Can pregnant women safely consume marijuana?

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By Tracy Seipel • Today at 9:00 AM

On many mornings, with a few puffs of pot — and one cannabis-laced chocolate-covered blueberry in the afternoon — Richelle has been able to stop the severe nausea that has accompanied her third pregnancy.

The regimen not only ended the constant vomiting, but the San Jose, Calif. mother can now finally eat an entire cheeseburger — and keep it down.

“The medical field frowns on pregnant women using marijuana,” said the 27-year-old bookkeeper, who lost 30 pounds early on in her pregnancy because of her condition, called hyperemesis gravidarum, which also causes dehydration.

“But I possibly would not have kept the pregnancy without it,” said Richelle, who is now in her 25th week and asked that her last name not be used because she does not want to be publicly attacked for her beliefs.

After two decades of allowing its medicinal use, California is now one of eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana for people 21 and older. Public health officials, however, say the implications surrounding its consumption by some people — like pregnant women and adolescents, who may be more vulnerable to its potential harmful effects — still must be addressed.

Some states — including Alaska, Washington and Colorado — require warning labels saying the product should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. But California does not.

Surveys show that most Americans don’t like the idea of pregnant women using marijuana.

A Yahoo News/Marist College poll of 1,222 adults released this month found that 67 percent of Americans think it’s safer to use marijuana than opioids to relieve pain. But 69 percent said it’s not acceptable for pregnant women to use marijuana to reduce nausea or pain. Half of cannabis users — and 60 percent of those who have tried it — also don’t think pregnant women should use marijuana, according to the poll.

Dr. Ira Chasnoff, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a leading researcher in the development of children prenatally exposed to alcohol and drugs, said a range of studies supports those concerns.

“The general belief is that it’s not harmful,” Chasnoff said of cannabis consumption. “But there are all sorts of aspects of cognitive function — the way the brain works — that are impacted by marijuana exposure.”

He pointed to research that shows low birth rates in babies born to women who have consumed pot during pregnancy, as well as data on higher rates of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as they get older. Other research has shown that those offspring later in life have problems with “executive functioning,” or the ability to plan and complete tasks, Chasnoff said.

That’s why he believes guidelines that communicate the risk and discourage the use of medical marijuana by pregnant women — or women considering pregnancy — must be established. Research indicates that more U.S. women are now using marijuana during pregnancy, most often to treat morning sickness — which most physicians say can be better treated with more established medications.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that in 2014 nearly 4 percent of pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 44 reported having used marijuana in the past month, compared with 2.4 percent in 2002.

In Oakland, 36-year-old Sarah — who runs a cannabis consulting business with her husband — said she has been using the drug during her 17-week pregnancy to help not only with morning sickness but also with sciatica pain and mood swings.

Like Richelle, she takes a few puffs of a marijuana cigarette every so often, but also uses a few drops of liquid cannabis on her tongue at night. The pain disappears, she said, and she’s able to keep food in her stomach.

She has read a host of studies on the potential side effects the drug might have on her baby. So have some of her relatives, who have told her that using marijuana will “risk having my child come out dumb,” said Sarah, who also said she didn’t want her last name published because she fears she’ll be ostracized.

But she remains unconvinced by what she calls “limited research.” And she says that she doubts that an organically grown plant could harm her baby.

A landmark 395-page study on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids released in January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also wasn’t able to draw many conclusions.

After reviewing the available research, the authors determined that the long-term effects of smoking cannabis during pregnancy are still unclear. But they did agree that there is substantial evidence that the babies of women who smoke marijuana while pregnant have lower birth weights.

Sarah says she doesn’t abuse the drug but believes it helps to reduce the anxiety that comes with being pregnant. “There is a human inside me growing, and everyone is telling me what I can and cannot do,” she said. “It creates a lot of worry.”

And in her line of work, she has also met many women who used marijuana when they were pregnant and whose children — of all ages — seem well-adjusted.

“Everything in moderation,” Sarah said.

Chasnoff strongly disagrees with that view — and with patients who tell him that cannabis is natural and organic. That doesn’t mean it can’t potentially harm a fetus, he said.

“We know that marijuana’s THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) crosses very readily from the blood into the brain, so even a small amount has the potential for crossing over into the fetal brain,” Chasnoff said.

