More pregnant women are using marijuana, study finds

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While only about 30 percent of the pregnant women in the study reported that they used marijuana in a survey, about 55 percent tested positive for it in a drug screen, though self-reporting did increase in line with use each year.

"We were concerned to find that the prevalence of marijuana use in pregnancy is increasing more quickly among younger females, aged 24 and younger, and to see the high prevalence of use in this age group", the study's lead author, Kelly Young-Wolff, licensed clinical psychologist and research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, wrote in an email.

California's initiative requires marijuana products to bear labels warning of potential health hazards, including that marijuana use while pregnant or breastfeeding could be harmful. Cannabis use in pregnant teens under 18 increased from 12.5 percent to 21.8 percent, while use in women 18 to 24 increased from 9.8 percent to 19 percent. In aggregated 2002-2012 data, 14.6% of USA pregnant adolescents reported past-month use.

The publication said, however, that the data are limited and come from self-reported surveys and "likely underestimate use due to social desirability bias and underreporting".

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The study also reported an increase in pot usage among older pregnant women ages 25 to 34.

"Our study is important because it addressed key limitations of prior studies by investigating trends in prenatal marijuana use using data from a large California health care system with gold standard universal screening for prenatal marijuana use", Goler and Young told Reuters. "California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, so they have grown up with the idea of it not only not being illegal but being a medical therapy".

Prenatal exposure to marijuana has been associated with low birth weight, impaired brain development, and effects on behaviour.

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in eight USA states and the District of Columbia.

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