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Pregnant Women With Depression Three Times More Likely to Use Cannabis

Pregnant women who struggle with depression are more than three times more likely to use cannabis, compared to pregnant women without depression, according to a new study published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Previous research has linked cannabis and depression in several different populations, but the new study is the first to look at this relationship among pregnant women in a nationally representative sample.

For the study, researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health analyzed data from the 2005-2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual survey of people aged 12 years and older in the United States.

Pregnant women were categorized as a current cannabis user if they responded that they had used cannabis at least once during the past 30 days. The study, conducted with colleagues at The City University of New York, also looked at whether the link between depression and cannabis use differed by age, other sociodemographic characteristics, and the pregnant woman’s perception of risk associated with cannabis use.

“Our findings are timely given rapidly shifting perceptions about risks associated with cannabis use and its legalization,” said Renee Goodwin, PhD, in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.

“We found the prevalence of cannabis use was much higher among those with depression who perceived no risk (24%) relative to those who perceived moderate-great risk associated with use (5.5%).”

Among pregnant women without depression, those who perceived no risk had higher levels of use (16.5%) compared with those who perceived moderate-great risk (0.9%), though both these levels were substantially lower than among women with depression.

The findings show that depression appears to increase vulnerability to cannabis use even among pregnant women who perceive substantial risk.

“Perception of greater risk associated with regular use seems to be a barrier to cannabis use, though pregnant women with depression who perceived moderate-great risk associated with regular cannabis use were more than 6 times as likely to use cannabis than those without depression,” said Goodwin.

“This suggests that depression may lead to use even among those who perceive high risk,” she said. “With legalization, the degree to which dangers are thought to be linked with cannabis use appear to be declining in the U.S. overall, and this may also apply to pregnant women.”

Overall, cannabis use was significantly more common among pregnant women with depression, compared to those without depression. Over one in 10 (13%) pregnant women with a major depressive episode reported past-month cannabis use compared with 4% without depression who reported using cannabis. These findings remained across all sociodemographic subgroups.

Approximately one in four pregnant teens with depression used cannabis in the past month. “As brain development is ongoing until age 25, cannabis use in this group may increase risks for both mother and offspring,” Goodwin said. “Our results provide recent nationally representative estimates suggesting that education and intervention efforts should be targeted at pregnant teens.”

“Education about risks associated with cannabis use during pregnancy for both mother and offspring, especially among women with prenatal depression, are needed as cannabis is rapidly being legalized across the U.S. and increases among pregnant women have previously been reported.”

Source: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health 

Pregnant Women With Depression Three Times More Likely to Use Cannabis

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Pregnant Women With Depression Three Times More Likely to Use Cannabis. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Mar 2020 (Originally: 13 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 13 Mar 2020
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