Cannabis during pregnancy A basic overview and personal opinion
by Abigail Iovine Doula and Student Midwife
(BAI does not endorse either way the use of marijuana in pregnancy, or life for that matter. This is a student article, based on her thoughts and ideas.)
Cannabis has been used for centuries in many cultures for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Cannabis was often a common ingredient in many medications in the early 1900′s until it’s prohibition began slowly state by state, finally being classed as a schedule 1 drug by the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Recently it has come in to the spotlight for effectively treating coming into the spotlight for treating seizures, stutters, pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, addiction, shrinking tumors, and healing cancer. Mothers in the United States are questioning whether cannabis is a reasonable treatment option during pregnancy. Cannabis has been successful in treating severe nausea, also known as hyperemesis gravidarum, as well as insomnia, pain, depression, and overall improves quality of life.
Unfortunately the topic is taboo, ingesting a ‘drug’ during pregnancy is not ideal. Many mom’s are afraid to ask about trying this, or are afraid to admit using it. And for good reason. Children are removed from homes, mothers and fathers sent to prison, and even with the legalization of medical cannabis throughout the country, the federal government has not changed its stance on marijuana being a drug, and illegal. It is a scary topic. The problem I found difficult, in researching for and writing this article, is the basics of understanding, on cannabis use and pregnancy. There is a surprising amount of research, but it is very hard to find. And specifically, studies on smoked cannabis is limited. So it is my goal here, is to present some basic evidence, which will hopefully allow mothers questioning the possible use of cannabis, to weigh their options thoroughly, with a better understanding of what we do know about cannabis.
THE ANECDOTAL CLAIMS AGAINST CANNABIS DURING PREGNANCY
- · it has the same affect on the mother, the pregnancy, the placenta, and the fetus as cigarettes
- · it will cause pre-term birth
- · it will cause low birth weight
- · it will cause birth defects
- · it will cause learning disabilities
- · it is a dangerous drug
- · cannabis use during pregnancy is directly related to socio-economic status, marital status, race, family class and income, and family/parenting lifestyle choices
(ie: “mothers who use are usually poor, single, using other drugs, or black”)
These claims are based on so many things it would be impossible to cover them all. But few have studies or science to back. And if they do, they have often been disproven and discredited. Even when claims such as “cannabis during pregnancy increases cancer risk later in life” are completely debunked by science, these negative ideas stick. Basic knowledge of cannabis truth (the science, history, and politics) is very limited amongst both the general public, as well as most care providers, so it is very easy to believe most of what you hear. It is also very important to me as a birth professional, that mother’s searching for information are careful not to fall to deep into the word of mouth associated with pregnancy in general. Every mom has a story, every baby is different, and the most common thing I hear from mothers is “well my baby…”. These claims make it harder for moms to research and discover on their own.
Flaws, inconsistencies, and politics
The first problem I see, is the tests and studies that have been published on cannabis use, are often based on statistical information from birth/death certificates, often relying on the mother’s involved to give firsthand honest accounts about their cannabis use, and potentially, other illicit drug use. Many of these basic statistical observations, do not take into account the possibility of other factors that may have contributed to a the birth outcome. Factors such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, abuse, etc. As a very thorough article in Mothering Magazine points out “When adverse outcomes are found, they are inconsistent from one study to another, always relatively minor, and appear to have no impact on infant health or mortality” See that article with citations here http://www.mothering.com/community/a/use-of-marijuana-during-pregnancy According to a Journal review article published out of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania, There are many discrepancies in testing for birth defects or negative outcomes. “Prospective studies that have examined women at regular and frequent intervals during pregnancy, in general, have not found a relationship between marijuana use and birth weight although some have reported a small effect of marijuana use on birth length.” “Other studies, some prospective and some retrospective, have reported correlations between marijuana use during pregnancy and smaller size at birth. Several of these studies, however, failed to control or screen adequately for other illicit drug use”. 