The Women Who Smoke Weed While Pregnant
Stoner moms are vibrant members of the cannabis community, and the legal weed industry is making sure to capitalize on women and the power of the pussy. But there’s also an under-the-radar population of female cannabis consumers that isn’t as openly talked about: pregnant women*.
Medical marijuana is becoming increasingly accepted in the US, with 23 states plus Washington, DC legalizing the drug for those in need of its remedial benefits. During pregnancy, women endure many of the health issues medical marijuana is often prescribed for, be it nausea via morning sickness, loss of appetite, anxiety, and more. But to many, smoking weed while expecting is akin to pre-natal child abuse, and some doctors (and lawmakers) may even consider pregnant marijuana use worthy of a call to child protection services.
But the facts about pot’s effects on fetuses remain unclear. A report issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment earlier this year found that THC is indeed passed to children through the placenta and breast milk. Among the report’s findings was “mixed” evidence of weed’s association with low birth weight, and “moderate” evidence that pot during pregnancy is associated with infants suffering from attention problems, cognitive impairment, or low IQ.
This week, however, the American Medical Association agreed to push for regulations that require medical and recreational cannabis products to include the message “Warning: Marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding poses potential harms.” This is less severe than the warnings on tobacco or alcohol products, but the move is still disconcerting to some who think the message is premature.
Cannabis supporters, on the other hand, like to point out a 1994 study focused on newborns in Jamaica as proof that bud and babies aren’t really a bad combination. Due to limited research and a lack of long-term studies on cannabis’s effects on fetuses, though, we still don’t know a whole lot on the subject.
Smoking weed while pregnant may be less damaging than alcohol, but it’s arguably more of a taboo. Yet even with the stigma attached, certain soon-to-be mothers are still down to hit the vape. We spoke to four women (whose names have been changed) about why weed benefitted them during pregnancy, how their husbands encouraged smoking (while their doctors didn’t), and if they ever worry if weed has affected their children’s development.
VICE: What was the timeline of your pregnancy like?
Shauna: I got pregnant in April 2014 after losing a baby at about ten weeks in March 2014. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in December of 2014. I used a midwife because I wanted a natural childbirth and I had been very unhappy with the OB’s office I used for my first pregnancy.
Will you tell me about your experience using weed while expecting?
We lived in a state with no legalized medical or recreational cannabis use for the first four months of my pregnancy. During that time, I was vomiting so much that I had to go to the emergency room at least once every week (though sometimes as often as three times a week) for IV rehydration. My doctor prescribed me Zofran, but for most of my pregnancy my insurance company wouldn’t cover it, and it cost about $11 a pill. Cannabis was about $20 a gram and it let me actually eat something. The only time I ate during those months was the few times I was able to find someone to buy cannabis for me. Four months into my pregnancy, we moved to Colorado and it became a much easier process—we were literally a five-minute drive away from a dispensary.
So you used cannabis for morning sickness? Did it help?
The medical term for what I suffered is “hyperemesis gravidarum,” which is a fancy way to say I was throwing up so much that it was a danger to my health and the health of my baby. Marijuana did help. Immensely. I don’t think I would have made it through without cannabis.
Did you seek advice from your OB or midwife about this? What did they say?
After we moved to Colorado, I did ask my midwife about it. She recommended using it, but as a midwife she couldn’t actually give me a Red Card, so I just bought it from a recreational dispensary.
How did you consume the cannabis? Any strains work better than others for the morning sickness?
I used a vaporizer because the coughing from smoking made me throw up more and edibles would just get thrown up before they had time to work. I don’t remember any of the strains that I used, but none were any more effective than the others, really.
VICE: What do you do for work, and do you live in a state where cannabis is legal?
Nora: I live in North Carolina. It’s definitely illegal here, with most offenses being felonies, though possession of up to an ounce and a half is a misdemeanor. I’m married with a one-year-old daughter and we actually have another baby on the way that’s due in May, 2016. I work in the office for the owner of a fast food franchise. I do paperwork and operational tasks.
What was your relationship with cannabis like before you got pregnant?
Before I ever really smoked pot I kind of looked down on people who did, and especially expecting mothers. I just thought, How could you do drugs while you’re pregnant? Then I went to college and learned on my own that marijuana is not a “drug” in the conventional sense. I started smoking regularly and I actually became good friends with quite a few women who smoked while pregnant. It changed my opinion completely as I knew these women cared for their children and there seemed to be no lasting effects on the kids.
What was your usage like during your first pregnancy? Did you use it recreationally, or was it to help with pregnancy symptoms?
During most of my first pregnancy, my usage didn’t change at all. I smoked every morning before work and a few times more throughout the day. I had morning sickness and I know that it’s normal for women to lose weight from it, but I just really didn’t like the idea of my baby going without nutrients, so I did smoke to help with my appetite and to make sure I wasn’t throwing up everything I ate. My worst symptom was how emotional I was, though. At the start of my first pregnancy, I was managing a restaurant and most interactions with customers would reduce me to tears. It was awful, but smoking helped me just chill out and roll with the punches. I could actually work my job without being a sobbing mess.
