Pregnant women seeking advice about cannabis from Colorado's network of legal dispensaries are facing an inconsistent litany of advice and recommendations, including information that flies directly in the face of accepted medical research, which warns against consuming weed while carrying a baby.
According to concurrent reports from the Denver Post and Colorado Public Radio, in a new study from Denver Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, researchers contacted 400 Centennial State pot shops claiming that they were in their first trimester of pregnancy. They told budtenders they were dealing with "morning sickness," and requested advice about potentially using marijuana. Out of the 400 dispensaries contacted, 69%, or 277 budtenders, recommended using some form of cannabis to treat the reported nausea.
"It was surprising and concerning to us because there are data that suggest exposure to cannabis can be harmful to a developing fetus," Dr. Torri Metz, an employee at Denver Health and the study's lead researcher, told the Denver Post.
As cannabis research continues to lag behind adult-use and medical legalization efforts in states across America, marijuana use by pregnant mothers has become a hot-button topic and point of contention.
In a recent New York Times article that examined the potential risks of cannabis, the publication cited a 2016 review of pregnancy habits and outcomes that found that cannabis use was associated with premature births and underweight babies.
But while medical experts largely advise women to avoid weed while pregnant, research from 2017 illustrated that more women are admitting to consuming cannabis while carrying than ever before. Since using cannabis use does not consistently result in the same visible birth defects caused by alcohol, tobacco, or hard narcotics, reports demonstrate that some women do not consider the potential long-term effects of consuming weed while pregnant.
"The effects are not dramatic, but that doesn't mean they are not important," Jodi Gilman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who studies adolescent cannabis use, told the New York Times last year. "It could make the difference between [a child] getting an A and getting a B."
In the recent Colorado study, Dr. Metz and her fellow researchers reported a huge variance in the recommendations given from dispensary employees to pregnant women. Of the 277 respondents that advised the supposedly pregnant caller to use cannabis, only 26% recommended CBD-only medication, while the other 74% suggested high-strength THC products or products with a mix of both THC and CBD. Further, 36% of dispensary respondents claimed that cannabis was entirely safe for pregnant women, with the rest admitting that their advice was only based on personal opinion. Only 19% of the pot shops suggested that the pregnant women consult their doctors before using marijuana.
For Dr. Larry Wolk, a pediatrician and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has spent time and energy trying to educate pregnant women about the potential risks of cannabis use, the new research is disheartening.
"If this is the information [dispensaries are giving out, that [education] could erode and we could see an increase" of pregnant women using marijuana, Dr. Wolk told the Post.
In the conclusion of the Denver Health study, Dr. Metz calls for increased education and public outreach efforts to make sure that Coloradans are aware of not only marijuana's benefits, but its risks as well. In addition to working with pregnant women and potential consumers, Dr. Metz told the Post that Denver Health hopes to work with dispensaries and their staff to inspire a change in culture that values safety over sales.
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"I think there's a real opportunity for education, as well, and we're hoping to engage the dispensaries in that educational process," Dr. Metz told Colorado Public Radio. "We hope that we can work with dispensaries and other public health workers in order to engage everybody in sending a consistent message that marijuana is not safe for women in pregnancy."
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