September 23, 2010

Marijuana and Motherhood

Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science, and Sociology (Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics)

I recently finished reading what was, to the best of my knowledge, the only modern book published on the scientific findings of studies on women's health issues and the use of marijuana.

You're probably wondering, why on earth would I do such a thing?

There's a very simple answer.  There are questions I've had regarding the use of marijuana since well before I became pregnant.  I had a friend who was an avid smoker, and continued to smoke while pregnant and breast feeding.  She attributed her daughter's intelligence, friendliness, and general laid-back attitude to this exposure.  Mind you, this was about six years ago.  You will recall that my children are just now nearing their first birthday.

When I was a teenager, I was arrested for the possession of marijuana.  It being my first offense, and me being both young and obviously scared out my wits, I was sentenced to twenty hours of community service and the writing of an essay about the dangers of marijuana.  I did my research, and concluded that the only danger of marijuana was that it was illegal.  The court thanked me for my essay, and that was the end of my career as an outlaw.

Back pain, insomnia, nausea... all of these are treated in some diseases with marijuana.  But the big question... will it hurt my babies?  There seemed to be no answer.

I never forgot, however, that all of the scientific evidence I could find described marijuana as being essentially harmless.  Even then there was already a growing movement of using marijuana as medicine for treating cancer and AIDS patients, and a well known subset of other conditions that might also benefit from treatment with marijuana.

During my pregnancy, I found myself repeatedly thinking about the use of marijuana to treat my symptoms.  Back pain, insomnia, nausea... all of these are treated in some diseases with marijuana.  But the big question... will it hurt my babies?  There seemed to be no answer.

The information I could find was varied and suspect.  Each article, despite its findings, ended with a warning that because of the illicit nature of the drug, the subject sampling was also probably smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, eating poorly, and had little access to medical care.  There was no control.

My queries continued into my months of breastfeeding.  Would marijuana help my symptoms, would it hurt my children if excreted in the breast milk?  I asked my doctor, and she told me that the only information available was that THC did enter breast milk.

Finally, I found this book.  You can imagine my shock that this publication, from New York, was essentially blacklisted in the United States.  To buy it here was going to cost me nearly a thousand dollars!  For a book of less than 200 pages, less than ten years old.  The challenge of procuring it alone was incentive for me to read the entire thing.

Queen Victoria was known to use a hashish tincture to treat her dysmenorrhea.

What I learned was absolutely fascinating.  It's a collection of twelve articles, primary research, personal anecdotes, and historical reviews from institutions of learning in the United States, Canada, England, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands.  They cover a wide range of subjects from pre-menstrual syndrome, to hyperemesis gravidarum, to multiple sclerosis, to the effects of pre-natal marijuana use.  The major findings in the book that interested me the most were in regards to the use of marijuana while pregnant and nursing, the treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum, and the THC receptors in the brains of infant mice.  Also amazing to me was the information that marijuana, or more commonly hashish, was produced in the United States by pharmaceutical companies until Prohibition.  In fact, these companies continued to stand by this medicine, fighting to continue its use, until the Nixon administration.

Marijuana has been used as medicine for thousands of years, across the entire planet.  Queen Victoria was known to use a hashish tincture to treat her dysmenorrhea.  It was one of the most common drugs in the kits of doctors for delivering babies, used to accelerate and ease labor, particularly in first pregnancies.

A Canadian researcher did a review of studies of children of marijuana smoking mothers, going up to their teenage years.  The only finding that was consistent throughout these research projects was that children of mothers who smoked between five and ten joints a day throughout their pregnancy were more likely to have difficulty multi-tasking between the ages of three and twelve years old.  To cause this sort of effect, that's a daily consumption of up to ten grams of marijuana a day.

The study in the book found that two to four puffs of marijuana, not grams, were sufficient each day to allow the women to eat and drink, to essentially sustain their pregnancies.

Compared to the study of marijuana use to treat hyperemesis gravidarum, that is an extremely excessive quantity.  The women in this study used up to one gram each week.  Hyperemesis gravidarum is particularly cruel condition.  A pregnant woman with hyperemesis gravidarum experiences constant and debilitating nausea for an average of 16 weeks, although occasionally it lasts the entire duration of the pregnancy.  They waste away, unable to consume any food or water, and frequently spend much of their pregnancies being fed via IV and taking a variety of prescription drugs, none of which are considered entirely safe for the fetus.  Many women with hyperemesis gravidarum are advised to terminate their pregnancies, and many more miscarry while attempting to persevere.  The study in the book found that two to four puffs of marijuana, not grams, were sufficient each day to allow the women to eat and drink, to essentially sustain their pregnancies.

