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CBD Oil and Pregnancy: Safety & Efficacy For Maternity
Pregnancy can be both a beautiful and uncomfortable experience. Many expecting mothers experience cramping, insomnia, anxiety, morning sickness, and many more symptoms throughout the course of their pregnancy.
One of the newer and more exciting health supplements to hit the market recently that’s been shown to support many of these symptoms is CBD Oil. This oil is made from one of the active compounds in the hemp plant known as cannabidiol — CBD.
But exactly what is CBD oil? How do you take it, and what effects can it have on your pregnancy? Read on to learn everything you need to know about taking CBD oil during pregnancy.
What is CBD Oil and Is It Safe During Pregnancy?
CBD stands for cannabidiol — one of over 400 different compounds found in the cannabis plant. The chemical structure of CBD is unique in that it closely resembles some of the hormones produced by our body known as the endocannabinoids.
The similarities in the structure of CBD to these hormones allow CBD to interact with the endocannabinoid system — made up of a series of receptors around the human body. This system has many uses but the most important is its role in regulating homeostasis (balance).
This ability to interact with regulatory systems like the endocannabinoid system is what gives CBD so many health benefits. Instead of working through just one organ, it’s able to interact with organs all around the body.
CBD has been shown to support muscle relaxation (such as cramping or muscle injuries) , boost immune function , reduce inflammation , block excessive pain transmission from reaching the brain , and regulate the nausea center in the brain to fight morning sickness and other forms of nausea or vomiting .
You can find CBD in many different forms, including capsules, edibles, and oils. Out of all the different types of CBD products, CBD oils are the most popular. They’re easy to use, the dose can be tailored to match your specific needs, and they have a long shelf life.
What’s the Difference Between CBD & THC?
CBD and THC are the two most common compounds in the cannabis plant. Both compounds are similar in structure — they even have the same molecular structure: 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms.
Although similar in structure, CBD and THC each have a very different effect on the body.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in the marijuana plant — it’s what produces the high associated with marijuana use. It works by stimulating the endocannabinoid receptors in the body, activating the release of serotonin, and other neurotransmitters.
CBD, on the other hand, is completely non-psychoactive. It doesn’t activate the endocannabinoid receptors directly, and will instead work indirectly by slowing the breakdown of our naturally occurring endocannabinoids.
It also interacts with other receptors in the body associated with inflammation and the transmission of pain in the spinal cord. Many of the medicinal effects associated with cannabis owe these benefits to the CBD content.
In basic terms — THC makes you high, CBD makes you feel better.
All cannabis plants manufacture both CBD and THC — however, depending on the type of cannabis, the ratios can be radically different. There are big differences between hemp and marijuana plants where CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids are extracted.
Hemp plants, for example, produce almost no THC but will contain high levels of CBD instead.
Marijuana plants (the type people smoke to get high), are the opposite, producing primarily the psychoactive cannabinoid THC and lower levels of CBD.
For the context of this article, the CBD oils we’re talking about are all made from the hemp plant — not marijuana.
Why Are Pregnant Women Taking CBD Oil?
Pregnancy, in all its beauty, places a lot of strain on the body. There are a lot of side-effects pregnant women may experience that can impact daily life — some more severe than others.
For example, a common condition a large number of women experience during pregnancy is hyperemesis gravidarum — excessive morning sickness.
This condition can be debilitating, making it nearly impossible to leave the house when it’s at its worst. Additionally, frequent vomiting can easily result in dehydration — which is dangerous for both the mother and baby.
There are medications available for this condition, but most of them come with their own set of negative side-effects.
One such medication doctors frequently prescribe is called Prochlorperazine. This medication stops the feeling of nausea by acting directly on the nausea center of the brain. The problem is that it also causes side-effects such as insomnia, dizziness, blurred vision, and anxiety. It merely shifts the problem from nausea to something else.
CBD is becoming one of the most popular alternatives to medications like this for expectant mothers. It offers many of the same benefits of reducing nausea symptoms — without the negative side effects.
In fact, CBD actually addresses many of the side-effects anti-nausea medications like Prochlorperazine produce — including anxiety and insomnia.
This is only one example, but there are a number of different reasons why pregnant women are seeking out CBD-infused products to support various symptoms throughout the course of their pregnancy.
