Pregnant women may self-medicate with marijuana to ease nausea

Reuters Health Information: Pregnant women may self-medicate with marijuana to ease nausea

Pregnant women may self-medicate with marijuana to ease nausea

Last Updated: 2018-08-20

By Reuters Staff

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Pregnant women may turn to marijuana to help ease nausea and vomiting in the first trimester, despite guidelines against marijuana use during pregnancy, according to a study released today.

"The health effects of prenatal marijuana use are unclear" and women with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) "should be screened for marijuana use and educated about effective and safe NVP treatments," write Dr. Kelly Young-Wolff and colleagues of Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland in a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Using data from their organization, the team assessed prenatal marijuana use through self-report and urine toxicology tests obtained during the first trimester in more than 220,000 women.

The sample was 37% white, 27% Hispanic, 17% Asian, 6% black and 14% other. Most of the women were between 25 and 34 years old. The average neighborhood household income was $74,651. About 8% of the women reported using marijuana in the year before becoming pregnant.

About 15% of women reported mild NVP and about 2% reported severe NVP. The prevalence of prenatal marijuana use by self- report or urine test findings was 5.3%, and was greater among women with severe NVP (11.3%) and mild NVP (8.4%) compared to women without NVP (4.5%).

The odds of marijuana use in the first trimester were more than three-fold higher in women with severe NVP (odds ratio, 3.80; P<0.001) and more than two-fold higher in those with mild NVP (OR, 2.37; P<0.001), relative to women without NVP.

"Use of marijuana, an antiemetic, is increasing among pregnant women," the researchers point out, and data from two small surveys suggest that women self-report using marijuana to alleviate NVP.

In addition, an epidemiologic study of more than 4,700 pregnant women in Hawaii found that self-reported prenatal marijuana use was more common among those with (3.7%) than without (2.3%) NVP.

The Kaiser team says that while their results are "consistent with the hypothesis that women use marijuana to self-medicate for NVYP, marijuana use may also contribute to NVP, or clinicians may diagnose NVP more frequently among women who report using marijuana to treat it."

The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors have declared no conflicts of interest.


JAMA Intern Med 2018.

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