According to a Kaiser Permanente analysis of more than 100,000 pregnancies in Northern California, there was a 25% increase in the rate of cannabis use early in pregnancy after the pandemic began in spring 2020.

The analysis was reported in a research letter in the September 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association and concluded that in the year before the pandemic, 6.75% of pregnant women were using cannabis in early pregnancy. During the pandemic, that rate increased to 8.14% of pregnant women.

The study, which did not look at why pregnant woman were turning more to the plant,, had examined urine toxicology tests for cannabis from the first prenatal visit for 100,005 pregnancies (involving 95,412 women) at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California from January 2019 through December 2020, comparing positive tests in the pre-pandemic period with those during the pandemic period.

“Our previous research has shown that the prevalence and frequency of prenatal cannabis use is increasing over time and that pregnant women are more likely to use cannabis if they are depressed, anxious, or have experienced trauma. It’s very possible that more pregnant women are using cannabis in an attempt to self-medicate these issues during the pandemic,” said lead author Kelly Young-Wolff, PhD, MPH, a clinical psychologist and research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

“The stay-at-home mandates, concerns about getting COVID-19, economic challenges, increased child care burden, and other difficult aspects of the pandemic could contribute to pregnant women feeling more stressed and depressed during this time,” Young-Wolff said.

“We need to get the word out more effectively that cannabis is not a healthy choice during pregnancy,” said co-author Deborah Ansley, MD, regional medical director for Kaiser Permanente’s Early Start prenatal health program. “Women may be trying to manage nausea or mood problems early in pregnancy or may simply be continuing a habit from before they became pregnant. Clinicians — and people who work in cannabis dispensaries — need to help educate women that during pregnancy they should abstain from any type of cannabis use because of potential health risks to their babies.”

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