Stress boosts odds of marijuana use during pregnancy

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Women who experience more stressful life events in the year before childbirth have greater odds of using marijuana before and during pregnancy, a new study shows.

Among the findings reported in the journal Addiction: women who reported their husband or partner lost their job in the past year were 81% more likely to use marijuana before pregnancy and 119% more likely to continue to use marijuana during pregnancy, compared to women whose husband or partner experienced no job loss.

“We know that adverse childhood events increase the risk of substance abuse in a wide range of people, including pregnant women,” says lead author Alicia Allen, assistant professor in the family and community medicine department at the University of Arizona.

“However, this is the first study looking at more recent stressful events, such as having a sick family member, financial problems, or domestic problems, to name just a few. More research is needed to identify effective interventions to reduce marijuana use during the perinatal period, and our research indicates that targeting stressful events—such as providing interventions and trainings to alleviate stressors—may be fruitful.”

Using data from the 2016 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, researchers analyzed the self-reported responses of more than 6,000 women in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington. Approximately 6.4% of women reported using marijuana before, during, or after pregnancy.

One finding that surprised the researchers was that self-reported marijuana use during pregnancy increased by about 35% between 2011 to 2016—from approximately 4.2% to 6.4%.

“It’s possible that the legalization of marijuana use and increases in social acceptability may contribute to increased marijuana use during pregnancy,” Allen says. “But this is speculation, so future research is needed to fully understand this increase.”

Although relatively little is known about the health effects of using marijuana during pregnancy, studies have shown that its use may increase the chances of adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, possible increased risk of miscarriage, and negative impact on brain development. Current clinical recommendations suggest women abstain from using marijuana during pregnancy or during breastfeeding.

“As marijuana use continues to become more common, additional research is needed to identify all of the health effects for both mother and child, as well as to identify ways to help women abstain from marijuana use during pregnancy,” Allen says.

Source: Darci Slaten for University of Arizona