Around 64 million Americans take CBD, largely due to its wide range of potential health benefits including reduced anxiety, pain relief, and better sleep.
One particular health-related reason for taking CBD that has emerged in recent years is a trend of taking CBD during pregnancy to alleviate common side effects like muscle pain and mood swings.
While some people may be tempted to try CBD during pregnancy to ease these side effects, many remain skeptical due to a lack of information, since currently there are few clinical studies or long-term trials testing the effects of CBD during pregnancy and its impact on fetus development in the womb.
If you’ve thought about taking CBD during pregnancy but are worried about potential side effects, this guide covers everything you need to know.
What is CBD?
CBD (or cannabidiol to give it its full name) is one of over a hundred different compounds produced by the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, the cannabis compound that gives marijuana its signature high, CBD is non-psychoactive and non-intoxicating – in other words, it can’t get you high.
CBD has grown in popularity in recent years due to its wide range of reported health benefits, such as reduced anxiety, pain relief, and even anti-tumor properties. These potential health benefits, along with its lack of psychoactive properties and its general mood-boosting qualities, have made CBD very popular for medical, recreational, and social use.
The CBD market’s expansion has led to a variety of different CBD products. Most commonly it’s found as oil made from refined hemp or cannabis extracts. This oil can be ingested as it is or can be used to make a range of other products like edibles, vape cartridges, or creams and lotions for topical application.
Why Pregnant Women Consider Taking CBD Oil
Thanks to its wide range of potential health benefits – which in many cases overlap with ailments commonly associated with pregnancy – there is now significant interest in using CBD during pregnancy to treat these conditions.
However, there is currently very little research into whether or not it’s safe to consume CBD during pregnancy and what its long-term effects on a developing fetus may be.
That said, existing research does imply a number of benefits in terms of treating the common side effects and health complications of pregnancy. Safety concerns aside, the following are some of the reasons pregnant women may take CBD.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) occurs in as many as one in seven new mothers and is characterized by symptoms such as persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and restlessness.
CBD has been noted to relieve other types of depression and similar mental disorders through a number of mechanisms. In particular, CBD boosts the effects of anandamide, a “bliss hormone” that promotes feelings of happiness. As a result, CBD potentially offers treatment for PPD.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG)
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a serious condition experienced during pregnancy which can cause severe vomiting and nausea, to the extent that it may be hard to stay hydrated or maintain healthy body weight.
CBD may be able to offer relief from HG due to its antiemetic effects. While there are no studies into CBD treatment of HG, other research (particularly focusing on CBD treatment for chemotherapy patients) shows that CBD has clear benefits for regulating vomiting and nausea.
A number of studies have shown that CBD has potential as an analgesic – in simpler terms, that it can be beneficial in providing pain relief. Pregnancy often leads to all manner of aches and pains, particularly backache, so CBD’s pain-relieving properties may be appealing.
Stress and Anxiety
Due to hormonal changes within the body along with the external stresses and pressures of going through pregnancy, anxiety is a common side effect when pregnant. CBD has been well-documented as an anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) substance, which may make it appealing during pregnancy.
Thanks to its effects on CB1 and serotonin receptors, CBD has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of anxiety-based disorders. Anxiety and stress are often associated with excess production of the stress hormone cortisol; CBD helps to decrease cortisol levels, therefore offering relief from anxiety and reduced stress.
Improved Quality of Sleep
During pregnancy, it’s common to feel excessively tired or fatigued, even after sleeping for long periods. This can be a result of hormonal changes interfering with your body’s sleep patterns, preventing good-quality sleep.
Through its interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) which regulates various bodily functions, including sleep, CBD may offer relief from fatigue and promote better sleep. For example, one study showed that CBD had significant potential for treating sleep disorders such as REM sleep disorder in order to facilitate better sleep.
Insomnia can occur during pregnancy for a number of reasons, such as physical discomfort, stress or anxiety, or sleep disorders induced by hormonal imbalances affecting the body’s circadian rhythm.
