WSU Study Surveys Pregnant Women Who Smoke Marijuana

Feb 10, 2020

WSU researcher Celestina Barbosa-Leiker and her team interviewed 19 women about their marijuana use during pregnancy.
Credit WSU College of Nursing

Washington State University researchers have tackled the issue of why pregnant women use marijuana. They’ve released a new study that explores the reasons. They also looked at the confusion among the women about how their marijuana use affects their babies.

WSU interviewed 19 women who are either pregnant now or who had recently given birth. All of them said they smoked pot daily for medical reasons that originated before their pregnancies.

“Chronic pain was the main one that we heard about, but also bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, anxiety," said Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, an associate professor of nursing and WSU’s vice chancellor for health sciences research. She says many of the women said they stopped using other pain relievers once they found out they were pregnant.

“They felt that possibly using cannabis was a healthier decision, other than opioids or ibuprofen. We don’t know that research-wise, but the moms that we interviewed felt that was better for themselves and for their baby," Barbosa-Leiker said.

Some, she said, indicated they have since reduced their marijuana use out of caution, but Barbosa-Leiker says several had questions about how ingesting marijuana would affect their unborn children.

“They were Googling research studies to figure out what the best decision was, given the current situation," she said.

She says the science about how marijuana use affects babies in the womb isn’t settled, in part because research dollars have been scarce due to federal laws that prohibit marijuana use. But she says the medical consensus is clear.

“All national guidelines will say not to use cannabis, even at the pre-conception age, during pregnancy, during breast feeding, to just stay away from it," she said.

In the case of breast feeding, she says the chemicals in marijuana pass slowly through the body, less quickly than alcohol. But she says research needs to be done to help scientists learn more about that.