92 per cent said pot is effective or extremely effective in treating their symptoms. 69 per cent of those who consumed it said they used it instead of a prescribed pharmaceutical.
Most of the participants who used cannabis (74 per cent) said they would not tell their doctor if it happened in other pregnancies and 62 per cent said they would feel discomfort discussing it with their physician.
“Our findings suggest that prenatal cannabis use may reflect primarily therapeutic motives of relieving symptoms of morning sickness, nausea, low appetite, pain, and substituting for other prescription medications,” wrote the researchers in the study.
Health providers should weigh out the pros and cons of using cannabis instead of stigmatizing it, researchers say
Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy are common and have negative health impacts on the mother and the fetus. However, there aren’t many effective medications to deal with these symptoms and some people rely on cannabis as a medication but do not tell their doctor about it.
Some pharmaceutical medications also have negative impacts on a pregnant patient’s health and when prescribing them, medical professionals weigh out the pros and cons.
Daniels says the approach should be the same for cannabis.
“Stigmatization has been identified as a barrier to discussing therapeutic cannabis use between a woman and her doctor,” said Daniels.
“Patients report perceived negative responses from physicians when broaching the subject and fear that their care and the relationship with their physician will be negatively impacted.”
Pot use during pregnancy isn’t new but carries a stigma affecting the quality of care
According to the study, pot use during pregnancy is more common than people think and it needs to be researched more. The stigma causing a lack of disclosure to medical professionals may create barriers to offering the best care possible.
“At the end of the day, we want women to be able to have these conversations with their physicians to provide the best care possible without decisions being impacted by moral judgement, misinformation or stigma,” Daniels added.”
“Clear and effective communication with health-care providers—beyond issues of abstinence and legality—is essential to enable the safest therapeutic use of cannabis by pregnant women.”
While researchers do not have definitive and conclusive clinical data on the full range of potential consequences of cannabis use during pregnancy, the same is true for most pharmaceutical drugs currently available to those who may be pregnant.
Some studies found that some commonly prescribed medications such as doxylamine-pyridoxine and metoclopramide were associated with a significantly increased risk of major congenital malformations.
“As such, physicians typically utilize their clinical insight to weigh the potential benefits compared to the potential harms in each case.”
Daniels says that physicians should drop the stigma and apply the same cost-benefit analysis to cannabis as with other medications suggested to treat nausea or morning sickness.
“Stigmatization has been identified as a barrier to discussing therapeutic cannabis use between a woman and her doctor,” says Daniels, adding that patients report perceived negative responses from doctors when broaching the subject and fear that their care and the relationship with their physician will be negatively impacted.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health concluded that cannabis may impact development later in life and advised against cannabis use during pregnancy. The study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said that prenatal pot exposure was found to be associated with attention, social and behavioural problems in 11 and 12-year-olds.
A different study published this January in the Journal of the American Medical Association found cannabis while pregnant significantly increases the risk of some adverse effects for newborns compared to pregnancies without exposure to cannabis. Pregnancies in which parents consumed cannabis resulted in a “significantly” increased risk for low birth weight, small for gestational age diagnosis, preterm delivery, intensive care admission as well as decreased birth weight and infant head circumference, compared to pregnancies without cannabis exposure.