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Marijuana and Pregnancy Study Launching in Colorado

Is cannabis safe for mothers to use while pregnant?

The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI), at the University of Colorado Denver, recently awarded a Child and Maternal Health Pilot Grant to Torri Metz, MD, so she could study the detection of prenatal marijuana use in a legalized environment. Dr. Metz, a high-risk obstetrician and Assistant Professor at the CU School of Medicine, plans to develop a novel questionnaire that will ask new mothers about the use of marijuana during their pregnancy. The study of marijuana use in pregnancy is only possible in a few states across the nation—Colorado being the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Child and Maternal Health Pilot Program grants are provided to young investigators whose work will ultimately improve child and maternal health and prevent diseases that begin early in life. The CCTSI CMH Pilot Grant program is graciously funded by Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Research Institute.

Dr. Metz provides care for pregnant mothers and delivers babies at both Denver Health and University of Colorado Hospital. “I am seeing more and more self-reported marijuana use in the clinic,” says Dr. Metz. “I don’t I know if this is a reflection of women using more marijuana or of the women being more willing to tell us about their use, since it is legalized. But it is definitely coming up a lot more in my practice since legalization.”

Dr. Metz says that although physicians tell women they should not use marijuana in pregnancy, it is difficult to provide them with data to support the recommendation. “If you look at the literature now, you find very mixed results” Metz says. “About half [of the studies] say there is an association between marijuana use and adverse outcomes; about half say there is no association.”

Given the fact that legalization is expanding across the country, there is a need for accurate, data-supported information. “We could provide women and doctors lots of valuable information in terms of counseling down the road,” Metz says.

The study itself will enable Metz and her colleague, Associate Professor Ingrid Binswanger, MD, MPH, MS, to develop a survey tool for new mothers to ascertain self-reported use of marijuana. With the patients’ consent, researchers will administer a survey to the new mothers and also take a sample of their umbilical cord blood when they deliver their baby to determine if the subject did indeed use marijuana through pregnancy, and to what extent.

As a result, researchers will be able to see if the self-report agrees with the umbilical cord sample —allowing the researchers to determine the best way to garner information about marijuana use during pregnancy for future studies.

"Without the CCTSI and this pilot funding, I would not be able to get the preliminary data to validate this tool and to write larger grants that will have an impact on clinical care,” Metz says. “The CCTSI grant is the first step towards what will hopefully be lots of research in this area. It will enable me to move forward with what will ideally be some high impact research that will benefit mothers and babies for many years." 

- Dr. Torri Metz

“This CCTSI Pilot Grant program is important for several reasons,” says Ronald Sokol, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the CCTSI. “It illustrates and supports the innovative and relevant research that is coming out of the university today, and it exemplifies the positive impact the CCTSI makes on advancing the careers of young researchers. Down the road it will help improve the health of individuals in our community and across the nation.”

Metz says she hopes to ultimately look at the association between marijuana use and fetal growth restriction, hypertension in pregnant mothers, stillbirth, spontaneous preterm birth and more. “These are the obstetric issues we face every day and we don’t understand the impact of marijuana use on these outcomes. I want to change that,” Metz says.

This article was originally published via the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI):

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