Marijuana and Pregnancy
Push presents. Placenta capsules. Gender reveal parties. Lotus births. There are a lot of nauseating new pregnancy trends these days, but here’s one that might actually help you keep your lunch down: using weed for morning sickness. A recent study showed that approximately 4% of pregnant women admit to using marijuana, an increase of over 60% from 2002. As those figures are self-reported, the real number of pregnant tokers is probably higher. But medical professionals are not so happy with this development, and while they acknowledge that ingesting marijuana while pregnant is nowhere near as dangerous as smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol, they continue to reject the notion that marijuana could be a legitimate treatment for the negative symptoms that arise during pregnancy.
The research on marijuana and pregnancy leaves much to be desired. The National Institute on Drug Abuse likes to cite studies stating that prenatal exposure to marijuana results in lowered birth rates, premature birth, and cognitive, developmental, and behavioral issues. But the test subjects used in these studies were not monitored for consumption of other substances. They could have been drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco for the duration of their pregnancies. A study that ensured all test subjects were not using anything other than marijuana reported no correlation between smoking pot and low birth weight or premature birth, suggesting that cross-use of alcohol or tobacco are actually to blame for these two issues. Unfortunately, that study did not look into cognitive, developmental, or behavioral effects. In addition, a little-known study conducted in Jamaica tested babies born to mothers who smoked cannabis three times during their first month post-birth, and then again at age 4-5. These children received higher scores on their reflex and basic function tests and were more alert than the non-pot-babies. What this tells us is that we need to do more and better research; and while we wait for answers, we certainly shouldn’t be threatening pregnant women who test positive for pot with a CPS visit.
Anecdotally, most women who smoke while pregnant notice no negative side effects, and believe it is less harmful than taking the pharmaceuticals often prescribed for morning sickness, nausea, and more serious pregnancy conditions like sciatica or hyperemesis. These women take the decision to ingest marijuana very seriously and say that they are perfectly capable of looking at research and developing their own risk-benefit analysis when deciding how they treat their symptoms. They scoff at those who label them irresponsible, pointing out that society has a longstanding tradition of stripping pregnant women of their bodily autonomy, and that most of the studies done in relation to marijuana are funded by groups who have a major financial stake in fighting legalization.
So, we can all agree that pregnant women shouldn’t be getting stoned for the sake of it. But when faced with debilitating physical problems that prevent eating and mobility, marijuana is far from the worst remedy available. Google “I drank while pregnant,” and get ready for countless tragic stories. Google, “I smoked pot while pregnant,” and you’ll be hard pressed to find one tale of regret. Perhaps until we know more, we should all take a step back and stop judging pregnant women for what they put into their bodies. As Dr. Melanie Dreher, who conducted the Jamaican study, says “We can’t really conclude that there’s necessarily no impact from ganja use prenatally whatsoever, but what can be concluded is that the child who attends basic school regularly, is provided with a variety of stimulating experiences at home, who is encouraged to show mature behavior, has a profoundly better chance of performing at a higher level… whether or not his or her mother consumed ganja during pregnancy.”