1 There is also the political plight of cannabis and pregnancy studies. Researches are finding their work unpublished and unmentioned in articles and references, and being refused funding for more research, unless they comply with the bias preferences of the funding organization. Medical anthropologist Melanie Dreher, known for her Jamaican cannabis study, mentions this level of political influence on cannabis research in her conferences and presentations. Watch her speak here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=K9WorIM0RhA Doctors like Dr. William Courtney profess that- despite numerous “miracle patients” all over the world, who now have renewed lives and have been cured and treated like no pharmaceutical ever could-that because the industry chooses to suppress findings like his, and Melanie Dreher’s, these treatments and studies will never be taken seriously. With a money driven, political agenda from the government, the numerous ways cannabis treats illness is a serious threat to big money institutions. See his article here http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/01/07/medical-marijuana-is-safe-for-children
THE GOOD STUFF
Dr. Melanie Dreher, the Dean of Nursing at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, famously studied the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy, in Jamaica. She studied moms and their babies through their pregnancies, and up to 5 years after birth, and found zero negative effects or outcomes for the children. In fact, the children of heavy cannabis users, women who used between 21 and 70 joints (spliffs) daily, were superior to the children whose mothers did not.2 “The 30-day test showed that children of ganja-using mothers were superior to children of non-ganja mothers in two ways: the children had better organization and modulation of sleeping and waking, and they were less prone to stress-related anxiety.” The study compared women in each of 4 categories, based on the amount of cannabis used daily. (heavy, moderate, light, nonuser) The women matched in age, parity, and socioeconomic status. Researchers lived in the communities with these pregnant women during the study. The neonatal outcomes were studied on 24 exposed neonates, and 20 non-exposed, using the brazelton neonatal assessment scale, consisting of 28 behavioral test, and 18 reflex test, and showed NO difference between the two groups. The researches also found that the non users had a birth weight average of 6 lbs. 7.3 oz., and the heavy users had a birth weight average of 6 lbs. 15.5 oz. This completely contradicts any study claiming cannabis is linked to low birth weight. The children were revisited at age 4 and 5. Researches evaluated the children based on the McCarthy Scale which is similar to what we recognize as an IQ test. (called the GCI or general cognitive index) The children were also temperament tested using similar in-depth testing, observing things such as mood, adjustment, and social interaction. The final observations included home studies (standards of living and home experiences) and school attendance. IN BOTH THE 4 AND 5 YEAR OLDS THERE WAS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NON EXPOSED CHILDREN, AND CHILDREN EXPOSED TO HEAVY CANNABIS USE IN UTERO. For more information on Dr. Dreher’s study http://patients4medicalmarijuana.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/marijuana-cannabis-use-in-pregnancy-dr-melanie-dreher/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=K9WorIM0RhA Beyond Melanie Dreher’s Jamaican study, the well executed and documented studies on pregnancy and cannabis are limited. However, there are more studies and insights into cannabis use in adults for treatment of disease, and the safety of cannabis overall. See the resources section for links.
CANNABIS AND CIGARETTES
I would also like to include, briefly, some information on one particular thought on cannabis and pregnancy. The idea that smoking cannabis is similar to smoking cigarettes, is anecdotal, with limited evidence, and frankly, unfair. It is unfair, because parents who do not smoke cigarettes, but use cannabis, should not be grouped into the same category of “smokers”, and cannabis will not cause damage like inhaling nicotine, chemicals, and tobacco smoke. Cigarettes contain more than 4000 ingredients. Smoking the average cigarette is like smoking a chemical cocktail. Cigarettes also contain nicotine, which seems to promote cancer. On the other hand, while cannabis smoke contains some of the same toxins as does tobacco (this does not account for all those chemicals, just the tobacco) cannabis contains cannabinoids, that have proven anti cancer properties. There have not been any conclusive studies proving a connection between tobacco related cancers, and cannabis smoke. And there have been no cases of lung cancer in cannabis only smokers. NONE. 8 In fact, cannabis is a wonderful bronchio-dilator, which has been known and applied for many years. And recent studies have shown no correlation between cannabis only use, and COPD.9 It is possible, if you are concerned about smoke inhalation, to vaporize cannabis. You get the same instant effects, without burning the plant, so without the same toxins and tar as in the smoke. http://www.truthonpot.com/2013/11/10/the-benefits-of-vaporizing-medical-cannabis/
THE ENDOCANNABANOID SYSTEM
“Were we meant to use cannabis?”
