Cannabis has been used a lot of different ways and by a lot of different people. From smoking it to eating it, there's been no shortage of ways that cannabis has been used. The problem is that it can sometimes lead to unexpected results, especially since there isn't always a lot of data for all those uses. One particular trend that might have some serious repercussions is cannabis use during pregnancy.

Use by pregnant women is on the rise

While the impacts aren't yet clear on what can happen to a fetus exposed to cannabis, that hasn't prevented more pregnant women from using it. According to data that was self-reported by nearly 277,000 pregnant women in Northern California, in 2009, 6.8% of those women used cannabis in the year before pregnancy compared to 12.5% who did so in 2017. And although there was a big drop-off in the number of women who continued to use it during pregnancy, that rate also increased, rising from 1.9% to 3.4%.  

One of the reasons pregnant women use cannabis: to treat morning sickness. A previous study had found that when women experienced severe vomiting and nausea during their pregnancies, they were about four times more likely to consume marijuana. One of the authors of the current study, Dr. Nancy Goler, considers this growing trend of marijuana use a big problem, noting that: "Until such time as we fully understand the specific health risks cannabis poses for pregnant women and their fetuses, we are recommending stopping all cannabis use prior to conceiving and certainly once a woman knows she is pregnant."

A cannabis plant.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Not much is known today

Although there is a lot of uncertainty around what impact cannabis may have on a fetus, what is generally accepted in the industry is that cannabis should be avoided when it comes to children, with some even believing that the minimum age for consumption should be at least 25, when the brain is fully developed. And so the potential impact that cannabis may have on an unborn child is an area of concern, and health officials have urged caution against using cannabis during pregnancy until more information is available. Michigan recently passed legislation that will require stores to have warning labels on marijuana products, highlighting the risks for pregnant women, as well as for those who are breastfeeding.

Information is key, and there are studies that are starting to focus on this area. The University of Washington is looking to study the impact of marijuana on a child's brain by recruiting moms-to-be to use cannabis during pregnancy for its Moms + Marijuana study.

Natalia Kleinhans is leading the study and believes it will be a unique one: "The very few investigations that have studied prenatal cannabis exposure and infant brain development have all involved women who are polysubstance drug users. No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively."

Takeaway for investors

There are many unknowns when it comes to cannabis use, and education is key. That's where a company like Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) could certainly stand out in its focus on social responsibility and in helping parents and young adults make safe decisions by providing them educational tools on cannabis use. As a household name in the industry, Canopy Growth can show it is serious about these emerging issues by helping to lead the charge on them and ensuring its products do not endanger the public.

And with a big name like Canopy taking a lead on the issue, other cannabis companies could follow suit. The more awareness of these issues, the safer cannabis use will be for everyone.