Did you face any judgment from friends or your partner for using cannabis, or were they into it?
My husband encouraged me to continue smoking because we both personally believe that it’s not harmful. Some of my friends would have had a negative opinion about it, so I just didn’t tell them. My best friend and I were pregnant at the same time. She was a military wife and smoked the whole way up until the day she delivered. I did get a lot of judgment from my doctor’s office, though. They told me flat out that if I tested positive while I was in the hospital, child protective services would get involved and I wouldn’t be taking my baby home. I stopped smoking at around seven months. It was mostly OK, but my appetite definitely took a hit for a few weeks.
I understand the doctors’ concern, but it’s not alcohol. They don’t test me for alcohol at every visit and that would actually do damage, so I think it’s pretty hypocritical.
Were you drug tested at the hospital when you delivered your baby?
Yes, they did drug test me and, to my knowledge, only the eight and nine month tests came out negative. But they were so hellbent on it while I was in the hospital. They tried to make me pee when I first got there, but they didn’t bother to check me first. I was eight centimeters dilated so it just wasn’t happening. I had no complications whatsoever, but after my daughter was born and before they would let me get up out of bed to walk around, they gave me a catheter purely to do my urine screen. While they were doing the catheter my doctor asked: “Is this urine screen going to be negative?” I said “yes,” and my doctor said “Are you sure?” It was pretty insulting.
Are you using cannabis during your current pregnancy?
This time around I’ve already quit because I just don’t want to deal with the hassle. I do think it’s ridiculous. My daughter was perfectly healthy and though doctors don’t want to hear my anecdotal evidence of “well my kid turned out OK,” I also think that when it comes to marijuana, I should have the power to make the decision on my own. I understand their concern, but it’s not alcohol. They don’t test me for alcohol at every visit and that would actually do damage, so I think it’s also pretty hypocritical.
VICE: Walk me through the timeline of your pregnancy.
Danielle: We conceived around Christmas, 2014, though I found out five weeks later—yay puking! The baby was born in September, 2014.
Will you tell me about your experience using cannabis during pregnancy?
I was initially against the idea of it, mainly because of the stigma surrounding smoking while pregnant. However, after three weeks of keeping almost nothing down and craving a sandwich… I smoked for the first time. Just a couple hits. I sat back, ate half a sandwich, and it didn’t come back up! I think I napped after. I smoked a few more times after that because I was still puking almost every 20 to 40 minutes during weeks four through 15 and had lost about 20 pounds. When I smoked, I could eat and nap. It helped keep food down and was better than Zofran. Honestly a life saver. By the third [trimester] I was doing well enough to not need it.
Did you seek advice from your OB about this? What did they say?
I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t have that magical connection with her as many people do. She was just there to make sure the baby was good and prescribe me meds! She wasn’t even there during the birth.
Did you face any stigma from friends or your partner for using cannabis, or were they supportive?
Most were very supportive. My husband is actually the one who encouraged me to smoke. A friend actually smoked with me once before we went and got pancakes. They all knew I wasn’t doing it to get high. I was taking a few hits purely for the fact that I wanted to keep food down.
Do you think it affected your child at all?
I don’t think it had any effect. My child is much like any other one-year-old. He loves to climb and bounce. He runs around chasing the animals. He sings and dances.
VICE: Tell me about yourself and your pregnancies.
Nicole: I’m in my early 30s and I have a nine-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl with my ex and a three-year-old girl with my current husband. He and I have been together for six years and I’m a stay-at-home mom.
What was your relationship like with marijuana before you got pregnant?
Before I got pregnant with my first child, I was a daily smoker—multiple times per day.
How did your smoking change during your first pregnancy?
I actually quit as soon as I tested positive. But about a week later I got hit with morning sickness. Everything made me nauseous. I ate mostly crackers for those first few weeks. After I while, I started taking a few hits in the evening so I’d be hungry enough to eat dinner. I don’t think I smoked after I began the second trimester. At one of my initial prenatal appointments, I told my doctors about occasionally smoking. They said a little weed wasn’t great, but it was better than not eating.
Your child was born healthy, correct?
He was quite healthy. Still is. He is tall, and brilliant. I breastfed him for about 11 months before he weaned himself.
But you decided not to use marijuana during your second pregnancy, correct? Why was that?
Access. Plain and simple. My ex had the weed connections, not me. I left him three days after I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I went into a domestic violence shelter which was a high security place, and I didn’t want to risk getting caught with weed and losing the roof over my and my son’s head. Morning sickness was particularly bad with my second pregnancy. If I had had the opportunity to smoke a bowl I would have.
*VICE does not support any type of substance use while pregnant, and would not suggest smoking weed while expecting until there’s more research on the potential harm available.
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"My daughter was perfectly healthy, but doctors don't want to hear my anecdotal evidence of 'well, my kid turned out OK.' But I think that when it comes to marijuana, I should have the power to make the decision to use it on my own."
Is It Safe to Use Marijuana During Pregnancy?