The endocannabinoid system is a message system in the human body. The body makes endocannabinoids on demand, and the body contains 2 types of cannabinoid receptors, located in the brain, the muscles, fatty tissues, the liver and metabolic system, the stomach, and the immune system. The endocannabinoids and their receptors send messages to many areas of the body, regulating things like memory, energy, stress response, immune function, female reproduction, autonomic nervous system responses, thermoregulation, and sleep. Cannibinoids are considered neuromodulators, responsible for controlling large groups of neurons in the nervous system. The cannabis plant contains at least 85 identified cannabinoids. (phyto-cannabinoids) Each of these have different functions and responses in the human body. For example, THC is the most commonly known cannibinoid, responsible for the ‘high’ associated with taking cannabis. Cannibidol is another, known for its treatment of convulsions, nausea, anxiety, and inflammation, and has neuroprotective properties.3 Each of the different cannabinoids are being isolated and used in medical research, and all have different responses in the human body. Babies are born with cannabinoid receptors, and human breastmilk contains cannabinoids. These help babies learn to eat and gain weight, and have the same response on the body as cancer patients using medical cannabis to treat appetite issues.4 The endocannabinoid system plays a very big role in female reproduction and pre and post natal development. Implantation, nervous system development, suckling response, and brain development and protection of the newborns neurological development, are some of the ways cannabinoids works to promote and maintain healthy reproduction.5 In fact, some studies are suggesting that these receptors, and the cannabinoids, have a direct correlation to preterm birth, with studies showing that a loss of the cannabinoid receptors (CB1) can induce preterm birth.6 It is thought than an imbalance of omegas can induce the death of cannabinoid receptors. Beyond the physiological contribution of cannabis, and cannabinoids, the nutritional value of cannabis deserves recognition. Raw Cannabis or hemp foods, contains all of the essential amino acids, protein, the ideal ratio of omega6 to omega3, flavanoids, and terpenes (organic compounds found in plants that have immunological, anti-microbial actions). In addition, hemp food contains the essential quantity of amino acids, responsible for supporting the manufacturing of serum albumin and serum globulin, which are essential to life. 7 Besides these, cannabis has fiber, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and b1, b2, b3, b6, and vitamins C, D, and A. “Our planet has over 3 million edible plants on it, yet there is no one plant that can equal the nutritional value of hemp.”
A PERSONAL CONCLUSION ON CANNABIS DURING PREGNANCY
Cannabis is a personal choice. I have used cannabis during pregnancy to treat hyperemesis and insomnia, and when I’m not pregnant. Cannabis helps to manage my anxiety, and damage done by over prescribed psych-medications I was prescribed in my adolescence. I believe wholeheartedly in the miracle that is cannabis and what it has to offer. I also use cannabis to treat my many ailments, from migraines, injuries, topically to treat burns, and as tea to treat upset stomach. I don’t condone the use for children, or for teenagers, their brains are rewiring and so fragile, or women trying to become pregnant -there is a small window right before implantation, where extra cannabinoids could affect the implantation, since they (cannabinoids) are already working so hard in the process, ingesting cannabis can cause a little overload in that tiny window of time. The benefits of cannabis during pregnancy are obvious. Quality of life for sick or struggling mothers, a simple ease into sleep, or management of pain without side effects (besides a good feeling), or being able to eat after weeks of severe hyperemesis, these are all legitimate reasons to consider using cannabis. In my opinion, cannabis is a plant that is so connected to humans, works so deeply in our physiology, has so many purposes in our lives, ( a perfect food, medicine, clothes, shelter) it must have been created specifically for us to use.
I hope the world will consider this plant for the miracle that it is, and the taboo and misinformation against the users and the plant will be abolished -along with the laws preventing us from harnessing the powers of such a miracle gift.
*Personal note: “Just like anything, we can overindulge, and become addicted to things that make us feel good. Cannabis is no different.” citations 1. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/2040119/reload=0;jsessionid=F5Hlnj7qmxLIsOdCr57J.10 2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22235088 3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytocannabinoid#Phytocannabinoids 4. http://www.naturalnews.com/036526_cannabinoids_breast_milk_THC.html 5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299904007423 6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18833324 7. http://cannabisinternational.org/info/treatingyourself.pdf 8. The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Hemp and the marijuana conspiracy- By Jack Herer 9. http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/747982_3 LINKS for exploration http://grannystormcrowslist.webs.com/ http://cannabis-med.org/index.php?tpl=page&id=21&lng=en&sid=e262374922d43f421d5b64e4ebeb0e37#Nausea http://www.cannabis-med.org/studies/ww_en_db_study_show.php?s_id=264 http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1607/3193.full http://www.druglibrary.org/SCHAFFER/hemp/medical/can-babies.htm http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/cannabis-smoke-and-cancer-assessing-the-risk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_history_of_cannabis_in_the_United_States