The most common reasons pregnant women may want to consider using CBD supplements:
- Sleeping problems and insomnia
- Mood disorders
Are Cannabinoids Safe During Pregnancy?
There are well over 67 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant — only a small handful of which are psychoactive. This includes THC as the primary psychoactive component.
The first thing we need to make crystal clear here is that THC-containing products, like marijuana, are not safe during pregnancy. There’s evidence that suggests smoking marijuana during pregnancy results in a lowered birth-weight and delays in brain development [1, 2].
When we smoke marijuana or use products that contain THC — we have to remember that this compound is going to pass straight through the placental barrier and interact with our baby’s brain.
This goes for most other supplements we take while pregnant. Everything we put into our body will ultimately reach the baby — everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
But What About CBD & Other Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids?
There are experts who are hesitant to recommend CBD during pregnancy — but this isn’t because the compound is inherently dangerous in any way — in fact, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence  and preliminary research , indicating that CBD is indeed safe during pregnancy.
The hesitation of CBD comes purely from the lack of research available on the topic.
Currently, there’s no long-term research available in the scientific literature exploring whether CBD oil is safe and effective during pregnancy — However, there isn’t anything that proves this compound is dangerous either.. This is a topic that’s been relatively ignored despite the widespread interest in cannabis research in recent decades.
Without the research to prove that CBD is indeed safe and effective during various stages of pregnancy — most experts will err on the side of caution and avoid it.
This lack of pregnancy-specific research is common when it comes to health supplements. Many supplements thought to be safe and effective are generally avoided anyway simply due to the lack of research.
There Are 3 Good Reasons for This Lack of Research:
1. It’s Hard to Get Research Involving Pregnant Patients Approved
In order to conduct any research, especially on humans, a professional ethics board needs to approve the study parameters. These boards are especially strict when it comes to pregnancy and will often deny any research requests if there hasn’t already been enough proof that the substance is safe through other studies.
2. Pregnancy Makes it Hard to Account for All the Variables of the Study
Pregnancy is a complex chemical process and affects women differently. No pregnancy is alike — we all experience the side-effects differently.
This makes it very hard to study the effects of a supplement like CBD because what might work for one person won’t for another — not because the CBD doesn’t work, but because the causes of that particular symptom might be different from one person to the next. This makes interpreting the data into something meaningful very challenging.
3. Research Takes Place Over Long Periods of Time
The last point we’ll touch here is that the research for determining the safety of a health supplement needs to be done over long periods of time — often several years.
Research like this is tedious and very expensive. A single randomized, double-blind clinical trial can cost several million dollars and take a decade or more to complete.
There are institutions that will pay for research like this, but as of yet, no one has stepped up to take it on for this particular question.
There are simply other areas of interest more important to research at the moment (like some of the exciting clinical trials currently underway exploring the use of CBD with anxiety or other common medical conditions).
On top of that, there simply isn’t any indication that CBD poses any threat to a fetus or pregnant mother as it is. It would be nice to have some rock-solid research behind us to definitively prove it — but there’s a good chance all this time and effort will only prove what we already know — that CBD poses little threat during pregnancy.
There Are Virtually No Indications That CBD is Unsafe During Pregnancy
Despite the lack of research on using CBD during pregnancy, there are virtually no examples of research to draw on that suggest the compound is unsafe.
In an ideal world, you won’t need to take anything during your pregnancy aside from wholesome food and mild herbal teas. However, sometimes you may need relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy.
CBD is an excellent option to try before escalating to some of the more harmful pharmaceutical options doctors may prescribe in its place.
Women around the world are using CBD to manage spikes in uncomfortable symptoms and avoid using pharmaceutical drugs as much as possible during their pregnancy. This has been going on for years, and I have yet to hear of even one case study to suggest CBD has any significant adverse effects on the mother or the baby.
With that said, there are a few important steps you can take to keep your level of risk to a minimum when using CBD, as well as any other supplement while pregnant.
How to Use CBD Safely While Pregnant?
1. Start Low & Go Slow
When it comes to using health supplements during pregnancy, the key is to start low and slow — meaning that you should always start with the lowest possible dose, and build it up gradually until you reach the recommended dosage.
