Scientists recommend against using marijuana—even medical marijuana—during pregnancy. That’s because THC has been found to have a negative impact on the fetus. Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about what the effects of CBD may be. So, while CBD could help pregnant women in many ways, it’s not necessarily a safe option when you’re expecting.
Is CBD safe while pregnant?
Marijuana use during pregnancy is common. Women frequently use cannabis to help with morning sickness, anxiety during pregnancy and even labor pain. But although cannabis is a plant, this “natural” remedy may not be safe for women who are carrying a child. Cannabis contains some very potent molecules that can have wide-ranging effects on the fetus.
To date, there have been dozens of different studies on the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy. Overall, they have had conflicting results, and many contradict themselves. For example, a study has shown that cannabis use during pregnancy increased women’s chances of developing anemia. However, when reviewing this study, scientists found that the anemia was caused by tobacco use, and not cannabis use.
There are dozens more studies and reviews that show the same kinds of problems: either the methodology is wrong, or the findings may have been interpreted in the wrong way.
What we are left with is a lot of uncertainty. We can’t say that cannabis is always harmful when consumed during pregnancy, but it’s probably not completely harmless either.
When it comes to CBD, scientific research is even more limited. Most studies on cannabis and pregnancy focus on THC rather than CBD. However, we do have some animal studies that offer clues about the effects of cannabinoids on the human fetus.
For example, this 1984 study observed that exposing mice fetuses to THC affected their endocrine functions (hormonal functions). The same effect was observed with CBN, but not with CBD. The effects observed were long-term. What this tells us is that cannabinoids can have significant effects on fetuses, even if CBD didn’t show a change in hormonal levels.
How does the endocannabinoid system work during pregnancy?
To understand how and why CBD affects fetuses, it’s important to learn a bit more about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This biological system is present in adults, but also in fetuses and in fact all other mammals. It plays a very important role in the human body, regulating functions like appetite, mood, pain and stress.
Fetuses already have an endocannabinoid system a few days after conception. This system is crucial to the way they will develop; it influences how they grow and how their brain evolves.
The endocannabinoid system works through a system of receptors; it is comprised of CB1 and CB2 receptors which receive messages from cannabinoids. The body naturally produces endocannabinoids, and these are used to transmit messages to the endocannabinoid system. During pregnancy, the mother’s endocannabinoids are transmitted to the fetus, affecting the working of its endocannabinoid system.
This is important to understand because CBD and other cannabis molecules have the ability to affect how the ECS works. They are phytocannabinoids: plant-derived cannabinoids that can also bind with CB1 and CB2 receptors. In many ways, this is positive. This is what gives CBD the ability to fight pain and inflammation, for example. But during pregnancy, this could be dangerous. When a pregnant woman takes CBD, it could affect the way that her child’s endocannabinoid system works, which could be dangerous.
Should you take CBD while pregnant?
To date, there are no conclusive studies that show that CBD use is dangerous during pregnancy.
However, there are studies that show that endo- and phytocannabinoids can have a major impact on the development of the fetus. So we have good reason to believe that taking CBD during pregnancy could affect the way it develops. Whether this is good or bad, we don’t know yet.
But while waiting for more scientific data on the topic, it’s best to be extremely careful about cannabinoid use during pregnancy. We recommend consulting with your doctor if you’re considering using CBD while pregnant, and never doing it without a medical recommendation. CBD may not be dangerous to your fetus, but the risks are just too big to ignore.
Is CBD legal?
CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC are now legal in most Western countries. In the United States, they are legal on a federal level but may be prohibited by certain states. CBD products are not approved by the FDA.
Cannabis use and pregnancy
2018 clinical report on marijuana use during pregnancy
2014 study on the effects of marijuana use during pregnancy
2016 review of studies on marijuana use by pregnant women
1984 study on the effects of cannabinoids on fetuses
The fetus and the endocannabinoid system
2009 study on the role of the endocannabinoid system during the development of the fetus
2016 review of research on the endocannabinoid system and pregnancy