Can CBD help with pregnancy?
- Results of a 1986 research, published in the International Journal of Andrology, indicate that either of the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) or cannabinol (CBN) may cause problems with the reproductive system of developing male fetuses(1).
- However, to date, there has been no comprehensive study on humans investigating the effects of CBD alone on the developing fetus, expectant mother, or breastfed baby.
- Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that there may be serious risks to using cannabis products, including those containing CBD, when pregnant or while breastfeeding.
- Experts advise expectant mothers and those who are contemplating pregnancy or breastfeeding to do more research and consult with a medical professional before commencing a CBD regimen.
Why Some Pregnant Women May Be Thinking of Taking CBD During Pregnancy
Expectant mothers are looking to relieve common symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, cramping, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue, and CBD is currently being marketed as a natural cure for most of these symptoms.
Those who seek a natural alternative to other pain medications may be inclined to turn to CBD, as anecdotal evidence shows that CBD may be used to help relieve and manage chronic pain in many cases.
A study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, suggests that using CBD can reduce inflammation and pain(2).
However, more research is still needed, especially in long-term studies with human subjects. To date, there has been no comprehensive research investigating the effects of CBD alone on the developing fetus, expectant mother, or breastfed baby.
The FDA continues to gather and study the data on the potential hazards of CBD on both mother and baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The Dangers of Using CBD Oil When Pregnant
While testimonials abound on the many potential benefits of CBD, scientists recognize that there are more questions than answers with regards to the safety of CBD.
Furthermore, there have been no studies conducted on CBD’s effects when used by pregnant women. Consequently, the FDA warns that CBD has the potential to harm people and that harm can happen even before they become aware of it.
The FDA cautions people that there may be serious risks to using cannabis products, including those containing CBD, when pregnant or while breastfeeding.
Not all CBD products are created equal. Even product labels may not be a reliable indication of a product’s actual CBD content or potency.
Many CBD products tested by the FDA were found to contain trace amounts of THC and contaminants like toxic heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, and fungus.
Thus, as a general rule, experts warn all pregnant, as well as breastfeeding mothers, to avoid CBD products altogether to keep themselves and their babies free from any potential danger.
Some people often use the terms cannabis and marijuana interchangeably, although the two terms do not mean the same thing.
Cannabis is the broad term for all products derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. A cannabis plant contains over 100 components, called cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids that come from plants are specifically called phytocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids, another group of cannabinoids, also exist in the body. Cannabis impacts the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and helps create balance for optimal bodily functions.
In technical terms, the family genus cannabis is where both marijuana plants and hemp plants belong. Both of these plants contain varying amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains substantial amounts of THC, the cannabinoid that is primarily responsible for inducing a euphoric and intoxicating effect on the user.
Farmers do not use the fibers and stalks of marijuana commercially. Instead, they cultivate marijuana plants specifically for the flowers, which, among all the parts, contain the highest levels of THC.
Medical marijuana is the term used to describe the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its essential extracts to help treat symptoms of illnesses and disorders.
However, to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved or recognized the marijuana plant as medicine.
Cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% THC in dry weight are legally considered as hemp. The seeds and stalks of hemp plants are used to create a wide range of products, including food, medicine, nutritional supplements, plastic composites, paper, textiles, and building materials.
Hemp naturally contains a substantial amount of CBD, and the level of THC in hemp is 33 times less than that of the least potent marijuana strains. Hence, oil extracted from hemp is non-intoxicating, making it generally safe for use.
— Catherine Monk, Ph.D., Professor of Medical Psychology, Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York
Side Effects of CBD Use
In recent years, cannabis and cannabis-derived products have become increasingly accessible in the market. People looking to use these products as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical prescriptions have contributed to CBD’s widespread use in the form of edibles, beverages, supplements, and cosmetics.
While new and different types of products continue to emerge, these products also raise questions and concerns for many consumers. Understandably, pregnant women have more concerns as the products may not only pose risks to themselves but to their unborn babies as well.
Generally, CBD’s side effects include the following:
- Somnolence, characterized by sleepiness or drowsiness, impacts an individual’s alertness.
- Gastrointestinal distress, which may manifest as a decrease in appetite or diarrhea, is another typical effect of CBD use.
- Mood changes, which may come in the form of agitation and irritability, may also be experienced by some CBD users.
Although these side effects should improve once CBD use is terminated or its doses substantially reduced, keeping one’s self well-informed is crucial to ensure the safety of all concerned.
There are more severe side effects of high doses and prolonged use of CBD, and they include the following:
- CBD may cause liver injury. A 2019 animal study, which was published in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute Journal, concluded that CBD manifested visible signs of hepatotoxicity, possibly from a reduction or prevention of bile flow(3).
- This research suggests that anyone taking CBD regularly and in high doses may be prone to developing liver disease.
