Cannabis and Pregnancy: Is it Safe?
Every pregnant mother in the world is familiar with so called ‘morning sickness’ where pregnancy induces varying degrees of nausea and vomiting. And anyone who has ever experienced nausea and vomiting will certainly agree that it is one of the most uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy. That means for millennia mothers have been using various decoctions of herbs to help mitigate the effects of morning sickness.
Dr. Ethan Russo is a well-known cannabis researcher. From his publication, ‘Cannabis Treatments in Obstetrics and Gynecology: A Historical Review’, we see that from as early as the 7th century BCE, Chinese and Persian physicians were prescribing cannabis flowers and seeds to induce contractions, prevent miscarriages, and reduce incidences of post-partum hemorrhage.
By the mid-19th century, the use of cannabis tinctures became prevalent in Western cultures to hasten pregnancy and reduce pre-partum nausea. The historical use of cannabis use for pregnancy-associated pain and other complications is also referenced in African, Indian, and Southeast Asian cultures.
Either way, historically, cannabis was frequently relied upon for many healing properties. It’s anti-emetic effects have been well documented. We have a few modern studies that help shed light on this phenomenon.
In 1994, Dr. Dreher published an article in Pediatrics which examined a segment of Jamaican women who customarily rely on cannabis to treat pregnancy-induced nausea, and to help increase appetite. They feel that it holds therapeutic value for both mother and fetus. Her study reported no significant physical or psychological differences in newborns of heavy marijuana-using mothers at three days old, and found that exposed children performed better on a variety of physiological and autonomic tests than non-exposed children at 30 days. (This latter trend was suggested to have been a result of the socio-economic status of the mothers rather than a result of pre-natal cannabis exposure.)
THE AMAZING STORY OF DR. CURRY
Recently a physician recounted her amazing story demonstrating the powerful, beneficial effects cannabis had on her pregnancy which was rapidly going downhill. Dr. Wei-Ni Lin Curry provided an account of her own battle with a serious, life-threatening sub category of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). This condition is less common affecting 1-2 % of pregnant mothers while morning sickness may affect as many as 80% of pregnant women.
While morning sickness is a problem, it is little more than an uncomfortable nuisance. However, HG is a serious disorder often times requiring hospitalization and the use of pharmaceutical antiemetics.
If not addressed, it can lead to death of both the mother and fetus.
Dr Curry recalls her experience. After two weeks of pregnancy she became desperately nauseated and vomited 24 hours a day on and off. In fact, the vomiting — essentially retching after the stomach has been emptied — became so morbid that after vomiting all of her bile in multiple colors she started vomiting blood.
At this point the disease takes on special significance. After retching for hours the gastro-esophageal (GE) sphincter (a muscular cuff around the end of the esophagus before it opens into the stomach), can eventually tear and release a tremendous amount of blood. It’s called a Mallory-Weis tear which you more commonly see in severe alcoholics, not in pregnancy.
This type of hemorrhage can be fatal. At this point, between hemorrhages, she became so desperate that she considered an abortion, twice, for a cure. But rather than abort she decided to try marijuana she was so frantic. She said:
Finally, I decide to try medical cannabis. … Just one to two little puffs at night, and if I needed in the morning, resulted in an entire day of wellness. I went from not eating, not drinking, not functioning, and continually vomiting and bleeding from two orifices to being completely cured. … Not only did the cannabis save my [life] during the duration of my hyperemesis, it saved the life of the child within my womb.
These are pretty powerful words, coming from a physician no less.
A recent survey on Vancouver Island by the Vancouver Island Compassion Society reported that of those women who reported using pot, 92% claimed that weed was ‘extremely effective’ or ‘effective’ in combating their symptoms.
In other words, marijuana appears to be a very potent and reliable antiemetic. But is it safe for mother and child?
There are several more studies provided by NORMAL in their review which supports cannabis as a safe medicine:
In their 1997 book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence…Drs. John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer assert, “Marijuana has no reliable impact on birth size, length of gestation … or the occurrence of physical abnormalities” among infants. Large-scale surveys appear to back up their conclusion.
2002 survey of over 12,000 British women demonstrated no significant differences in the cannabis group versus the control group.
A 1999 survey of 12,885 Dutch mothers reported similar findings after controlling for maternal tobacco use. “The use of cannabis is not a major prognostic factor regarding the outcome of pregnancy,”
A 1997 Australian study of 32,483 mothers also reported, “There is inadequate evidence that cannabis, at the amount typically consumed by pregnant women, causes low birth weight.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, longitudinal studies assessing the potential impact of pre-natal cannabis exposure on neurobehavioral and cognitive functioning are inconclusive.
Observing large cohorts of pregnant women has limits. Confounding factors such as low socioeconomic status, education, smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol, or eating fast food can make these epidemiological studies difficult to assess. Furthermore, these studies can only show correlations, not causations.
Currently two large cohorts of women are being studied.
Recently, a comprehensive review of both studies published in the journal Neuroscience and Behavioral in 2005 concluded that if an association between pre-natal cannabis exposure and certain neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits exists, it is a “subtle” one and appears to be primarily associated with children exposed to heavy amounts of cannabis as well as alcohol and/or tobacco.
In conclusion, it appears that small doses of pot may indeed prove to be harmless to the mother and infant. However, studies are still ongoing and the definitive answer may prove to be elusive. Keep in mind that using prescription antiemetics may also be unsafe for your baby especially in the turbulent first trimester when the teratogenic/mutagenic effects of prescription drugs have their greatest effect.
What I can say with some confidence is that these same studies implicate tobacco and alcohol as serious threats to your pregnancy and to your fetus’s cognition and neurodevelopment. But we already knew this.
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