A similar quantity of marijuana was used by multiple sclerosis patients in another study to ease their symptoms.  The amount of marijuana then, found to be efficacious in treating these diseases is exponentially less than the amount needed to cause any sort of measurable harm to a baby in-utero.  Also interesting was this it was cannabis sativa that was more helpful as a medicine, while it is  cannabis indica that is gives recreational users a more potent high.


The information that I found the most fascinating, without a doubt, was what pertained to breast feeding.  As an Israeli study in lab mice found, the THC in marijuana stimulates what is essentially the eating reflex.  THC expressed in breast milk stimulates appetite, which encourages babies to nurse, and therefore survive.  This is one of the reasons attributed to the high infant survival rate in impoverished areas of Kingstown, Jamaica.  What's more, the researchers preformed a very interesting experiment.  The research team blocked the THC receptors in day old lab mice.  100% of these mice died.  With no urge to eat, the infant mice could not survive.


The research team blocked the THC receptors in day old lab mice.  100% of these mice died.  With no urge to eat, the infant mice could not survive.

This is not to say that marijuana is harmless, or that I am advising pregnant and nursing mothers to go out and get some.  Most of the researchers agree that using marijuana is generally unsafe because it is unregulated, you never know if your marijuana is diseased, or otherwise tainted.  There is a small chance any time smoke is inhaled for a myocardial infarction.  The concerns regarding lung cancer are poorly understood.  Marijuana has been found to exacerbate some existing psychological disorders.    Artificial THC pills, like Marinol, have been shown to have even more side effects and risks.  What's more, and unfortunately most relevant, is that marijuana is illegal.  This means that the act of procuring marijuana can put a person in danger, both from drug dealers and from the law.  However, as every article agrees, the evidence supporting the medical use of cannabis, particularly for conditions suffered by women, definitely warrants further study.

What I believe this means to mothers is that there might be some other answers out there.  There is apparently a wealth of research about women's health concerns and marijuana that we, the women who might want to use marijuana, do not generally have access to.   We as mothers, as feminists, and as individuals need to take the time to control our own health and lifestyles.  Self education is so important, and more and more we are made to feel helpless by our own health professionals.

One of the authors of the book, Mary Lynn Mathre, RN, MSN, CARN, wrote of the study of marijuana as a harm-reduction tool, "Cannabis as medicine is not a magic bullet that will work for everyone, and is not without potential risks.  Cannabis as a recreational drug is not enjoyable for everyone and is not harmless, but when put in the broader perspective and compared to standard medicines or common recreational drugs, cannabis offers greater benefit with fewer relative risks."

The anecdotes of women in Jamaica and Thailand who routinely use marijuana during pregnancy coincide perfectly with what my friend told me about her marijuana use and her daughter.  The folk-logic regarding marijuana use in these cultures is that it creates calmer, happier children.  The findings of the Canadian study show the opposite, that what we might call excessive use during pregnancy causes attention deficit problems.  Perhaps then, what is truly warranted is moderation.  I have said before, whatever makes you a happier, saner person is good parenting.  If what makes you happier and saner is the occasional marijuana use, you will get no judgment from me.  But please, be careful, and always be informed.

28 comments:

  1. This is great. I wish it to be published across all social platforms!

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  2. So I guess your mother and I owe you an apology for not smoking more marijuana in your infancy; in our defense I can only point out that Ronald Reagan was president, and he apparently never read most of these studies.

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  3. Regarding the last paragraph, aside from the issues of quantity, it could be that the difference is not the behavior of the children, but the rest of the culture.

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  4. Great post! You're right. People do need to be informed about their choices. It's unacceptable for children to be urged to ask questions in school, to thoroughly research, only for them to grow up and blindly follow a belief at the recommendation of society.

    Whoo. Anywho, great post. I'm glad you were able to get your hands on this book!

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  5. I had hyperemesis gravidarum for my entire pregnancy (wk 3-42) and tried everything I knew abut except acupuncture. Since having my baby I have had the energy to research treatments and found out about marijuana. I have read all the scientific studies and go into detail on my blog but it looks as though it really helps and is far safer than doing nothing or taking marinol etc (which is synthetic thc). I am in the UK so it is illegal but I am researching out of desperation and I am just horrified that the medical profession left me to starve (and risked my baby) when they must have at least heard about it. They just left us both to die. A vaporiser (volcano is meant to be the best) is the recommendation for use this way as you don't get tobacco fumes and that is more easily controlled than eating it (not that hg women can eat anything without being sick). HG is the most terrifying condition to suffer from because you know your baby needs food and that you could lose the baby from ketone build up once you are starved and dehydrated but every time you eat or drink you vomit and just have to try again. The rolling nausea was constant for me too so I just lay still in a darkened room for most of my pregnancy. The medical community KNOW medical marijuana is safer but it's all abour money and drug companies - they can't patent a plant. It's a scandal and I'll never stop spreading the word until it is legal. Shame on the governments and shame on the drug companies. They are leaving unborn babies to die and poor pregnant women to suffer. Shame on those who don't read up on it too, there's so much ignorance out there. My hope is that some poor woman out there can read my blog and not suffer as I did and that unborn babies can be saved by spreading the information on the web. Midwives should know about this.

