Oral contraceptive pills are currently one of the most commonly used birth control methods. Apart from preventing unplanned pregnancy, they have other benefits, which is why many people rely on them. However, if you’ve ever taken any form of hormonal contraception, you probably know that taking hormonal birth control while smoking cigarettes leads to an increased risk for some serious cardiovascular issues.
Therefore, knowing this, it’s important to discuss whether smoking weed poses the same health risks. We’ve already discussed the similarities and differences between smoking cigarettes and smoking weed and their effects on the body, but does smoking weed affects taking birth control pills?
In this article, we’ll talk about whether smoking marijuana can be just as risky as smoking cigarettes while on the pill, and whether you should continue smoking weed.
How Do Birth Control Pills Work?
Contraceptive pills are used for more purposes than just birth control as they can also help with severe menstrual cramps, heavy or irregular periods, and hormonal acne, among others. But before we get into the specifics, it’s important to learn exactly how they work.
Birth control pills work in two ways. One, they prevent ovulation by suppressing the release of estrogen and progesterone, the natural hormones that the body produces around ovulation. And two, they thicken the cervical mucus which makes it difficult for sperm to reach the uterus and fertilize an egg.
The pills contain synthetic hormones that are meant to keep the estrogen levels in the body balanced. Normally, the estrogen levels are the highest mid-cycle which triggers the release of an egg from the ovary. If the estrogen levels are kept in check and there is no rise, ovulation will not occur.
Types of Contraceptive Pills and Safety
There are two types of birth control pills – one contains synthetic forms of both estrogen and progesterone (called progestin) and the other contains only progestin.
Contraceptive pills are considered generally safe to take, but they can cause some side effects in some women, such as breakthrough bleeding (bleeding between periods or spotting), headaches, sore breasts, and mood swings.
There is also a small risk of developing blood clots, which increases with age, weight, genetic background, and smoking, and this is what we’re going to discuss today.
Smoking Cigarettes While on Hormonal Birth Control Is a Well-Known Health Risk
Like we said, one of the side effects of birth control pills is the risk of developing blood clots. This risk is considered to be low as according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 10 out of 10000 people who have been taking contraceptive pills for a year will develop a blood clot. This risk is still lower than developing a blood clot during pregnancy or after giving birth.
However, it’s important to note that the risk increases if you have a family history of blood clots, are overweight, have high blood pressure, or if you’re a smoker.
With that being said, even though the risk of blood clots from birth control pills is minimal in itself, it raises significantly when you’re a tobacco smoker. Smoking is already a well-known risk factor for developing various cardiovascular problems, and when combined with hormonal contraception, it can cause serious health issues.
How Nicotine and Birth Control Pills React
On the one hand, the estrogen in the pills has a procoagulant effect, which means that it promotes blood coagulation, or in other words, makes your blood slightly thicker than it normally is.
And on the other hand, the nicotine in tobacco constricts the blood vessels, making it harder for the blood to flow freely, which, in turn, forces the heart to pump harder, which puts a strain on the whole cardiovascular system. On the whole, this combination leads to a significantly higher risk of developing blood clots.
Blood clots are dangerous because they can lead to serious cardiovascular events, such as deep-vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, a stroke, or a heart attack. People with a family history of blood clots should be especially careful if they’re smokers and on birth control.
But, Does Cannabis Use While Taking Oral Contraceptives Pose the Same Risks?
Whereas smoking cigarettes while on birth control has been thoroughly studied, in contrast, there are no clinical studies on the effects of smoking marijuana while on birth control as of yet. Needless to say, this type of research is much needed given the changing laws around marijuana state-wide and the increasing number of people using it.
However, caution should still be advised, particularly because of the lack of research. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive cannabinoid, is known to temporarily raise blood pressure, which can be unsafe when combined with hormonal contraception.
There is also a theory that THC could weaken the effects of birth control because it interacts with the estrogen receptors in the body and increases estrogen. According to this theory, THC could potentially increase the risk of blood clots. Still, this belief hasn’t been backed up by scientific evidence, so it should be taken with a grain of salt.
No Conclusion Due to Lack of Research
Given that there is inconclusive evidence, we can’t say if smoking weed poses the same risks as smoking cigarettes. While cigarette smoke and marijuana smoke have many of the same toxins that are released upon combustion, their respective plants’ chemical profiles are completely different. However, until we know more, most health professionals agree that it would be safer to avoid smoking weed while you’re on birth control or at least lower your doses.
Finally, it seems that progestin-only contraceptive pills carry an overall lower risk of developing blood clots than estrogen-containing ones, so for marijuana smokers, it may be safer to use this type of pill. Before you change your contraception pills, though, make sure to consult with your doctor.
Can I Take Edibles While on Birth Control Pills?
As with smoking cannabis, there are no studies on cannabis edibles and birth control pills. Given that edibles still contain the same key compounds and only the method of consumption is different, it’s probably safest to avoid edibles or take them in smaller amounts.
Can I Use CBD Oil While Taking Oral Birth Control?
CBD (cannabidiol) is a different compound than THC not only because it’s non-psychoactive and better tolerated, but also because it can react with certain prescription and over-the-counter meds, and it seems like estrogen-containing birth control pills fall in this category. Of course, more research is needed, but CBD inhibits the liver enzymes that are responsible for the metabolism of many medications, which results in decreasing or exaggerating their effectiveness. In the case of estrogen-containing contraceptive pills, it could make them less effective.
Is Vaping a Safer Option Than Smoking Weed?
Overall, vaping dry weed flowers is always considered the healthiest option for inhaling weed, but how this relates to birth control pills is unknown.
Can I Use an IUD or NuvaRing Instead of Birth Control Pills?
Contraceptive pills are only one of the most commonly used hormonal birth control options today, the others being IUDs and vaginal rings, such as NuvaRing. Given that all of these options are hormone-based, the same would apply to them. Hormonal birth control combined with smoking tobacco poses a health risk, while the same risk has not been scientifically explored for smoking marijuana.
Conclusion – Not Enough Research to Confirm Either Way
The prevalent use of both hormonal birth control and marijuana urges for scientific exploration of the potential negative effects of the two combined. Until we know more, we can’t claim that it’s either safe or unsafe, as it would be only speculation. Still, since there is not enough research, the safer option would be to avoid smoking weed until we learn more.
If you’re a regular weed user and you’re interested in starting birth control for the first time, make sure you get medical advice for your specific situation and assess your potential risk factors.