Pregnant cannabis users turn to 'budtenders' for advice

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Pregnant women are using marijuana more often and are turning to their dispensaries for medical advice instead of healthcare professionals. A new study looked at healthcare workers and legal cannabis dealers' perceptions of the risks and benefits of cannabis use during pregnancy, published Nov. 15. 

Daily or near-daily use of marijuana has increased among pregnant women to 3.4 percent in 2017, and past month usage has nearly doubled, to 7 percent, since 2002. Current national guidelines advise women who are pregnant not to use cannabis. It has been linked to a range of birth defects including lower birth weight, still birth and neurodevelopmental issues. 

Despite the increase in usage, health guidance and education has remained much the same. Previous studies show that healthcare providers have pointed to gaps in their knowledge on the issue.  Pregnant women have previously reported their encounters with healthcare professionals when discussing perinatal marijuana use to be stigmatizing due to a lack of communication around the health risks and focus instead of legal consequences. 

Now, some pregnant women are turning to "budtenders," commercial marijuana sellers, for advice and guidance on taking the drug, meaning the medical community has its work cut out. 

A new study surveyed both 10 medical professionals and 10 commercial marijuana sellers to understand their perceptions and knowledge of perinatal cannabis use. It found that both groups understood that pregnant women were often seeking cannabis as an alternative medicine to relieve pain and nausea associated with childbearing. But the budtenders had a more positive view of cannabis use during pregnancy, with some saying it has positive effects or no effect at all.

Healthcare professionals were far more concerned. 

The healthcare workers in the study reported the need to change their clinical practices to address the reported increase in perinatal cannabis use and the need for training on the topic for themselves and patients alike. They also highlighted the need for more research to be done to help inform patient education. 

"We need to use all approaches and all people in the patient’s life to help them," Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, PhD, vice-chancellor for research at Washington State University Health Sciences and an author of the study told WSU Insider. "There is such limited research with budtenders, but they need to be part of this conversation because they are seen as trusted sources by their customers and our patients."

The authors of the study suggest that more training and education need to be given to healthcare workers on this topic. "With that additional training, I think those conversations can happen in a more nonjudgmental way, in a harm-reduction way, and hopefully trust will be built," said Dr. Barbosa-Leiker.

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