Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
Combining CBD and pregnancy is a popular, yet controversial topic. Many people want to know if it’s safe to use CBD to manage the nausea, morning sickness, pain, and migraines associated with pregnancy. As it turns out, weed is the most popular “illicit” substance used by expecting mothers. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 5.3 percent of pregnant women smoked cannabis. But what about CBD oil, without any THC? Is CBD and pregnancy safe?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, and it’s the second most prominent cannabinoid in the marijuana plant after THC. Unlike THC, however, CBD is non-psychoactive, and so doesn’t get users “high.” What CBD does provide is many of the medical benefits of cannabis, including:
Using any substance during pregnancy can be concerning. Everything that is taken into the body can have a possible impact on the developing baby.
Thus far, prenatal cannabis use is not associated with an increased risk of birth defects or life-threatening conditions. However, medical researchers and professionals still have concerns.
Compounds in cannabis have an effect on the body thanks to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS helps to promote homeostasis, or balance, in the body and plays a role in many functions, including mood, immunity, and pain perception. The active chemical compounds in cannabis engage this system, which is why the herb has both medicinal and psychoactive effects.
The same system has an important role in a fetus’ and infant’s development. The primary concern is that the compounds in cannabis will interfere with the natural process of development, leading to potential trouble down the line. Though, with the research available thus far, it is difficult to tell to what end.
As of now, there aren’t any studies on exclusively CBD and pregnancy. However, the anecdotal information about CBD and pregnancy is growing by the hour. Many expecting mothers rave about CBD’s ability to help with morning sickness and nausea, as well as with pain, inflammation, trouble sleeping, and relaxing.
There have been a couple of studies that looked at CBD’s effect on the placenta, in vitro. They both found that CBD can change the physiological characteristics of the placenta, making it more malleable, which is potentially dangerous to the fetus. However, many have pointed out that researchers were applying CBD to placenta constantly over 24 to 72 hours. Actual expectant mothers taking CBD would be doing so at much smaller doses, spaced out across a longer period of time.
Most studies on the effects on cannabis on pregnancy focus on THC, even though there hasn’t been a ton of these either. A 2018 study found cannabis use while pregnant seems to be associated with low birth weights. According to the study, “prenatal cannabis use was associated with a 50 percent increased likelihood of low birth weight, setting the stage for serious future health problems including infection and time spent in neonatal intensive care units.”
However, other studies have failed to find any negative consequences of using cannabis while pregnant. For example, a 1994 study conducted in Jamaica failed to find any significant differences in newborns exposed to cannabis in-utero verse those who were not. What’s even more astounding, this study also followed up with the children, and at one month the researchers found the children exposed to cannabis to be better off; they outperformed their “non-exposed” peers on “autonomic stability, quality of alertness, irritability, and self-regulation.”
For more info on THC-rich cannabis products during pregnancy, check out our full explainer on marijuana and pregnancy here.
At the end of the day, there is some risk in exposing your baby to any new, foreign substance. As Project CBD points out, because of the crucial role the ECS plays in fetal development, neural development, and the survival of the newborn, there is a risk adding phytocannabinoids, like THC or CBD, to the developing brain’s endocannabinoids. However, the truth is, mothers have been using cannabis during pregnancy for decades and most have reported that their children are absolutely unaffected.
On the plus side, CBD may lesson contractions during labor. A 2010 study, found that synthetic CBD treatment reduced oxytocin-induced myometrial (uterine) contractions in cells cultured outside of the body.
The study also cites earlier research that shows that THC and our natural endocannabinoid, anandamide, have similar effects on contractions.
The effects of the synthetic CBD were comparable to some types of drugs used to ease preterm labor, including oxytocin antagonists. Oxytocin antagonists include drugs like atosiban, which is used intravenously in mothers experiencing preterm contractions.
A 2013 study found that prenatal CBD treatment may increase the permeability of the placenta. That means that foreign compounds are more likely to cross the placental barrier and enter the fetus. Depending on what the mother has been exposed to, this could potentially cause harm to the fetus.
The study was conducted on cells cultured outside of the body. However, there is no indication as to how this plays out inside the human body and what does of CBD is needed to cause this change. Though, another 2013 study came to a similar conclusion, stating, “[m]arijuana use during pregnancy may reduce placental protective functions and change its morphological and physiological characteristics.”
According to these preclinical studies, exposure to CBD may cause potentially harmful effects to the placenta.
If you’re seriously considering CBD to help with the side effects of your pregnancy, we have a few pieces of advice to ensure you’re getting the safest and highest quality CBD:
Deciding whether or not to use CBD during pregnancy is a big decision for a mother to make, and it’s wise to consult a doctor before starting a CBD oil regime. For many women, pregnancy can be very rough. Nausea and morning sickness can last all day, and eating and keeping food down can be a struggle. When presented with the choice between taking a prescription pill for morning sickness or CBD oil from an organic source, more and more women are opting for CBD.
Until there’s more research on CBD and pregnancy, it’s hard to give a definitive answer on whether or not it’s safe. Have you used CBD oil while pregnant? Tell us about it in a comments below!