If pregnancy has you feeling so queasy that everything you eat upsets your stomach, you’re probably willing to try just about anything to kick your morning sickness and get your appetite back. You may also be struggling with some pre-baby jitters and are in search of a safe way to calm your nerves. Some pregnant women turn to pot for their nausea or anxiety or continue to smoke if they did before they conceived, especially now that it’s legal in a number of states.
So is lighting up a joint when you’re expecting a pregnancy-safe remedy for morning sickness and anxiety — or a dangerous habit that could potentially harm your baby? The medical community and other health experts say pot during pregnancy isn’t safe and should be avoided completely. Studies show that it may affect your pregnancy and growing baby, your child’s development over time, and your own health.
What’s the concern about using pot when you’re pregnant?
Some midwives recommend occasional to moderate marijuana use during pregnancy to treat morning sickness and anxiety. After all, eating healthy foods to gain weight and staying stress-free are essential to having a healthy pregnancy.
But since the active drug in marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) changes all sorts of processes in the human body — from heart rate to brain function — there’s good reason to believe pot could affect a pregnant mom’s baby. When marijuana is smoked or ingested by a pregnant woman, pot and THC cross the placenta and enter a fetus’ bloodstream, so you’re essentially sharing the drug with your baby.
Researchers don’t have all the answers about the effects of THC on the baby in utero. The challenge with studies on pot and pregnancy is that clinical trials aren’t possible and the women participating in the research might deny smoking pot even if they do or downplay how often they’ve used it. Some of them also smoke cigarettes, which can complicate the findings. But since there’s evidence to suggest that marijuana could have an impact on your pregnancy and your child, and there’s a lot that isn’t yet fully understood, the safest bet is to steer clear.
More on Having a Healthy Pregnancy
For those reasons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Medical Association (AMA) all say pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid marijuana altogether. And in light of the growing trend of pregnant women turning to pot for morning sickness and other symptoms, the AAP issued its first official guidelines on pot use, pregnancy and breastfeeding in 2018. In their new recommendations, the group reaffirms that pregnant and nursing moms should not use marijuana in any form because it isn’t safe for them or their babies.
Furthermore, in 2019, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a warning to pregnant women and teens not to smoke or vape marijuana, since they may not realize how dangerous it may be and it’s much more potent today than it used to be.
CBD oil is also not considered safe for use during pregnancy and experts say to steer clear because the effects on an unborn baby and pregnant mother just aren’t known.
How can using marijuana affect my pregnancy and my baby?
Studies have shown that daily or weekly marijuana use may make your pregnancy more high-risk. Research has found that babies born to moms who use pot are more likely to end up in the NICU compared to other babies, be underweight at birth, be born prematurely, and/or have smaller heads at birth. It can also increase the risk of stillbirth.
A number of studies have shown that marijuana exposure in utero can alter a fetus’ brain. One group of researchers found that the area of the brain controlling emotion, called the amygdala, showed abnormal function in male fetuses whose mothers smoked pot during pregnancy. And because marijuana can affect memory and cognitive ability in adults, researchers believe it might have a similar impact on a developing baby-to-be. Marijuana is known to have an impact on a fetus’ brain neurotransmitters and biochemistry, as well as the intake of oxygen, and it can alter fetal heart rate. Because marijuana can stay in the system for a prolonged period of time, a baby’s exposure to it in utero might be longer than the mother realizes.
Are there any long-term effects on children whose mothers used pot in pregnancy?
Medical experts and scientists believe that pot use during pregnancy may have an impact on a child’s brain development and behavior over time. Studies have shown that toddlers and older children born to pot-smoking moms may score less well on cognitive, memory and behavioral tests compared with other kids, and have a somewhat higher risk of impulse control issues, hyperactivity and inattention. There have also been studies showing an association between marijuana use in pregnancy and lower scores on reading comprehension, spelling and math tests.
What this means for you
If you smoked pot before you got pregnant, you can put any worries that it will affect your pregnancy or your baby to rest. There is no evidence that marijuana used before you were expecting will hurt your fetus. But it could hinder your attempts at trying to conceive if you’re still in the “wanting to get pregnant” phase, so it’s best to kick the habit (along with cigarettes, if you smoke those too) as soon as you start trying.
Bottom line: It’s not safe to smoke pot while you’re pregnant because of the risk of early labor, pregnancy complications, and effects on your child in utero and later in life.
If you’re looking for alternate ways to treat morning sickness, especially if it’s severe, ask your health care provider for suggestions — there are natural remedies safer than marijuana as well as FDA-approved medications. Depending on the nature of your anxiety, your doctor can recommend a combination of therapy and, if necessary, medication that’s safe for you and your baby.
If you do use marijuana during pregnancy, make sure you still visit the doctor regularly. Never skip your prenatal appointments because you’re worried about revealing your drug use. Your doctor should be your partner in making sure your baby-to-be is healthy. Getting proper prenatal care — which also means being upfront with your practitioner about how often you use marijuana — is the best way to ultimately ensure that you’ll have a happy, healthy pregnancy and baby.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and highly respected health organizations and institutions including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff.
Is It Safe to Use Marijuana During Pregnancy? If pregnancy has you feeling so queasy that everything you eat upsets your stomach, you’re probably willing to try just about anything to kick your