What Happens When A Medical Cannabis Patient Gets Pregnant?
Many pregnant people are using cannabis, would you?
It’s something that never crossed my mind until I became pregnant myself; you may wonder what a person who uses cannabis daily does when pregnant? If you’re pregnant now or planning to become pregnant and aren’t sure if you can continue smoking, this is for you. At first glance, most of the suggestions you will come across from doctors and government organizations is that it is not recommended that you continue smoking, vaping, or using any cannabis products during your pregnancy. There’s even a strong warning against CBD products for pregnant women. I have read on multiple websites that doing so can harm yourself and the growing baby.
But after a bit more digging, I came across a community of canna-moms and advocates for cannabis use in pregnancy. There’s a huge discussion forum in the popular pregnancy app What To Expect called Canna-mommas, where mothers ask questions about and share their experiences with cannabis and motherhood. There’s also many groups in Facebook and pages on Instagram for canna-moms discussing the topic of cannabis and motherhood and prenatal cannabis use. I realized that that some midwives actually suggest using cannabis for morning sickness and other discomforts during pregnancy and found out about the history of indigenous women around the world using cannabis to help ease pregnancy symptoms.
I learned a lot while researching this topic and I found a lot of interesting information from Dr Michele Ross, a Neuroscientist PhD/MBA who helps patients heal chronic pain with cannabis, kratom, and mushrooms. She speaks about the endless misunderstandings about Cannabis as a medicine. She even offers a 10 module course for a Cannabis and Motherhood Certification and many other courses on cannabis and CBD. On her website, she addresses the taboo of cannabis use for pregnant moms and how much of this is based on poorly designed studies funded by anti-cannabis groups or taken out of context.
What Official Health Organizations Think
I browsed through some of the courses Dr Ross offers for the certification in cannabis for motherhood, and module 4 is an overview of what official health organizations in the United States think about cannabis use during pregnancy.
The American College Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists statement:
“Pregnant women should be encouraged to discontinue use of medical marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy for which there are better pregnancy-specific safety data.”
In short, we just don’t know enough about cannabis in pregnancy to feel comfortable recommending it.
American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Our current understanding of the ECS and its role in the development of neural circuitry early in fetal life also provides “theoretical justification” for the potential of marijuana substances, particularly THC, to affect neurodevelopment.”
So although there’s not enough evidence on this topic, “theoretical justification” is enough reason not to recommend it? Why aren’t other drugs treated the same way?
With the rise of legal cannabis worldwide, cannabis use in pregnant women more than doubled in the US and increased further during the pandemic. Although more women are using it, the topic is still taboo when discussing it. In the United States, sharing this information can even result in a caregiver reporting them to social services. This results in unfair discrimination and a culture of silence on the topic.
Pregnant Women Punished For Cannabis Use
In 2019, Lindsay Ridgell gave birth to her baby boy in Phoenix after struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum throughout her pregnancy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting, and according to reports had been hospitalized twice with the condition.
Shortly after her son was born, a social worker showed up in her hospital room to inform her that she would be reporting her to the Department of Child Safety and her employer. She was then placed on Arizona’s child abuse Central Registry for 25 years as punishment. This was seen as neglecting her newborn son by treating her hyperemesis gravidarum with medical cannabis.
Anyone over the age of 21 can use cannabis in Colorado, but if a pregnant woman uses it, she will be reported to social services. That means pregnant women are the only adult demographic to which cannabis is not legal to consume in the state. The Colorado department of public health gave this guidance for health practitioners:
“Current Colorado law defines a baby testing positive for a Schedule 1 substance (including recreational or medical THC or other drugs) as an instance of child neglect which requires a report to social services.”
- The Marijuana Pregnancy & Breastfeeding guide for Colorado health care providers prenatal visits
Note that cannabis is a schedule 1 substance, and Marinol (used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy) is a schedule 3 substance, so a mother that is prescribed Marinol would not be reported to social services; however a mother who is prescribed cannabis would be.
The Marijuana Pregnancy & Breastfeeding guide for Colorado health care providers prenatal visits focuses heavily on the legal aspects of this, like drug testing and how to report pregnant mothers who test positive rather than presenting any clear evidence on the harms of cannabis use during pregnancy since data is limited.
What Happens When The Entire Country Legalizes Cannabis?
Canada is the first country to legalize cannabis completely, and they took a different and more realistic approach to address cannabis and pregnancy. As opposed to many American health organizations claiming that not enough information is out there, we recommend women not to use this. It’s unfair to tell pregnant moms to stop using cannabis if there is no apparent reason for it.
Canada Centre On Substance Abuse and Addiction:
“Knowledge gaps exist around quantity and quality of cannabis used, issues pertaining to breastfeeding, and the impact of different types of cannabis exposure apart from smoking”
- Clearing the smoke on cannabis: maternal cannabis use during pregnancy
Advocates For Pregnant Women’s Rights
Canna Mommy Nonprofit, is an organization located in Colorado provides access to information on natural medicines for mothers, including cannabis. Their mission is to build a safe bridge between patient and health care provider. They offer a free virtual clinic that provides resources for mothers to learn about cannabis and pregnancy, pregnancy care, products, cannabidiol (CBD), and up-to-date legal information. They also offer support and resources for mothers who may face legal issues. This is a first because before Canna Mommy, there was no established public free program or space for people get advice from a medical professional about cannabis and pregnancy. Prior to this, many mothers had to turn to forums and social media for education.
So Is It Safe To Consume Cannabis While Pregnant?
Unfortunately there’s no simple answer right now. Recent research has shown that more pregnant people are using cannabis while pregnant with widespread legalization. With cannabis’ well-know benefits like help with sleep, nausea, and other pregnancy related symptoms, it’s easy to see why the number of pregnant omen turning to the plant for help has increased. However, most doctors are quick to recommend cannabis use discontinue with pregnancy, saying that it could have negative effects on the fetus. It’s recommended to discontinue use even if the mother already has a prescription for other medical issues before her pregnancy. The fact is that there have not been many studies done and of those the results are still inconclusive.
Certain studies have indicated that consuming cannabis while pregnant could effect the IQ and the birth weight of the child but the methodology and results of those studies have been called into question especially as we learn more about cannabis from a scientific standpoint. The effects of various cannabinoids and different consumption methods still haven’t been studied at all. Since there still isn't any clear evidence on the harms of cannabis use during pregnancy, it also is not fair that pregnant mothers are punished for using their legally prescribed medicine. At the end of the day, more studies have to be done on the topic in order to provide a clear answer.