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    1. Well said! We need more people like you.

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  6. I'm so glad you and your baby came through it! I highly recommend the book above, but much more importantly, if in the future you have need again of a relief to your HG I urge you to be very careful. Don't go looking down alleys for drug dealers. Slowly but surely, sanity is returning to drug policies world over. I recommend writing to your representatives, and of course talking openly with you doctor and midwife. Stay well!

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  7. Loved this post.

    There is so much hysteria regarding marijuana use, its ridiculous. As far as I can tell - the most danger from marijuana seems to stem from the fact that it is illegal. So there is little useful, scientific and unbiased info about it, you have to deal with criminals to get the stuff and you have to dodge the long arm of the law when/if you do procure any.

    I am definitely going to look out for this book.

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  8. What a crock. I've been a daily user for 17 years. I know all the good and bad, from personal experience and lots of research. I would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER think it okay to get babies stoned. No baby needs that. They should get love and milk, nothing else. Mom's who FORCE their babies to get stoned should be arrested.

    Anything else is self-serving...give me a break and get off the pipe!

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    1. "The study in the book found that two to four puffs of marijuana, not grams, were sufficient each day to allow the women to eat and drink, to essentially sustain their pregnancies." Two to four puffs is not enough to get a person stoned, if marijuana use is sustained (if it is, I have no idea what you're smoking). Also, you may note that "it was cannabis sativa that was more helpful as a medicine, while it is cannabis indica that gives recreational users a more potent high." In this case, it's all about relieving symptoms. I believe she is discussing use of marijuana as a medicinal substance rather than use for the purpose of getting "stoned," as you put it. I suffered from HG during my pregnancy, and cannabis helped me relieve the symptoms and allowed me to eat so that my baby girl could survive. It appears that your idea of cannabis use is different from others', and that should be okay. Shouldn't it?

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  9. Hey, great article! That book sounds really interesting, I'd love to check it out! I've thought about this, too -- there are so many prescription meds pregnant or nursing mothers are forbidden or cautioned about taking -- and it stinks when women have to decide between their own comfort/medical needs and their pregnancy or nursing relationship. And while it's sometime very warranted, sometimes its just that there is no studies done on those particular meds.

    For me, it's nausea related to migraine headaches (I also had pretty debilitating nausea for the first 16 weeks of my twin pregnancy, for which I ended up taking prescription meds for). The meds I finally got for my migraines come for it with a don't nurse for x-hours after warning from my Dr, which after further research I decided was okay for my nursing toddlers (whose milk to body weight ratio is way down, and who nurse less frequently than infants), though it's definitely something to think about. A non-synthetic med, used my women for eons, does seem so much better!

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  10. Fantastic article! I suffered from severe morning sickness both pregnancies! Nothing worked......until I gave birth.

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  11. This is very well written. I wholeheartedly agree that it is a shame that there is such an abundance of evidence in support of marijuana use to help so many health conditions and yet our government still constantly fights against that evidence. It is completely irrational. And worse, it is seriously hurting people. I also suffered from HG during my twin pregnancy. Luckily, mine ceased at about 5 1/2 months, but it was so incredibly awful. I was supposed to gain 40-50 lbs during my twin pregnancy and at 4 months, I was down 16 lbs. I thought I was going to die. I thought my babies were going to die. Then I gave in - I used marijuana. And then, lo and behold, I was able to eat something - not much, but something. That's how I survived the next month and a half until I began to feel well again. HG is so devastating. I often tell people that I'd much rather go through my 26 hour labor/delivery 3x over again than ever experience HG again.
    Thank you for writing this. I think the whole world should read it.

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  12. What an enlightening post. I have been wondering about this for a long time, too, but couldn't really find any honest information about pregnancy and marijuana use. I will have to track down that book, it sounds fascinating.

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  13. An incredible post! I bow to you for having the ladyballs to write on such a delicate topic!

    Where did you end up finding the book for a reasonable price?

