LOS ANGELES — A California panel on Wednesday wrestled with the reliability and accuracy of dense research studies as it considers whether to declare marijuana's potent, high-inducing chemical — THC — a health risk to pregnant women and require warnings for the pot products legally sold in the nation's most populous state.
Surveys have indicated that a rising number of mothers-to-be have turned to marijuana products for relief from morning sickness and headaches, though it's effectiveness has not been backed by science.
The Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee, a group of scientists appointed by the governor, is focusing on whether THC and cannabis smoke cause “reproductive toxicity."
An affirmative finding would make THC one of hundreds of chemicals judged to cause cancer or birth defects that California requires to carry warning labels, such as arsenic and lead.
The panel met in Sacramento to delve into numerous studies that have examined whether cannabis use during pregnancy can be linked to low birth weight, early deliveries, infant mortality or cognitive or other health problems with children.
They debated whether studies were sufficiently comprehensive and scientifically sound to make judgments about the effects of THC and pregnancy. Some studies didn't make clear how frequently a mother used cannabis during pregnancy or what products were being used. Others didn't account for instances when mothers were using marijuana and tobacco and whether that could skew the results.
Because some studies included only tests on animals, such as mice or rats, the panel discussed whether those results could be used to consider the effects on people. In other cases, studies relied on self-reporting by new mothers, putting the reliability of the information in doubt.
It wasn't clear whether the panel would vote Wednesday.
Cannabis industry officials say too little sound research is available on THC to support such a move and warn that it could make marijuana companies a target for lawsuits with unverified claims of injuries from pot use during pregnancy.
“That seems like an open-ended checkbook. How do we defend ourselves?" said Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh, who heads the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.
The review is being carried out under the umbrella of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65. It requires warning labels for chemicals judged as dangerous and allows residents, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.
The 1986 law has been credited with weeding out cancer-causing chemicals from products but also faulted for setting the stage for legal shakedowns.
Lawyers looking for a quick buck will say "give us $10,000 or we are going to take you into a long court case," Kiloh said.
The California Cannabis Industry Association echoed that fear, noting that pot's standing as an illegal drug at the federal level has choked off research by government agencies. Those studies are needed to determine if THC poses health risks for pregnant women.
“Good policy and consumer protections are based on facts and data,” spokesman Josh Drayton said.
Since 2009, California has listed marijuana smoke as being known to cause cancer, similar to tobacco smoke.
The U.S. surgeon general warned in August that smoking marijuana is dangerous for pregnant women and their developing babies. Mainstream medicine advises against pot use in pregnancy because of studies suggesting it might cause premature birth, low birth weight or other health problems, but many of those studies were in animals or had findings that were open to dispute.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is paying for several studies on marijuana use during pregnancy.
If the California panel declares pot a risk for pregnant women, it's not clear what the immediate impact would be on the state's legal pot industry.
Presumably, packaging would need to be changed over time to carry warning labels for pregnant women. But such requirements would likely take additional steps by agencies that oversee marijuana regulation and packaging.
Even products containing CBD, a trendy ingredient extracted from marijuana or hemp, can contain trace amounts of THC.
Blood reported from Los Angeles. He is a member of AP’s marijuana beat team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MichaelRBloodAP. Follow AP’s complete marijuana coverage: https://apnews.com/Marijuana.
Michael R. Blood, The Associated Press