Is CBD Safe During Pregnancy?

In an effort to avoid the negative side effects of prescription drugs, a growing number of people are exploring natural wellness therapies to relieve their health problems.

One of these is cannabidiol, or CBD oil. For healthy adults, CBD oil has been shown to reduce inflammation, nausea, pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

Incidentally, these are all problems that affect new and expecting mothers. Pregnant women often suffer from morning sickness and nausea throughout their pregnancy, and it’s common to experience anxiety and insomnia throughout pregnancy and into early motherhood.

CBD has been shown to be extremely safe for most people, but is it safe during pregnancy?

Is CBD Safe During Pregnancy?

At this point, no, CBD is not considered to be safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, new and expecting mothers are used to hearing that while something is virtually harmless for most people, it’s not necessarily safe for them. Everyday items like caffeine and tuna suddenly pose a newfound risk during pregnancy.

CBD may be another one of those items. For most people, it’s extremely rare to experience any side effects when taking CBD. If anything, the person might feel a slight sense of relaxation, but that’s usually about it.

Generally, CBD is considered to be very safe and well-tolerated among humans, even in high doses. However, there are three risk groups who should avoid or use caution when taking CBD. These include:

  • People taking other medications, as CBD may affect how the liver metabolizes certain drugs;
  • Children, because insufficient research has been conducted among this age group to verify the safety of CBD; and
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Other, more serious, side effects may include: diarrhea, nausea, dry mouth, low blood pressure, or changes in appetite or weight.

In the case of pregnant and breastfeeding women, the recommendation to avoid CBD is two-fold. Part of it is simply because, as with children, not enough research has been done among this population. Researchers tend to avoid conducting research in pregnant or breastfeeding women because they don’t want to risk endangering the fetus.

The risk of CBD isn’t merely an unknown with pregnant and breastfeeding women, however. According to the few studies that have been done, CBD and related cannabinoids may be potentially dangerous for the fetus.

Studies of Cannabis Use During Pregnancy

The medical community currently doesn’t recommend cannabis use during pregnancy mostly because not enough research has been done to verify whether it’s safe. However, some studies have been done that do indicate there could be a risk for the fetus.

If you’re interested in learning why CBD may be unsafe during pregnancy, we review the current research below.

THC may cause low birth rate, brain defects, and need for NICU care

A meta-analysis of 24 separate studies found that infants exposed to THC in utero were significantly more likely to have a lower birth weight and nearly twice as likely to require placement in neonatal intensive care.

THC may also negatively impact the formation of neuronal networks, resulting in nervous system birth defects. Further, there is evidence that both prenatal and perinatal exposure to THC can negatively impact the infant’s cognitive development and increase the risk of a stillbirth.

All of these studies specifically looked at mothers who smoked or used marijuana during their pregnancy, not CBD oil—so you may be asking yourself why this matters. Marijuana and CBD oil are quite different, and they contain varying amounts of CBD and THC. In the next section we explain why that difference matters, and how it affects what these study findings mean for pregnant mothers.

Marijuana vs. CBD oil

While THC and CBD both come from the same plant (cannabis), they have different properties, and their concentration in the final product depends on which strain of the cannabis plant they came from (e.g. marijuana vs hemp).

Both THC and CBD have proven health benefits. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid, though, so in addition to its health benefits, it produces a mind-altering high in the individuals who use it. CBD, on the other hand, contains no psychoactive properties whatsoever, allowing its users to enjoy the health benefits without a high.

Because of this key difference, people may use THC for either recreational or medicinal purposes, while people primarily use CBD for health reasons. As a result, manufacturers of CBD oil typically extract their CBD from hemp. The hemp strain of cannabis contains a higher concentration of CBD, and very little THC (about 0.3% or less). Marijuana, conversely, can contain anywhere from 5% to 20% of THC.

Bottom line: Marijuana is unsafe during pregnancy

Marijuana shares many of the same health benefits of CBD oil, along with a few unique benefits of its own, which is why medical marijuana has been approved in so many states. However, these studies make clear that marijuana use during pregnancy can be dangerous to fetuses, due to the high concentration of THC.

Pregnant women should avoid using CBD oil sourced from marijuana, but what about CBD oil sourced from hemp?

As long as CBD oil is sourced from hemp (which it usually is, and you can easily verify on the product website), it will contain 0.3% THC or less. However, researchers don’t yet know if even small amounts of THC could be dangerous for the fetus, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

CBD may affect the placental barrier

CBD oil is also available in isolate form. With CBD isolates, the CBD oil undergoes an additional process after the initial extraction, during which all other cannabinoids (including THC) are removed, to create a pure CBD product. Is this type of CBD safe during pregnancy?

Unfortunately, the research also says no.

One study found that chronic exposure to CBD could reduce the protective functions of the human placenta. Worse, another study found that even short-term exposure to CBD could reduce the protective function of the placenta, and that CBD use was associated with an increase in permeability of the placental barrier—which could potentially endanger the fetus.

THC poses a far greater risk to infants than CBD, but the risk of CBD is still high enough for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to recommend that expecting mothers avoid or stop using CBD during their pregnancy.  

Is there any good news for CBD and pregnancy?

Some early studies in rodents have found that CBD oil may reduce the occurrence of memory and social defects after the fetus was exposed to infection, and that the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD helped improve intestinal symptoms among infants with gastroschisis, an abdominal wall defect.

So, it may be that with more research, scientists may find new benefits of CBD for mothers or their infants, and that it may be safe. For now, however, it’s best to avoid using CBD unless recommended by your doctor.

Is CBD Safe During Breastfeeding?

THC may still pose a risk to breastfeeding infants, although fewer studies have been done. THC tends to concentrate in breast milk, which may increase the level of exposure the infant experiences during breastfeeding.

As for breastfeeding, no studies have been conducted observing the effects of CBD specifically during pregnancy. It’s possible that CBD isolates may be a suitable alternative for these mothers experiencing anxiety or insomnia. Since the research is nonexistent, however, it’s critical that you speak with a doctor before starting CBD. They are best positioned to advise you on your options, such as whether you can take a break from breastfeeding to use CBD, or how to adjust the dosage so it doesn’t endanger your infant.

Alternatives to CBD for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

While CBD can be very beneficial, to date the evidence simply isn’t strong enough to say whether the benefits outweigh the risk to newborns during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Instead of CBD, women can try alternate wellness therapies to make it easier to cope with the difficulties of pregnancy and early motherhood.

Nausea

To avoid nausea, eat smaller and better. Avoid foods high in spice, fat, and grease.

Also, try to avoid having an empty stomach. It sounds counterintuitive, but having smaller snacks throughout the day can actually reduce nausea, as long as you are eating foods that are easy on the stomach, like plain crackers and bananas. Sucking ice can also be a good strategy for staving off nausea.

Insomnia

For sleep problems, do what you can to tire yourself out during the day, so you’re exhausted by nighttime. Perform light exercise, and spend time getting natural sunlight to help reset your circadian rhythms.

At night, your focus should shift to become as relaxed as possible. Follow a soothing bedtime routine that eases your mind and body. Activities could include aromatherapy, a warm bath, and yoga or meditation. Eating well will also help make it easier to sleep at night.

Anxiety

Eating and sleeping better will naturally relieve anxiety, but it’s common to feel anxiety and depression throughout pregnancy and postpartum, due to surging hormones and the massive change to your lifestyle.

Talk therapy can be helpful here, as can finding support from other new and expecting mothers. You can also try meditation, journaling, and finding opportunities to spark joy throughout your day—like an outing with friends, listening to music, or another favorite activity.

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