2. Talk to Your Doctor Before Using CBD
It’s also important to remain transparent with your doctor about any health supplement you plan on taking.
Pregnancy is a complex process, and there are a number of individual factors to consider depending on other medical conditions you may have and what medications you may be taking.
Your doctor has the medical know-how to decide whether CBD is appropriate for your individual case.
3. Keep Notes on Your Doses and Progress
One of the best steps you can take when introducing a new supplement or medication in your health regimen is to take notes of your dose and how you respond to it during the course of the treatment. This will help you and your medical practitioner understand how the CBD or other supplement is working (or not).
Keep Track of Things Like:
- What dose of CBD did you take?
- How did your symptoms feel today?
- Were symptoms improved after taking the CBD?
- Did you experience any side-effects?
- Which CBD product did you take?
5. Only Use High-Quality Products
Many health supplements are unregulated — meaning that virtually anybody can buy the raw materials and put together health supplements. This leaves a lot of room for low-quality products on the market — some of which contain harmful compounds you wouldn’t want to bring anywhere near your baby.
In the case of CBD oils, the biggest problem is the contamination of heavy metals, pesticides, and organic solvents. All of these things can be harmful to the health of your baby.
Luckily, there’s a solution to this issue — which comes in the form of third-party testing.
This is an optional step CBD manufactures can do to prove the quality of the products they produce. A company will send a sample of its batch of products to an independent lab (not connected to the company). This lab will test the sample and provide a detailed analysis of the heavy metal, pesticide, solvent, and organic contaminant contents.
I recommend doing some research before you buy. Look for these third-party tests and make sure they’ve all passed before you buy that particular product.
You may also want to consider using creams during your pregnancy as they are safer than ingestible forms because the CBD doesn’t pass into the bloodstream.
6. Use CBD Products Made from Isolate Only
There are two main types of CBD product available — full-spectrum extracts and CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum extracts contain all the phytochemicals naturally produced in cannabis, while CBD isolate has had all compounds except the CBD removed.
While both options have their own positives and negatives, for pregnancy it’s recommended that you opt for a CBD isolate. These products have removed the other cannabinoids, including THC — which is considered unsafe during pregnancy.
This way you can rest assured the only compound you’re using is the one you planned for — CBD.
How to Use CBD Products (After Pregnancy)?
There are a few different ways you can use CBD oils. Let’s go over the three most common.
1. Oral Ingestion
Most expectant mothers who take CBD oil choose to orally ingest the oil.
This simply involves applying the dropper directly in the mouth and swallowing the oil. Alternatively, you can mix the oil in with a smoothie or other meal to disguise the naturally bitter flavor.
The bottom line is that CBD oil taken this way ends up in the gut where it’s absorbed over the course of about 2 hours into the bloodstream.
CBD oil products can be purchased online from trusted vendors such as CBDistillery, Royal CBD, Charlotte’s Web. They come in a variety of options (ranging from 250mg, 500mg to 1000mg) in the form of tinctures, beverages, edibles, and capsules, which are all easily consumed.
2. Sublingual Administration
“Sublingual” refers to holding something underneath your tongue where the oil and active ingredients are absorbed by the capillaries beneath the tongue.
This means of administration produces effects relatively quickly (within about 15 minutes). Once done, you can simply swallow what’s left of the oil.
This form of administration is best for symptoms that appear suddenly as it allows you to address them in a shorter window of time.
3. Topical Application
You can also use CBD oils topically for things such as skin irritations, inflammation, wounds, and muscle aches. This form of use has far fewer restrictions than other forms of supplementation and is the safest form of administration.
Only a small fraction of the CBD content actually makes its way into the bloodstream when used topically. So you can use higher doses, and you don’t need to be as cautious about monitoring for side-effects.
With that said, this form of administration will only provide relief for symptoms involving the skin and muscles. It won’t do much for any of the systemic effects CBD is suggested to support.
I know many women that use CBD oil topically in this way on the abdomen for cramping and on the lower back to alleviate pain.
Final Thoughts: Using CBD During Pregnancy
There are many reasons why a pregnant mother may want to give CBD a try. This compound is useful for common side-effects experienced by pregnant women — including muscle cramping, abdominal pain, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea.
