It’s no secret that cannabis is widely utilized for its medicinal properties. Today, people across the country use cannabis to treat a range of conditions. Despite this, there are still questions about the long-term effects of medicinal cannabis use on certain demographics, specifically by mothers. People question whether a mother’s cannabis consumption affects breast milk, the fetus, stunts growth, or causes developmental disorders. Some even doubt a mother’s ability to care for her child if she’s consuming cannabis.
Even though the stigma around cannabis consumption is slowly but surely declining, we must provide certain groups with extra support to get the most out of their experience with the product.
How Many People Are Using Cannabis During Pregnancy?
A report published by Preventive Medicine Reports analyzed the behavior of 1147 women. According to the report, 16.8% of the women used cannabis before pregnancy, 5.5% during pregnancy, 6.6% after pregnancy, and approximately 20.3% of women reported using cannabis for all three time periods. The primary reasons given for cannabis consumption during pregnancy were stress and nausea relief.
It’s essential to consider the limitations of self-reporting when asking women to describe their cannabis use. Socioeconomic conditions greatly influence the accuracy of these studies, which might lead women to downplay their frequency of consumption. Additionally, because cannabis may be consumed in several forms, it is tough to get accurate, consistent answers.
What are The Effects of Using Cannabis While Pregnant?
Unfortunately, there has not been extensive research done in this area, but medical professionals generally advise mothers or those thinking of becoming pregnant to avoid cannabis use altogether. The most important part of examining this question is to consider the limitations of self-reporting for several reasons. Socioeconomic conditions greatly influence the accuracy of these studies, which might lead women to downplay their frequency of consumption. Additionally, because cannabis may be consumed in several forms, it is extremely difficult to get accurate, consistent answers.
We spoke with Amanda Hayes, the content manager at Chesapeake Apothecary and The Foundry, two medical cannabis dispensaries in Maryland and West Virginia, respectively. She explains that when her eldest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, she met with Dr. Patricia Frye and began a cannabis micro-dosing treatment. The treatment showed “immediate positive results and an increase in his quality of life.”
The experience with her son spurred Hayes’s passion for helping others with their pregnancies and childcare through alternative medicinal methods. With her previous experience as a doula, she was able to provide personal support for her patients, some of whom saw her more than their obstetricians. Hayes explains that many of her pregnant patients used medicinal cannabis before becoming pregnant to treat conditions they already had.
It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All
Some women and mothers don’t use cannabis only to treat their current symptoms. Rather, they have pre-existing conditions which led them to use cannabis. Hayes receives treatments of medical cannabis herself to manage pain from her fibromyalgia. When she gave birth in 2019, she says that she was treated like a “drug addict” despite disclosing her usage of medicinal cannabis to her Nurse-Midwives. When her son tested positive for cannabis, Hayes had to meet with a caseworker and show proof of her medicinal cannabis card. But she knew she was being treated unfairly. “I am tanned and Hispanic, and I was on state health insurance at the time,” she says. “Maybe she made assumptions about my intelligence or had prejudice about me because I was a woman who was on Medicaid testing positive for cannabis.”
Some of Hayes’s patients might face risks when using medical cannabis during their pregnancies. To help, Hayes recommends an alternative dosing regimen so that these women find a method that works best for them. By doing this, Hayes provides the individualized care that women need when going through the pregnancy and birthing process, something uncommon in today’s medicalized society.
What About Breastfeeding?
Consistent with the rest of the research on cannabis use and pregnancy, there are mixed results and recommendations when it comes to cannabis use and breastfeeding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that women abstain from cannabis use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, a 2015 study done in New England titled, “Surveying Lactation Professionals Regarding Marijuana Use and Breastfeeding,” yielded different results. Of 74 lactation professionals, 41% said that a woman should continue breastfeeding if she is using cannabis. Another 44% said their recommendation would be influenced based on the amount and frequency of cannabis used by the mother. Only 15% of lactation consultants said that they would encourage a mother to stop breastfeeding if she was using cannabis.
In Hayes’s experience, she reported no abnormalities when she breastfed her children after beginning medical cannabis. Two of her children were born prior to her ever having consumed cannabis, while her other two were born after she began treatment. “I breastfed all four of my children long term, and they are all very healthy children,” she told us. “All of them are the same.”
What is Missing?
“We are missing an entire therapeutic sect that has been demonized in so many ways,” Hayes says. “Midwives and cannabis are probably two of the greatest resources stolen from modern medicine,” –an argument upheld for years by natural-birth supporters.
It’s difficult to find conclusive answers on the safety of cannabis use during pregnancy for many reasons. But survey bias and our highly medicalized society are huge factors at play. Furthermore, even though medicinal cannabis use is more widely accepted today, getting insurance to cover these expenses is an uphill climb.
The bottom line is that medical professionals generally advise women to refrain from any sort of cannabis consumption while they are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, many women like Hayes have had positive experiences using cannabis during this extremely emotional and exciting time in their lives, and they are passionate about recommending it to others.