Pregnant People Should Think Twice Before Using CBD

A study suggests substantial impacts on the fetal brain with CBD use.

Pregnant woman at home looking through the window
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Nausea is a common pregnancy symptom and can range from slight stomach upset during the day to the debilitating, constant vomiting known as hyperemesis gravidarum. The discomfort caused by this common pregnancy symptom leaves many people understandably reaching for whatever remedy is available just to feel better for a little while. Recently, cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, has grown in popularity as a pregnancy nausea reliever due to its purported anti-vomiting and anti-nausea characteristics. But the impacts of it are generally unknown — and new studies are only beginning to dig into the cause and effect of CBD use during pregnancy.

One recent study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, aimed to take a look at what happens when Cannabidiol, the active ingredient in CBD supplements, crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain — at least in mice.

The research team from the University of Colorado Anshutz School of Medicine examined the effect of oral CBD ingestion on fetal mice and found that female mice that were exposed to the chemical during gestation had impaired problem-solving skills, and male mice experienced increased sensitivity to pain. Both male and female mice showed decreased activity in the frontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with learning. Mice aren’t humans and our brains are quite different — but the clear cause and effect in this species should give pregnant persons pause, says the study leaders.

“This study is important to help clinicians and pregnant patients know that consuming CBD during pregnancy may have some effect on the brain development of offspring,” says study author Emily Bates, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado. “We need clinicians to start asking about CBD consumption at prenatal visits and educate the public about potential risks during pregnancy.”

CBD has gained prominence in the world of herbal supplements due to its positive effect on pain and some mental health issues, but as it is still a relatively new product, there is a lack of scientific studies proving efficacy and safety.

“Our data fills a critical gap in the translational research focused on gestational cannabis consumption,” wrote the authors. But of course, more research is needed to determine if human consumption is more or less impactful than that of mice, and to see if the impact of ingestion during certain trimesters of pregnancy and whether or not the effects are dose-dependent (for starters).

CBD’s psychoactive sister chemical, THC, the most well-known cannabis component, has also received renewed interest from researchers in recent years in light of medical and recreational legalization across much of the country. Recent studies have found that using marijuana while pregnant has several adverse effects on the developing fetus, including low birth weight, preterm birth, increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, and an increased risk of anxiety or developmental disorders like learning disabilities.

While the studies are underway and we learn more, experts advise using extreme caution. The American Academy of Pediatrics has for recommend that those of childbearing age abstain from marijuana use while pregnant or breastfeeding due to potential adverse consequences to the fetus, infant or child. Studies such as these suggest this is not likely to reverse course anytime soon — and may in fact add another class of cannabinoids to the recommendation.