The safety of CBD during pregnancy is taken with a lot of caution — and with good reason, we don’t have any reliable studies to prove or disprove the safety of this compound on the developing fetus.
We’re caught in a situation where CBD hasn’t been proven safe, nor has it been proven unsafe.
Therefore, the best course of action is to remain cautious when using CBD oil. This is the case with all supplements while pregnant.
Pay attention to how your body responds and be transparent with your doctor about anything you’re taking or thinking of taking while pregnant.
With all of that said, there really isn’t any clear reasons why CBD would pose any danger to yourself or your baby. There have been dozens of studies on the supplement with populations including small children — all of which have concluded that CBD is both a safe and effective supplement for a wide range of symptoms — even at high doses.
- Jaques, S. C., Kingsbury, A., Henschke, P., Chomchai, C., Clews, S., Falconer, J., … & Oei, J. L. (2014). Cannabis, the pregnant woman and her child: weeding out the myths. Journal of Perinatology, 34(6), 417.
- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research. National Academies Press.
- Choukèr, A., Kaufmann, I., Kreth, S., Hauer, D., Feuerecker, M., Thieme, D., … & Schelling, G. (2010). Motion sickness, stress and the endocannabinoid system. PloS one, 5(5), e10752.
- Su, J. Y., & Vo, A. C. (2007). 2-Arachidonyl Glyceryl ether and abnormal cannabidiol-induced vascular smooth muscle relaxation in rabbit pulmonary arteries via receptor-pertussis toxin-sensitive G proteins-ERK1/2 signaling. European journal of pharmacology, 559(2-3), 189-195.
- Cabral, G. A., Raborn, E. S., Griffin, L., Dennis, J., & Marciano‐Cabral, F. (2008). CB2 receptors in the brain: role in central immune function. British journal of pharmacology, 153(2), 240-251.
- Burstein, S. (2015). Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry, 23(7), 1377-1385.
- Russo, E. B. (2008). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 4(1), 245.
- Crippa, J. A., Crippa, A., Hallak, J. E., Martín-Santos, R., & Zuardi, A. W. (2016). Δ9-THC intoxication by cannabidiol-enriched cannabis extract in two children with refractory epilepsy: full remission after switching to purified cannabidiol. Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 359.
- Porter, B. E., & Jacobson, C. (2013). Report of a parent survey of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis use in pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy. Epilepsy & Behavior, 29(3), 574-577.
Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
CBD Oil: Is It Safe to Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding?
All What to Expect content that addresses health or safety is medically reviewed by a team of vetted health professionals. Our Medical Review Board includes OB/GYNs, pediatricians, infectious disease specialists, doulas, lactation counselors, endocrinologists, fertility specialists and more.
We believe you should always know the source of the information you’re reading. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.
The use of CBD oil is a popular trend, touted as a remedy for everything from anxiety to nausea. But since it comes from the cannabis plant, is it really okay to try if you’re pregnant?
CBD oil seems to be all the rage these days as a treatment for a whole range of ailments, including stress and pain. The growing acceptance and legality of marijuana in many states has unleashed a flood of CBD oil products on the market. You can find CBD-spiked lattes, gums, candies, lotions and beauty products almost everywhere, with fans hyping their healing powers.
But none have been approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) or regulated in terms of dosage, formulation or method of delivery. And though CBD oil, which comes from the cannabis plant, doesn’t seem to be addictive, it has not been shown to be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
What is CBD oil?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, then diluting the essence with a neutral, usually edible oil. Unlike THC, pot’s most active ingredient — and the one that gets you high — CBD is touted for its medicinal properties but doesn’t give you a buzz.
People use CBD oil by putting a few drops under the tongue, applying it to the skin or inhaling a vapor made from the oil. Proponents say it has a calming effect that helps with stress and sleep.
What is CBD oil used for?
Most people who use CBD oil are seeking relief from insomnia, pain, anxiety, depression or nausea. While there is research on its use as a treatment for a variety of more serious conditions, including epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety and even traumatic brain injury, doctors warn that it can interfere with other medications and may cause side effects including depression.
Is CBD oil safe to use during pregnancy?
While there’s scant research on the use of CBD oil during pregnancy, experts say to avoid it.
More on Pot, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should not use marijuana or any of its byproducts, including medical marijuana.
