Morning sickness is a common side-effect during pregnancy. While weed is a great way to relieve nausea, is it okay to use when expecting? Or does it do more harm than good?
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
Weed and Pregnancy: the two don't appear to have a lot in common. Expectant mothers are advised against many guilty pleasures like soft cheeses, eggs, and alcohol. It's no surprise that weed, among other substances, is high on the list of restrictions.
Smoking weed during pregnancy is associated with complications on foetal development, low birth weight, and premature labour. While most clinical evidence is restricted to animal studies, conclusive research is still behind the times. Unfortunately, this leaves expectant mothers uneducated about the effects of cannabis or its potential helpfulness during pregnancy.
Currently, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug in the U.S. This means that while some states have legalized the plant, federal restrictions are still in place, and research to provide definitive answers is easier said than done. In the meantime, the current medical advice states that cannabis use during pregnancy is considered unsafe.
So is having weed during pregnancy a bad thing to do? Where does the verdict lie? Find out below.
Weeding through the History
As recently as the nineteenth century, cannabis use during pregnancy was considered to be a safe, recommended treatment option. Multiple accounts throughout history state that cannabis was used frequently to relieve morning sickness and even induce labour.
Middle-Eastern, Asian and African cultures reference cannabis use in the form of oil-extraction and crushed cannabis seeds. Tinctures and inhalation were also common forms of administration to utilise the plants effects.
As early back as the ninth-century, medical texts refer to cannabis as an effective way to calm pregnancy-related pain. In fact, an ancient Persian medical text recommended cannabis to not only reduce pregnancy pains but to even prevent miscarriage.
In the nineteenth century, physicians recommended cannabis to help relieve severe morning sickness (Hyperemesis Gravidaram), recommending the consumption of cannabis every four hours throughout the day.
Modern medicine, however, strongly advises against any form of cannabis use throughout pregnancy. This is due to several reasons: Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug and is illegal under federal law in the U.S. There is also limited clinical evidence to show its effects on foetal development. Research is also difficult considering ethical limitations surrounding the unknown risks on both mother and child.
Despite the lack of clinical research, its anecdotal evidence paints a very different picture supporting the benefits of the plant.
Can Weed Cure Morning Sickness?
When cannabis is administered into the body, it reacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The cannabinoids of the plant – commonly Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabinol (CBD) – release the CB1 receptor to interfere with our dopamine and serotonin receptors. Once the receptors are blocked, it stops us from feeling nauseous and pain. This is why cannabis is gaining more traction as a pain-relief option for chronic pain, cancer pain, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
As it stands, around 1-2% of expectant mothers admit to using cannabis throughout their pregnancy. However, due to a likely fear of social judgment, this rate is considered to be higher.
There is a small demographic of women, however, that seek out medicinal cannabis to relieve their morning sickness. This is more common with the two per cent of expectant mothers who have Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG).
HG is classified as a severe form of morning sickness. Mothers-to-be will experience severe and sometimes violent bouts of nausea and vomiting. In some cases, hospitalisation is required. The condition is also associated with weight-loss and malnutrition, making it a health risk for both mother and child. Anecdotal reports state that HG can also leave women feeling depressed and helpless due to the debilitative condition.
Accounts report that the option for using cannabis – either as an oil, tincture or inhalation – not only reduces the nausea and vomiting associated with HG, but also attributes to an increase in overall mental wellness.
While U.S. cannabis dispensaries continue to recommend cannabis for morning sickness, the medical community remains apprehensive despite there is still uncertainty and gaps in the research to provide anything conclusive.
Why is Weed Bad during Pregnancy?
Advice against using weed during pregnancy has more to do with the uncertainty behind its effects than anything else. The research that is currently available is mixed, contradictory and faces legal and ethical limitations to developing it further.
Many clinical conclusions are based from animal studies, while human research is at risk of self-reporting inconsistencies (i.e. providing false information about regularity of use and mental health history) including potential environmental factors that can influence the effects of cannabis.
Animal studies suggest that regular cannabis use during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage, premature labour, and low birth weight. However, it's hard to determine if these results are consistent in expectant women. Other studies suggest that cannabis use has no effect on the likelihood of these occurrences.
Meanwhile, research also suggests that regular cannabis use can negatively affect foetal brain development. Previous research suggests that too much exposure to cannabis (and its compound, THC) in early life stages can increase the chance of developing schizophrenia. Furthermore, it can create anomalies in brain chemistry in psychologically vulnerable individuals.
These anomalies are heavily dependent on the psychological and environmental factors of the expectant mother. It's important to note that the likelihood of these anomalies is also dependent on the frequency and longevity of cannabis use.
THC: What's in a Name?
THC is one of the main compounds of the cannabis plant. Its psychoactive properties are the reason cannabis can get us high; its also the reason why cannabis is still federally illegal.
THC concentrates can be anywhere from 12-40%. It's known for its effects on our improving mood, appetite while providing pain and nausea relief.
However, depending on a person's psychological vulnerability, too much THC can cause paranoia, anxiety, depression and impaired motor control.
Because of this, it's still considered to be a Schedule I drug. Recreational use of THC is only legal in eleven states in the U.S. and remains illegal across all states in Australia.
Several animal studies suggested that regular administration of THC is associated with long-term neurological developmental issues including showing increased response to stress. When this is combined with other detrimental effects of THC on developing minds, it's not hard to work out why everyone is still sceptical about it.
Weed and Pregnancy: Yay or Nay?
As previously mentioned, there are several gaps in the research to consider:
Firstly, animal studies cannot be used as a true reflection of expectant women. Secondly, while THC has been found to influence foetal development, little research has been done on its counterpart, CBD, which is also linked to pain-relief and overall wellness.
When it comes to weed and pregnancy, there is not enough evidence to answer this question definitively. While there is evidence to suggest that regular cannabis use prenatally and throughout pregnancy can have long-term effects on foetal development, anecdotally, minimal use of cannabis for medicinal reasons has not been conclusively linked to any long-term effects.
While research into cannabis use, the ECS and its effects on foetal development are still in its infancy (pun intended), we can only hope that one day we'll have the answer.
In the meantime, education and research are paramount – especially if you're considering giving cannabis a go. It's important to remember that cannabis can affect people in different ways. So, if your morning sickness is getting too much to handle, speak with your health-care professional before doing anything else.
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