Women who use synthetic marijuana during pregnancy can develop symptoms
similar to those associated with eclampsia and pre-eclampsia, according to a new
Although women with these serious prenatal conditions get better after
delivery, researchers in California pointed out that pregnant women with a drug
problem do not.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as "Spice Gold," is similar to marijuana,
except the easily accessible drug can't be detected with a standard urine drug
test. The researchers also cautioned that the effects of this unregulated drug,
which is sold legally on the Internet and in herbal stores, are
Dr Cindy Lee and Dr Sally Nalesnik, from Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield,
Calif., conducted research involving the case of a pregnant woman who suffered a
seizure and appeared agitated. The woman, who told doctors she was about 35
weeks pregnant, had no prenatal care. She also had high blood pressure and
protein in her urine, so she was treated for eclampsia. Since the baby was in
distress and the only cure for this potentially fatal condition is delivery,
doctors performed an emergency caesarean section.
The researchers noted that the baby girl, who was born at 28 weeks gestation,
screened negative for drugs. The day after delivery, however, the woman had not
recovered and needed psychiatric intervention for psychotic behaviour.
Awareness for emerging drugs
"This was an interesting yet confusing presentation," Lee said. "We wanted to report it so in the future if something similar came up, it
would be in the literature and physicians could refer to it."
Additional lab work revealed that the woman, who screened negative for drugs,
had very low potassium levels. An anonymous caller, however, informed her
doctors that the woman regularly smoked Spice Gold.
"This was not a pregnancy problem but a drug problem," Lee said. "Eclampsia
is cured with delivery of the baby, but she did not get better after
The researchers concluded that obstetricians and gynaecologists need to be
aware of emerging drugs and consider them when making diagnoses. "I've been
surprised when people tell me what they're on," Lee said. "If a patient tells me
she's on X, Y or Z, I'll believe it. If she tells me she's not on X, Y or Z,
then I know that may not be true."
The study was to be presented at the annual meeting of the American College
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in New Orleans. Research presented at medical
meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse provides more information on synthetic