Note: This post is only looking at marijuana use in women who are not taking other drugs. Mothers who are taking marijuana in addition to drugs like cocaine, meth, heroin, etc. have more complicated issues and probably somewhat different perceptions of marijuana use than women who are only using marijuana, especially under legalized circumstances. OK, onwards…
I had to write a paper for my MPH class on using an ecological framework to deal with a
public health issue. I decided to write on marijuana use in pregnancy because legalization has created an interesting new landscape with marijuana use. But I was in for a couple of surprises. First of all, more women are using marijuana during pregnancy!
Marijuana use among pregnant women is still relatively rare, but it is increasing. In 2002 2.37% of pregnant women reported using marijuana within the last month. In 2014, that number had climbed to 3.85%. Also startling is that some data from Hawaii showed that women who are suffering with severe nausea in pregnancy are more likely to use marijuana during the first trimester than those who are not suffering from severe nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. The THC levels of both recreational and medicinal marijuana have increased from 4% in 1995 to 12% as of 2014 (Volkow, Compton, Wilson, et. al., 2016).
Perception is important
If people think something is harmful, it’s unlikely they’ll do it. On the other hand, if they believe something to be safe, they probably will continue. The catch is that our perceptions don’t always match with the actual risk level. Research indicates that many young adults who use marijuana perceive it to be “natural” and “safe”. Individuals who believe marijuana is natural and safe often believe that tobacco products are addictive and can cause long-term adverse health effects, so they are aware that smoking and tobacco products like cigarettes and e-cigarettes are harmful, they just don’t believe that marijuana carries the same kind of negative effects (Popova McDonald, Sidhu, et. al., 2017.)
But marijuana use can be harmful to a baby!
Marijuana smoke contains the same chemicals as tobacco smoke with the same risks to lung health for both the mother and baby. (American Lung Association, 2015). Any chemicals that the mother takes in through smoking marijuana are passed to the baby, just like smoking tobacco products. Marijuana has been shown to decrease milk supply in animals and smoking tobacco products is known to decrease milk supply for human mothers. If you’re trying to make a good supply of milk for your baby, marijuana might not be a good choice.
Marijuana use in pregnancy has also been linked to cognitive impairments such as impulse control, attention and visual memory in children whose mothers smoked marijuana during pregnancy (Volkow, Compton, Wilson, et. al., 2016). Some studies have associated marijuana use in pregnancy with pre-term birth, low birthweight and intrauterine growth restriction, but these studies haven’t always controlled for other drug use. Because the mothers in these studies were using other drugs, it’s difficult to say whether marijuana alone would cause these pregnancy complications. (That’s why I’m leaving them out of the discussion.) Based on my research, the most reliable findings for marijuana use are the dangers of smoking in pregnancy and the possibility of long-term cognitive impairments. THC also passes to the baby during breastfeeding. But all of these reasons should be enough to avoid using marijuana during pregnancy and breastfeeding!!!
Marijuana is a medicine- treat it like one
“Weed out of all these, to me, is not as harmful … because they suggest it to cancer patients. It’s medicinal.” – 19 year old respondent to survey about perceived harms and benefits of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
Medicinal and legal and even “safe” are not the same thing as risk-free. There are plenty of substances that are safe under other circumstances but not during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding. Moderate consumption of alcohol outside of pregnancy is relatively safe and thalidomide is a pharmaceutical that can treat leprosy and myeloma. But during pregnancy, alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and thalidomide causes birth defects. (In an eerie parallel, thalidomide was prescribed to mothers in the 1950’s and 1960’s to treat morning sickness and caused tens of thousands of babies to born with severe birth defects. It remains one of the great cautionary tales of medications and pregnancy.)
Competent herbalists will tell you that certain herbs and essential oils should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding because they can have harmful effects on the baby. Even a relaxing trance state can be harmful when used improperly. My Kundalini yoga teacher is also a certified hypnotherapist and all of her imagery journeys begin with the warning that you should not drive while listening to an imagery journey track because it can put you in a profoundly relaxed state and affect your ability to drive safely. Marijuana is like any other medicinal substance and needs to be used with caution.
But the morning sickness is killing me!!!
Believe me, I feel your pain. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I lost 15 pounds in 6 weeks because I was either too nauseated to eat or throwing up almost everything I did eat. But please, please, please, don’t use marijuana to relieve the misery. Here are some other things you can try:
- Unisom and vitamin B6– Unisom is a safe-for-pregnancy OTC sleep aid. When taken with vitamin B6 it can help with nausea. I have heard a lot of women with severe morning sickness swear by this. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends Unisom with vitamin B6 for relieving morning sickness. Check with your doctor or midwife before you start taking it.
- Essential oil candies– sour and ginger flavored candies are another recommendation, but I feel like the ones flavored with essential oils really work best. I’ve used Preggie Pops and Preggie Pop Drops during my pregnancies and they have really helped. They helped take the edge off the nausea in my first pregnancy so I was able to eat. (I really liked the sour flavors. But the herbal ones were good too.)
- Essential oils– Peppermint, orange, lemon, lavender, ginger can all be helpful. Use with caution, consult your care provider. You don’t even have to apply these to the skin, you can sniff them.
- Sea Bands– Some moms swear by these. Sea bands are a little band that you can wear that applies continuous pressure to an acupressure point called Pericardium 6 (the Chinese name for this point is Nei Guan).
- Cut out dairy products for a little while– I tried this during my first pregnancy and it helped a lot! Add in other sources of protein to help keep your blood sugar level.
- Add in a green smoothie- This also helped during my first pregnancy. Drink slowly and take little sips. Dark leafy greens are extremely nutrient dense and can help replenish your stores of calcium and iron.