As discussed above, CBD can help to treat many of the underlying causes of insomnia during pregnancy – it can provide pain relief, reduce anxiety and stress, and help to regulate the body’s sleep-related hormones through the ECS, all of which may make it easier to sleep.
Is CBD Safe for Pregnant Women?
Unfortunately, there’s currently no definitive answer on whether it’s safe to take CBD during pregnancy. Clinical studies into CBD and pregnancy are still underway, and the long-term effects on fetus development are unclear.
While clinical trials assessing the effects of CBD use during pregnancy are not yet available, however, animal studies have revealed some results that may be cause for worry.
For instance, one study found that pregnant test animals exposed to CBD, CBN, and THC impaired the development of the reproductive system in their offspring.
Another study found that the offspring of mice exposed to CBD during pregnancy suffered higher levels of anxiety and experienced developmental changes at a genetic level, including a higher genetic disposition to epilepsy and substance abuse.
These findings surrounding maternal cannabinoid exposure are obviously a cause for concern; as a result, the current advice is that CBD should not be used during pregnancy, at least until comprehensive research has been conducted to define its effects more clearly.
Effects of CBD Oil On a Fetus
Chief among concerns surrounding CBD oil use during pregnancy is its potential effects on fetus development. These concerns are exacerbated by the much clearer medical guidance surrounding the effects of THC use during pregnancy – since certain CBD oils may contain THC as well, these CBD products may pose a dual risk to fetal development.
Studies into the use of marijuana products containing THC during pregnancy have shown:
- Marijuana use during pregnancy may lead to behavioral issues later in the child’s life
- Heavy use of marijuana while pregnant leads to 2.3 times the risk of stillbirth
- When used by older women during pregnancy, marijuana leads to an average 26% reduction in birth weight.
These studies mean that while the effects of CBD during pregnancy may be unclear, CBD products should definitely be avoided if they have even low amounts of THC.
Is CBD Safe for Breastfeeding Mothers?
As with CBD use during pregnancy, there is currently not much research available on whether it’s safe to use CBD while breastfeeding. Most research has instead focused on marijuana use and the effects of THC on child development.
The primary concern is that since THC and CBD are metabolized and stored in fat, and that breast milk is very high in fat – meaning that there exists a high risk of passing CBD and THC onto your child when breastfeeding them.
Even limited use can still lead to cannabinoid presence in breast milk, with one study showing that THC was still present in breast milk six days after using it.
While research into how this may affect childhood development is limited, some studies, such as a 2011 review published in Future Neurology, have shown definite links between cannabinoids and childhood neurological development. Other studies have also shown that cannabis use while pregnant may impact your child’s immune system.
While these studies revolve around THC rather than CBD, the similar qualities of the two compounds mean that CBD may pose similar risks to childhood development. It’s therefore advisable that you avoid using CBD products (and especially CBD products containing CBD) whilst breastfeeding.
Is there a Safer Method for CBD Consumption?
If you do decide to take CBD whilst pregnant or breastfeeding, certain methods of taking it may pose less of a risk than others. Specifically, topical application may be a safer method than oral ingestion.
Whereas CBD oils, tinctures, edibles, and other orally-ingested products are absorbed into the bloodstream via the digestive system, creams and lotions applied topically are instead absorbed through the skin.
This gives CBD topicals much lower bioavailability – meaning your body does not absorb them into the bloodstream as easily. Instead, CBD binds directly with ECS receptors in the skin, allowing you to experience targeted effects on the area you apply them to.
Since CBD topicals aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream, they may pose a lower risk of transferring to your child in the womb or when breastfeeding. However, it is important to note that there is little research comparing topical and oral CBD usage during pregnancy, so the commonly accepted advice is still that you should avoid using either of them while pregnant or breastfeeding.
While CBD may provide a number of potential health benefits that can be highly appealing during pregnancy, such as pain relief, a better mood, and better sleep, the experts advise that its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding should be avoided.
There is currently very little research into CBD’s effects on fetal development or its effects on breastfeeding children. This uncertainty, coupled with worrying studies into the effects of THC while pregnant, mean that you should avoid taking CBD while pregnant, at least until more research is available.