Studies show that marijuana use during pregnancy can lead to smaller babies with a lower birth weight and other unwanted outcomes.For that reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ACOG and the U.S. surgeon general all warn pregnant women not to smoke or vape marijuana or use any byproducts.
Don’t be alarmed if you sipped a CBD-spiked soda before learning you’re pregnant, however (but do mention it to your practitioner). Though there is evidence that the active ingredients in marijuana can harm a developing baby, the existing research has looked mainly at repeated, regular pot use among pregnant women.
If you are pregnant and tempted to try CBD oil, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your doctor. He or she can offer other, pregnancy-safe ways to improve your symptoms, and advise you of all the potential risks and side effects of CBD oil — both for you and the baby.
What are the possible risks or downsides of using CBD oil while pregnant?
Comprehensive research on healthy pregnant women and CBD doesn’t yet exist. But even the lowest-dose products aren’t considered safe during pregnancy.
Research shows that when moms smoke or eat marijuana, chemicals cross the placenta and reach the fetus. Exposure to marijuana could disrupt normal fetal brain development and increase your risk of giving birth to a smaller or even stillbirth baby, although there is no data to suggest CBD oil alone carries the same risks.
Nonetheless, CBD oil is a new and largely unregulated market. There are scores of case reports of products marketed as “pure” CBD contaminated with substances you want nowhere near a growing baby, including THC, pesticides, toxic metals and bacteria.
Is CBD oil safe to use while breastfeeding? What are some of the risks?
While there are no studies on the use of CBD oil use while breastfeeding, experts advise against that too. Studies show that chemicals ingested during marijuana use can be passed through breast milk, potentially affecting your little one (though there are no studies that directly show how CBD oil could affect a nursing baby).
Another reason to skip CBD oil while nursing: Using it could make you feel sleepy or slightly intoxicated, so you risk having impaired judgement while caring for your child.
What are alternatives to CBD oil when I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
During pregnancy, your body creates a warm, nurturing environment for your baby — and a cascade of uncomfortable symptoms for you.
Surging hormones, shifting fluids and a burgeoning bump in your midsection can cause nausea (in the morning and anytime, especially during the first trimester), insomnia, moodiness and anxiety. Coping with drugs or alcohol isn’t safe, but there are a range of options to manage your symptoms and help you feel better:
One surprising strategy for nipping nausea in the bud is to eat, even if the thought of food turns your stomach. Try munching on smaller snacks and meals more often, and make sure your stomach never gets completely empty (that’s when you’re more likely to retch).
Keep plenty of food on hand. Ask someone who isn’t dizzy with nausea to run to the store and stock your kitchen with tummy-soothers like plain crackers, bananas and soups, and make sure you keep something to nosh on by your bedside.
Avoid highly spiced, fried or greasy foods, which can upset your stomach even if you aren’t pregnant. Some moms-to-be swear by ginger — in candies or steeped and sipped as tea. Others say crunching ice or sucking fresh lemon juice helps soothe their stomachs.
If these and other drug-free queasiness cures don’t do the trick, ask your doctor about prescription medication for severe nausea. And remember — there is no evidence that marijuana in any form is helpful with morning sickness.
If you’ve already tried warm milk, bubble baths and foot massages to soothe you to sleep during your pregnancy, you can ask your doctor about over-the-counter or even prescription medications that are safe to take.
No matter how exhausted you feel, don’t take any sleep aid — including herb teas or “natural” supplements — without consulting your practitioner.
Anxiety and depression
Moodiness, irrational fears and crying fits can hit when you least expect them, even if you’re thrilled about your pregnancy. Surging hormones, your changing body, social isolation and lack of sleep can all conspire to make you feel worried, stressed or down.
What to do? Studies suggest talk therapy, light therapy and making sure you take care of yourself can help alleviate your feelings. Share how you feel about with your practitioner, and don’t take any medications without her okay. Some antidepressants are safe for use during pregnancy.
Carrying a baby and caring for a newborn are intense experiences, both emotionally and physically. But don’t succumb to the urge to try CBD oil. There’s evidence to suggest it isn’t safe for you or your baby, and there are plenty of other ways to help you navigate the less pleasant side effects of pregnancy and the postpartum stage.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.