Research, Treatment

What Does a Recent Study Say About Using Cannabis for Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

October 26, 2020 11:17 am ET
What Does a Recent Study Say About Using Cannabis for Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

A lot of women experience what is referred to as ‘morning sickness’ during pregnancy. This is when the pregnancy causes nausea and vomiting, typically occurring at any part of the day despite its name. However, many women don’t know that there is an extreme version of morning sickness which can be devastating to the mother and the child. Researchers Gideon Koren and Rana Cohen have found promise in the effectiveness of cannabis for this extreme condition known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

The HER Foundation explains Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) as a potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease that causes extreme morning sickness. HG causes weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, and debility because of the severe vomiting and nausea associated with HG. The disease may even lead to long-term problems for the mother and her baby(ies). 

HG and morning sickness have relations with the body’s human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is a hormone created by the placenta as a result of being pregnant. The body produces a significant amount of this hormone and a fast rate early in the pregnancy, then these levels continue to increase as the pregnancy continues. However, the exact cause of the nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is not certain

Morning Sickness vs. Hyperemesis Gravidarum

While morning sickness and HG might sound like similar conditions because of the shared symptoms of nausea and vomiting, they are in fact quite different.

Morning sickness includes nausea and vomiting, which may be discomforting but is mostly manageable and does not leave the mother with severe dehydration. The symptoms of morning sickness also tend to disappear around weeks 12-14 of pregnancy and they do not remain present consistently. While morning sickness may cause fatigue and a slight loss of appetite, it is not enough to cause major interference with daily activities. 

Hyperemesis Gravidarum includes nausea and vomiting from morning sickness but it tends not to go away and it can lead to severe dehydration. As you can imagine, this would make it rather challenging for these soon-to-be-mothers to keep down food and fluids vital to the baby(ies). Along with the reduced ability to take in nutrients, HG can be extremely debilitating and it can lead to fatigue which can last for several weeks or even months. Women with Hyperemesis Gravidarum also tend to lose their entire appetite. All of this considered, the women with HG then experience (1) the struggle to work and do daily activities, (3) dehydration and malnutrition as well as (4) struggle to gain weight or may even lose weight despite having a baby growing in their belly. 

Symptoms of HG

The HER foundation explains that just under half of the women with Hyperemesis Gravidarum experience the symptoms for their entire pregnancy. 

  • Constant nausea
  • Complete loss of appetite
  • Vomiting more than three times a day.
  • Dehydration
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Losing more than 10 pounds of weight (or 5% of total body weight before the onset of HG).

If the mother’s symptoms are severe, the fetal can be lost or risks future issues such as infection, early delivery, congenital heart disease, skin abnormalities, low birth weight, undescended testicles, perinatal death, behavior disorders, sensory disorders, and even skeletal malformations. However, the long term effects are not certain due to research finding inconsistency in the long-term implications of Hyperemesis Gravidarum. 

What Does the Study Have to Say About Cannabis for HG?

The 2020 published research of Gideon Koren and Rana Cohen explains that HG responds partially to antiemetic medications and that cannabis possesses antiemetic effects. Antiemetic medications are used to fight against vomiting and nausea. The team took to evaluating women with HG who were counseled by the Motherisk Program before and after consuming cannabis for the symptoms by means of a validated Pregnancy Unique Quantification of Emesis (PUQE) scoring system. The PUQE evaluates the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy based on three criteria being (1) nausea, (2) vomiting, and (3) retching

The study found a significant improvement in the symptoms as well as the quality of life in the participants. The PUQE scores improved from 14.5 (upper range of severity) down to 7.5 (moderate severity). This comes after being administered cannabis with a 20% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) quantity with only traces of CBD. The team also reported that this cannabis combo had a significant impact on the severity of the condition in the form of reducing it. By reducing the severity of the condition, the mother and child are exposed to less risk of long-term effects as well as malnutrition, dehydration, and weight-loss. 

The team also referred to a survey conducted in British Columbia which reported thatof 79 pregnant respondents, 51 (65%) reported using cannabis during their pregnancies. While 59 (77%) of the respondents who had been pregnant had experienced nausea and/or vomiting of pregnancy, 40 (68%) had used cannabis to treat the condition, and of these respondents, 37 (over 92%) rated cannabis as ‘extremely effective’ or ‘effective’”. 

With Hyperemesis Gravidarum being such a potentially threatening condition, it is important to explore all avenues which may offer some relief. Fortunately enough, cannabis has become well known for its ability to alleviate nausea and vomiting and has now been shown to also reduce the severity of conditions such as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Although, treating HG with cannabis may require some experimentation as women need to find the cannabis strain which offers them the optimal amount of relief, keeping in mind that it should contain THC (as per the study). At this time, research is still much needed in terms of using cannabis during pregnancy and it has not officially been deemed safe. Therefore, it is incredibly important for pregnant people with Hyperemesis Gravidarum to openly consult with their medical physicians over the use of cannabis, or to find a doctor that will be able to consult them on the way forward with cannabis as a treatment. 

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