- CBD impacts the metabolism of other drugs and causes grave side effects. CBD can reduce or increase the effects of certain prescribed pharmaceuticals by interacting with cannabinoid receptors throughout the endocannabinoid system within the body and by inhibiting the activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes.
A 2000 study, which was conducted by researchers from the Department of Pharmacy Services at Baylor University Medical Center in Texas, shows how CBD can temporarily deactivate the activity of cytochrome P450, which can affect how the body breaks down other compounds(4).
- Both research and anecdotal evidence indicate that CBD use may cause nausea, drowsiness, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and dry mouth. Though they are often well-tolerated, these side effects may cause discomfort and pain.
The FDA’s Position on CBD
The use of CBD-infused products are widespread nowadays, and manufacturers are becoming increasingly creative as they offer CBD many forms and flavors that consumers would find appealing.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, but the legal status of hemp-derived cannabidiol remains confusing.
While CBD can be derived from hemp or cannabis, it is technically a marijuana plant if the hemp plant contains over 0.3 percent THC.
The FDA released an advisory that reiterates the agency’s position on the regulation of CBD-infused products(5).
- The FDA has seen only limited data about CBD safety. These data, while inconclusive in scope, point to factual risks that need to be considered before using CBD.
- Some unscrupulous CBD product manufacturers market their goods with unproven medical claims to target buyers from different demographic groups.
The quality, potency, and purity of their products become questionable, primarily when they do not employ third-party lab testing to benefit the consumers.
- The FDA emphasized in their consumer update that it is currently prohibited under federal law to add CBD to food products or label CBD as a dietary supplement.
- The FDA has approved only one CBD product, Epidiolex, which is a prescription drug product to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These two rare and severe conditions usually manifest in early childhood or infancy.
- The FDA recognizes that the drug approval process remains to be the best way to ensure that new medicines, including cannabis-derived drugs, are safe and effective to use by patients in need of proper medical therapy.
More Research Needed
The FDA is dedicated to supporting the discovery and development of new drugs, including cannabis and cannabis-derived drugs. The agency is presently working to gather more information about the safety of CBD and its byproducts, including conducting investigations that would address essential topics, such as:
- Cumulative Exposure to CBD: How much CBD is ingested, and how much is absorbed through the skin if people utilize it through a wide variety of consumer products?
For instance, what would be the effect of consuming CBD edibles, such as CBD gummies and CBD-infused beverages, in conjunction with the application of CBD-rich cosmetic products on the same day for an extended period?
- Specific Populations: The effects of CBD on other particular groups of people, such as children, adolescents, the elderly, expectant moms, and breastfeeding mothers.
- CBD and Animals: Is CBD safe to use in pets and other animals? Other factors should also be considered, including the animal’s species, breed, or class, as well as the safety of the human food products manufactured, like meat, milk, cheese, or eggs from food-producing species that use CBD.
There is no comprehensive research studying the effects of CBD on the developing fetus, pregnant mothers, or breastfed babies.
Dishonest, misleading, unverified, or false claims associated with CBD products may lead consumers to delay getting critical medical care, such as proper diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care. Thus, women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy must consult with their doctor.
Medical professionals, such as obstetricians and gynecologists, can advise on the most effective remedy to alleviate typical pregnancy symptoms or treat other issues during pregnancy using available treatment options approved by the FDA.
The FDA pledges to continue to update the public as it learns more about CBD through its investigatory new drug process.
The FDA’s top priority is to defend and promote public health. This priority includes making sure that consumers are kept well-informed about products that may put their health and safety at the highest risk.
CBD vs. Marijuana on Pregnancy
Studies that show the impact of cannabis on pregnancy are limited. However, there have been studies done on subjects with prolonged exposure to marijuana.
A 2013 study “Cannabidiol changes P-gp and BCRP expression in trophoblast cell lines”, conducted by the Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, concluded that CBD use during pregnancy might change the physiological characteristics of the placenta.
However, it must be noted that the aforementioned study was not based on the exclusive use of CBD, which traditionally contains low to zero levels of THC, but rather on marijuana, which contains high levels of THC.
Marijuana contains varying levels of THC and CBD.
Unlike THC, its psychoactive counterpart, CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabis compound. CBD is also not addictive and is believed to be relatively safe to use for an extended period.
However, CBD’s long-term effects are largely unknown, and most CBD products are untested.
Meanwhile, marijuana has changed over time, as the marijuana available in certain products today is much stronger than in the previous formulations.
A 2016 study was conducted by researchers from the National Center for Natural Products Research School of Pharmacy of the University of Mississippi and the Department of Computer Science of the University of West Georgia(6).
Results of the aforementioned study showed that between 1995 and 2014, the THC concentration in cultivated marijuana plants had surged three-fold.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, on its website, mentions a survey conducted among marijuana users in Washington. In the said survey, researchers found that marijuana available in dispensaries in some states has concentrations of THC between 17.7% and 23.2%(7).
Similarly, marijuana use by expectant mothers is on the rise, and the results of studies are alarming.
