More pregnancy highs than lows

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A new Canadian study suggests smoking marijuana while pregnant is an effective way to combat morning sickness, though researchers note the findings are far from conclusive.

Almost all of the B.C. women surveyed at the University of Victoria and University of British Columbia said smoking marijuana helped curb the nausea of pregnancy. The study's authors say the research points to at least the possibility of an effective treatment for a problem medical science has been largely unsuccessful in tackling.
Small amounts of marijuana would likely not do much harm to pregnant mothers, suggests the study, just published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. More research into the idea is definitely warranted, said Rachel Westfall, a fellow with the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research at UVic. "I thought: 'This is an interesting sociological experiment, where women are going out and self-medicating with something that is really looked down upon by society at large," she said. "Are people using it? The answer is clearly yes and they think that it works."
Aided by Patricia Janssen, an epidemiologist at UBC, Ms. Westfall studied 84 women who were part of the Victoria and B.C. "compassion societies" -- unofficial, non-profit bodies that dispense marijuana for medicinal purposes. Of those, 40 used cannabis to treat pregnancy nausea and 37 of them -- over 92% -- rated it as "extremely effective" or "effective." Ms. Westfall acknowledged the study had weaknesses -- the subjects were all predisposed to feel cannabis had benefits, they were reporting on past experience and there was no control group. A spokesman for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada said none of the society's members could comment until they had examined the research. The nausea and vomiting of pregnancy affect at least 50% of pregnant women. Herbal remedies include ginger and peppermint. One of the few drugs designed specifically to treat morning sickness combines vitamin B6 and an antihistamine. She discovered that some women were using marijuana while researching a PhD thesis on herbal cures used by pregnant women. And the literature has shown it to be effective in treating nausea caused by chemotherapy and other factors. The next step should be a population-based study -- one that surveys large groups of randomly chosen women on marijuana use during pregnancy -- followed by a clinical trial similar to those used to test pharmaceuticals, she said. As to adverse effects, some studies have found that recreational marijuana use leads to reduced birthweights, while others found no impact, the paper said. With marijuana use being so widespread, "if there was some serious developmental damage ... I think we would have seen it come up," said Phillipe Lucas of the Victoria Compassion Society, which took part in the study. Some evidence suggests that pregnant women could gain medicinal benefits with just a puff or two a day, so research would have to look at the negative impacts of only small doses, Ms. Westfall said.

Tom Blackwell

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