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  14. I enjoyed your post, it was reasonable and level headed take on the issue. I've always leaned right on this topic, but it's not one I get fired up about, and it seems, by what you've said, that there's no real reason to consider marijuana as different from any other medicine. So I guess, if the research backs it up, great, go for it. Especially for those poor moms you mention.
    HOWEVER
    My one reservation is mainly a gut reaction against the wider cultural ramifications--which may be more or less imagined-- of introducing *recreational* use into mainstream society- it seems bringing in yet another thing requiring responsibility and moderation-- not the strong suits of 21st century Americans-- would cause more problems than public revenue or whatever would be worth... Like I said, maybe I'm imagining or exaggerating problems; maybe it's just my anti-hippie prejudices coming out when I react negatively to *recreational* marijuana and positively (with every fiber of my trad Catholic being) to alcohol/tobacco use. OR maybe there is actually something essentially different there that doesn't come out in consequentialist/scientific reasoning...
    But I don't know. Like I said its not an issue that I would start throwing punches over, but it is interesting... Thanks!
    http://samwisethegreek.wordpress.com

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  15. Farren Square: I found it online at a head shop in Amsterdam. I paid about $40, including s&h. Ever since, I keep getting emails asking me if I want free marijuana seeds. No thank you, Dutch head shop!

    Samwise: I agree about responsibility and moderation. And much more importantly, I would NEVER advise a pregnant woman to use a substance purchased from a potentially dangerous stranger on the street. There's just no knowing what's in there. But that is the best argument for the widening of the scope of providing for medical use- if there are genuine medical benefits, why negate them by putting the safety of the source in question? I would definitely look into your feelings regarding marijuana v. tobacco and alcohol, as those are two substances that we have more than enough evidence cause death and bodily harm. And that, again, I would never recommend that a pregnant woman ever ingest.

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  16. Thank you so much for your post! This is definitely a subject that warrants more attention. I have been suffering from HG for several weeks, and am concerned about taking Zofran, which was what they prescribed when I was at the hospital.

    Since there is such a lack of information on the safety of pharmaceutical drug use in pregnancy, and given the horrible side effects of Thalidomide and with babies born missing limbs, it is even more worthwhile to research marijuana.
    My understanding is that Melanie Dreher also has followed studies of Jamaican women and marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There are some videos of her speaking at different seminars which can be viewed online.
    I also found the book by Dr. Russo for $39.95! I hope to purchase it soon.
    http://www.tower.com/women-cannabis-medicine-science-sociology-ethan-russo-hardcover/wapi/102135318

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  17. Incredible post! I read the follow-up first, and then this one and I am very impressed. You have a professional and well-researched approach here and I applaud you! I haven't come across any posts like this from fella mommies and I find this very inspiring.

    I have always known about the natural healing powers of marijuana and am pleased you are educating more people here on your blog :)

    I'm looking forward to reading more!

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  18. I want to find this book. A also have questions about the use of marijuana and women's health. I cant remember how I found your site, but I am glad I did. I didn't even know any thing about this book and I liked what you had to say. If you have a chance come visit me and follow me. www.atmycounter.blogspot.com

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  19. I would love to read some of your sources if you could provide them. I am familiar with Melanie Dreher's study on pregnancy and cannabis use, but have not found any of this information on breastfeeding and cannabis use.

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    1. My biggest source was a book called "Women and Cannabis," which is actually a few issues of the Journal of Cannabis Theraputics, I think. Here's a link:
      http://www.amazon.com/Women-Cannabis-Medicine-Sociology-Therapeutics/dp/0789021013

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  20. A very essential read. Must have it.
    ___________________
    Sun City Medical Marijuana Card

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  21. The interesting thing about marijuana is that it creates a cycle. The brain naturally produces a substance called gaba. This is what calms us down when we are anxious. The regular use of marijuana decreases the production of gaba, so that the brain can no longer self soothe. Robbed of gaba, a person will become more anxious. Hence, they feel a greater need for cannabis, which created the problem in the first place. The only way to get the brain to start increasing its own gaba again is to stay cannabis free. Longer is needed if you've been using longer, less if you used less, i.e., 30 days to two years, depending on the person.

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    1. I would love to see the research associated with this claim! Do you have any links?

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  22. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights! Studies around the world are slowly proving that medical use of cannabis may benefit a lot of people. Due to the bad image marijuana has had over the years, people are quick to judge and disagree when doctors here and there promote using it as an alternative drug.

    Vincent Mehdizadeh @ Canna Med Box

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  23. This is an informative blog by which I have got that info which I really wanted to get. Seeds Marijuana

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