I am a regular cannabis user. I use it recreationally to relax at the end of the day but also medicinally to help with appetite issues and, more recently, with depression/anxiety. I recently found out that I am pregnant. It was not planned but my newlywed husband and I are discussing our options and deciding whether or not we are ready to have a child. Smoking has been the only thing to help with the morning sickness, which has been horrible. And I have continued to use it for my stress but I have cut back a lot and am trying to only smoke when I feel like I need to.
I am concerned but I just can’t seem to find adequate research about smoking pot while you are pregnant. I am scared to ask my doctor, and I am scared I will be judged by my friends and family who know I smoke once I tell them I’m pregnant. I don’t want to just give up this natural medicine that has worked so well for me and switch to a chemical solution. Of course, I don’t want to do anything that could be potentially dangerous for my baby, I just want to figure out a way that keeps us both healthy.
— K. M.
Congrats on your pregnancy! I am so sorry to hear that you’re experiencing awful morning sickness. I hope you outgrow it as your pregnancy progresses, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at pregnancy and cannabis and what we know to hopefully put your mind at ease.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to looking for vetted, quality information on pregnant folks and cannabis is that there really isn’t much to go on. The studies that are out there have reviewed women that have self-identified as using cannabis, but they may also smoke cigarettes or do other drugs, which can certainly have an impact on results. And the data is collected via questionnaires, which means we can’t gauge how accurate the results are.
As it stands, there doesn’t seem to be an easy or medically ethical way of having control groups where amounts of cannabis are strictly regulated in order to get accurate results. Plus, like any cannabis research, so much depends on how you consume cannabis, in what quantities, and what types (which strains, the quality of them, the TAC levels, etc.).
Here is what we do know: People have been using cannabis as a natural remedy to combat nausea for a long time, all over the world. A 2002 study—which did account for some extraneous variables (mother’s age, pre-pregnancy weight, smoking cigarettes, self-reporting, etc.)—looked at 12,060 British women and found that there was no significant difference in growth between infants who had been exposed to cannabis in utero versus those with no exposure. However, these types of self-reported studies aren’t the most reliable.
Since you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor, I reached out to a good friend of mine who also happens to be an OBGYN to see what she had to say. She concurs that there is just not enough research to know one way or another, but notes that certainly the prevalence of usage now is even higher than we know of.
“It is challenging to get clear answers,” she says. “Between the confounding factors (like alcohol use, tobacco use, other drug use, socioeconomic issues) AND the fact that animal models are not great in this area, we do a lot of ‘best guess,’ for lack of a better term. But we can’t ignore the data that we do have, which suggests a decent amount of risk.”
She also mentioned something I had never heard of before: “While I have plenty of patients who use cannabis to help with nausea and appetite issues—obviously, a well known anti-emetic that has been proposed as a treatment for hyperemesis—there is also something that is essentially called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and I have seen it in some of my own patients. Cannabis can also have paradoxical effects on the gastrointestinal tract and CNS. It can be seen in patients with long-term cannabis use and recurrent nausea and vomiting (often cyclic) and abdominal pain. There’s no clearly identified mechanism for what causes it.”
My OBGYN friend also said that no one should ever feel embarrassed or worried to ask their doctor anything, and that the relationship should be built on trust and lack of judgment and honesty—from both sides.
The bottom line is to proceed with care and caution. If cannabis helps, use it in small doses sparingly. Try to avoid high-THC strains, and use a vaporizer for flower or oil to avoid any side effects of straight-up smoking. Also, there are a number of natural products you can try to help ease morning sickness before using medication, like ginger chews, pregnancy pops (basically sour lollipops), and Sea Bands.
Best of luck to you!