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Following a wave of legalization all around the world, including the United States, cannabidiol (CBD) has been all the rage lately. Unlike THC, ingesting CBD won’t get you high, but it does have some science-backed medical benefits. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that “CBD was associated with significantly decreased subjective anxiety.” Another study found that topical CBD application reduced pain and inflammation symptoms without any side effects.

These sort of findings might prompt many pregnant women to try CBD oil, especially those who had already been suffering from some chronic pain before their pregnancy. But just because something is safe for adults that doesn’t make it good for kids or a developing fetus.

CBD research is lacking

Cannabidiol is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil can be made from both marijuana or hemp cannabis plant and can be extracted in a number of ways. However, in order for CBD products to be considered legal, it must come from a hemp plant and have low (0.03%) or no THC levels.

Cannabinoids trigger effects in the body by mimicking the endocannabinoids which play a crucial role in both brain and bodily functions. The human body has two types of receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptors are involved in coordination and movement, pain, emotions, and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, and other functions. THC attaches to these receptors. Meanwhile, CBD2 receptors interact with the immune system, affecting inflammation and pain.

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Until not long ago, scientists used to think that CBD oil acts on CB1 and CB2 receptors, but new research showed that’s not the case. Instead, the cannabinoid affects the mechanism that binds specific receptors involved in anxiety (serotonin 5-HT1A) and pain (vanilloid TRPV1).

However, while such progress is encouraging, research CBD is lagging far behind the stupendous rise of the product’s popularity. Even marijuana-related research is woefully lacking, let alone CBD.

For instance, there is no study, peer-reviewed or otherwise, that has investigated the effects CBD oil might have on pregnant women or offspring.

“We know cannabidiol works on the same class of receptors as THC, but in different ways,” said Dr. James Lozada, Obstetric Anesthesiologist with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“These receptors help our brains develop normally. Otherwise, we don’t have a lot of information about the effects CBD has on pregnant women and their babies. Because of the uncertainty, I recommend not using these products during pregnancy — because we just don’t have enough information to say whether it could harm your growing baby.”

According to research, marijuana use has not been associated with birth defects, stillbirth or preterm birth. This, in itself, is good news for pregnant women who have decided to take CBD oil, but this is by no means an endorsement. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For instance, because cannabinoid receptors are involved in brain development, some fear that CBD oil might disrupt fetal brain development. However, others believe the opposite effect could be true — that is promoting healthy fetal brain development — since CBD can promote neurogenesis.

So, there’s still significant uncertainty regarding CBD for pregnant women at this point. Perhaps the biggest safety concern at the moment is the fact that CBD is primarily sold as a supplement, not a medication. This means that, in the United States, it is not regulated by the FDA. In other words, the safety and purity of the CBD oil product can be questionable, to say the least.

Bottom line: it’s better for pregnant women to avoid CBD oils or related marijuana products until clinical trials deem such products safe. As always, speak to your doctor before making any important decision that might influence the wellbeing and development of your baby.