Study: Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Increasingly Common, Linked to Stressful Life Events

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. – A new study has found that women who experience more stressful life events in the year before childbirth have greater odds of marijuana use before and during pregnancy.

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson study explored the connection between stressful life events and marijuana use in women before, during and after pregnancy.

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

The study, “Cannabis Use and Stressful Life Events during the Perinatal Period: Cross-sectional Results from Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) Data, 2016,” was published in the journal, Addiction.

“We know that adverse childhood events increase the risk of substance abuse in a wide range of people, including pregnant women,” said lead author, Alicia Allen, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine. “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,” Dr. Allen said.

“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 (PRAMS), the research team analyzed the self-reported responses from more than 6,000 women in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Washington. From the responses, approximately 6.4% of women reported using marijuana before, during or after pregnancy.

One finding that surprised the research team was that self-reported marijuana use during pregnancy increased 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,” Dr. Allen said. “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 NICU, and possible increased risk of miscarriage and negative impact on brain development. Current clinical recommendations suggest women abstain from use 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,” Dr. Allen said.

Additional researchers: Alesia M. Jung, MS, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health; Adam C. Alexander, PhD, Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center, Stephenson Cancer Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center; Sharon S. Allen, MD, PhD, Department of Family Medicine and  Community Health, Medical School, University of Minnesota; Kenneth D. Ward, PhD, Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Memphis; Mustafa al’Absi, PhD, Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health, Medical School, University of Minnesota

About the University of Arizona Department of Family and Community Medicine
The Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson is one of the top-ranking family medicine programs in the country. The department is known for outstanding pre- and post-doctoral education, groundbreaking research and innovative community outreach programs designed to improve the health of individuals, families and communities in the region and beyond. The department places strong emphasis on research, particularly in the fields of tobacco cessation, substance abuse, obesity and related diseases, cancer survivorship, behavioral health and disabilities, and Native American and Latino health. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | YouTube)

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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