The chemical is drawn to fat, he said, and because the fetal brain is almost all fat, the drug remains there longer. It’s one reason why marijuana, unlike other drugs, can be detected in a person for three days to three weeks afterward, depending on the amount and concentration of cannabis consumed.

Marijuana also crosses readily into a mother’s breast milk, said Chasnoff, adding: “We have been able to measure the level of marijuana in the baby’s urine.”

Dr. Frank Lucido, a primary care physician in Berkeley who for two decades has recommended medical marijuana to his adult patients if he determines it will benefit them, doesn’t believe there is enough significant research to warrant pregnant women avoiding cannabis.

“With anything in medicine, you weigh the benefits and the risks,” said the 69-year-old physician. “Nobody has ever died from cannabis, but we know women die from hyperemesis gravidarum.”

So if a pregnant patient is unable to keep food or liquids in her stomach, and marijuana would help, then he would advise it — as he does to perhaps one or two patients each year.

“But I usually discourage it (smoking marijuana) because we don’t know — and smoking can cause low birth weight,” Lucido said. “And maybe smoking (the drug) is the problem.”

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Give a Pregnant Mom Marijuana, Be Guilty of Murder?

Opposing abortion alone does not make someone pro-life. That stance is merely “pro-birth,” according to Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun and thus a member of a broad, billion-person-strong social movement—the Catholic Church—which does not look kindly upon abortion. To be pro-life, one must care for someone after they’re born, not just before. 

So. What makes someone so concerned with the welfare of the unborn that they’d like to imprison their mothers for even the slightest taste of cannabis while pregnant—creating a sort of ob-gyn to prison pipeline?

“Fucking crazy” might be one reasonable conclusion. It would also make you a “Wyoming state lawmaker,” such as the cabal in Cheyenne that’s pushing a new package of drug laws.

K2Radio brings us news of the push to criminalize—further, since there are plenty of bad parenting laws on the books—“drug induced infant endangerment.”

The brainchild of Rep. Jim Blackburn, Rep. Mark Jennings, Rep. Jared Olsen, Rep. Nathan Winters and Sen. Ogden Driskill—dudes, all of them, of course—the bill creates stiff penalties for a pregnant mother who uses any illegal drug, and even stiffer penalties for anyone who provides the pregnant mother with said drug.

Nobody would argue using methamphetamine or heroin while pregnant is a good idea. Same thing with alcohol or tobacco. Conveniently, the way this law is written, it would be remarkably easy to punish a mother for even the slightest marijuana use.

To be guilty of “drug-induced infant homicide,” a mother need only give “birth to a viable infant during or after drug use,” after which point “and the infant dies, or drug use contributes to the infant’s death.” That would be a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

The threshold to be guilty of “drug-induced infant abuse,” which carries a five-year prison term, is even lower: A mother faces that penalty if she uses “an illegal narcotic drug while pregnant and gives birth to a child who tests positive for any amount of that drug” (emphasis ours).

Before you fool yourself into thinking this is reasonable, remember the context.

More mothers than ever before are using cannabis during pregnancy in order to deal with morning sickness. To all the men out there: Imagine being sick, every day, in some cases for most of the day. Then imagine being in a situation where you had to eat in order to deliver nutrition to the thing growing inside you, but being too sick to do so.

It’s still not clear what happens to a child whose mother uses marijuana during pregnancy, though some studies suggest there’s no issue at all.

This comes shortly after the DEA recently specified that cannabidiol, CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, is a Schedule I drug. And finally, since marijuana is fat-soluble and stays in the body for weeks or longer after use, the takeaway is that if this passes, a mother who so much as sniffs cannabis during pregnancy could lose her child and end up in the state pen for a five-spot.

But that’s nothing compared to the individual who delivered the drugs to the expectant mother.

If someone “knowingly” delivers a Schedule I or II controlled substance to a pregnant mother, they risk a prison term of between 10 and 25 years, according to K2Radio.

Methamphetamine is a huge problem in Wyoming, according to the Justice Department… just as drug abuse is an issue anywhere the economy is trash, including poor neighborhoods in big liberal cities. And like everywhere else, heroin use has come roaring back in Wyoming, riding the crest of the tsunami of prescription pills unleashed in America, as a 2015 story in GQ detailed.

You don’t often hear more incarceration and more crime as the solution to these ills—at least not in serious academic or scientific circles. But that’s not the thinking when you’re pro-birth—and pro-prison.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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