A 2017 study, which was published by the National Institutes of Health, was done to analyze the trends in marijuana use by females in California(8). Researchers of the study found that there was a 69% surge in marijuana use among pregnant women between 2009 and 2016.
In a 2018 study, researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, Colorado, the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, and Denver Health and Hospital Authority in Denver, Colorado, found that many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness(9).
Then, in 2019, a survey was conducted by researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, Maryland on pregnant women in the United States(10).
The researchers compared recent data on self-reported medical and non-medical cannabis use among the subjects with that of the period between 2002 and 2017. Results showed that marijuana use among pregnant women doubled.
More research is necessary to comprehend better how marijuana may affect an expectant mother and her baby during pregnancy. Still, experts recommend that pregnant women do not use marijuana.
CBD is not the same as marijuana. Thus, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the aforementioned studies.
Limited and inconclusive studies make doctors cautious about recommending the non-psychoactive CBD because of its close association with marijuana and because of the lack of research around CBD alone.
— Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams
How Marijuana Impacts the Developing Fetus
There are no studies that specifically examine the effects of CBD on pregnant women. However, there are studies that show how marijuana may impact a developing fetus.
- When a pregnant woman consumes or smokes marijuana, cannabinoids enter the blood.
Based on a 1987 animal study, which was published in the Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology Journal, results demonstrate that through the bloodstream, THC rapidly crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain(11).
Although the study was not done on humans, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) functions the same way in people as it does in other animals.
The ECS maintains homeostasis (balance) among body functions and plays key roles in the control of metabolic, nervous,, digestive, reproductive, and immune functions.
- A 2016 research, published by theYale Journal of Biology and Medicine, suggests that marijuana may interfere with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy and fetal brain development(12). Marijuana may also interrupt the delicate equilibrium of the ECS in the female reproductive system.
- A research conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Washington University in St. Louis, and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri indicated that the association between maternal marijuana use and adverse neonatal outcomes appears to be a result of concomitant tobacco use, among other confounding factors(13).
- A 2017 review,“Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research”, which was published by the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated that exposure to cannabis use in utero has an adverse influence on birth weight and increases the risk of an infant baby going into intensive care.
- In the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Journal published in 2018, researchers of the study on “Cannabis Use during Pregnancy: Pharmacokinetics and Effects on Child Development” emphasized the fact that women should not smoke marijuana while pregnant. However, the study does not mention anything about CBD use during pregnancy.
- In 2018, a study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, was conducted to evaluate the relationship between prenatal cannabis use and adverse neonatal outcomes, such as small infant size for gestational age, low birth weight, and preterm birth(14).
It was reported that maternal marijuana use was linked to a 50% increased risk of low birth weight regardless of the mother’s age, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use.
However, since CBD and marijuana are not the same thing, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the aforementioned studies.
Consequently, doctors are cautious about recommending the non-psychoactive CBD because of its close association with marijuana, and because of the lack of research around CBD alone.
— The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
As a safety measure, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cautions pregnant women or those contemplating pregnancy not to start or discontinue marijuana use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended in 2018 that it is imperative to advise all adolescents and young women that marijuana should not be used anytime during pregnancy.
Also, a pregnant woman who uses marijuana may unknowingly put the baby’s health at risk after birth.
According to a study published in AAP’s Pediatrics Journal, small quantities of THC have been found in breast milk even after six days from the last recorded use(15).
Breastmilk that is tainted with THC may impact the newborn baby’s brain development.
A 2015 review by researchers from Denver Health Medical Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Denver, CO and University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, CO, revealed that THC might cause problems with neurological development, which may lead to reduced or impaired poor cognitive function and hyperactivity(16).
Also, since marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful components as tobacco smoke, researchers of a 2008 study, which was published in the Chemical Research in Toxicology Journal, strongly discourage smoking or vaping of marijuana or tobacco around a baby(17).
The aforementioned studies were focused on marijuana and its active component, THC, and not on CBD.
It is essential to note that CBD is entirely different from marijuana. Thus, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the aforementioned studies.
Given CBD’s close association to marijuana and the lack of research around CBD alone, doctors are cautious about recommending the non-psychoactive CBD
Pregnant women must understand the risks involved in using CBD-infused products or other cannabis products. It is not only the mother’s health that is in danger when complications arise from the use of products that have not been proven safe for use during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should be wary of the potential harm that the exposure or ingestion of CBD products may have on themselves and their unborn babies. It is wise for expectant mothers to consult with their doctors before they start a CBD regimen during their pregnancy.
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Wei Xiong, Tanxing Cui, Kejun Cheng, Fei Yang, Shao-Rui Chen, Dan Willenbring, Yun Guan, Hui-Lin Pan, Ke Ren, Yan Xu, and Li Zhang. “Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors.” J Exp Med. 2012 Jun 4; 209(6): 1121–1134. DOI: 10.1084/jem.20120242.
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