Our friend was desperate. He showed up at our house and started pleading. His wife had hyperemesis gravidarum (uncontrollable vomiting during pregnancy), he said. She couldn’t keep food down. She was depressed. Could we please, please, please give her some pot? Although my husband and I had pot in the house, we refused. While we smoked pot nearly every night to wind down, and I'd done just about every drug I could get my sparkly fingernails on, we just couldn't give bring ourselves to give marijuana to a pregnant woman.
Two years later, I found myself in the grips of the same condition: I had hyperemesis gravidarium. I was diagnosed by my doctor, who put me on multiple medications to control the severe nausea and vomiting. Yet the drugs weren't working, and they had horrific side effects, including exhaustion, drowsiness, and constipation. I was also depressed. I thought of my desperate friend who had turned to us for help, and I started smoking pot while I was pregnant. In fact, I smoked pot through all three of my pregnancies.
Smoking pot during my pregnancies didn't just help me feel less nauseous. It also helped me eat. In fact, thanks to pot, I was able to consume real, nutritional food, not just French fries and other junk. It also lifted my mood, which helped tremendously given that I have a history of depression. Marijuana helped me get through three rough pregnancies, and I’m not ashamed to say that I used it fairly frequently.
I’m not alone, either. According to a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marijuana use among pregnant women is on the rise, from 2.4 percent of women in 2002 to 4 percent in 2014. While some of this use is purely recreational, often it’s used by women to treat the symptoms of morning sickness and conditions like hypermesis gravidarium.
That said, there are risks. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cites low birth weight, anemia, and memory and attention problems in older children as the possible side effects of smoking marijuana during pregnancy.
“How marijuana might lead to those problems is unclear,” Volkow wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study, but “one theory is that it might interfere with formation of nerve cells and circuits in the brain during fetal development.”
About 15 minutes after that first hit, the omnipresent nausea began to fade. “I think I could go for a pizza,” I said.
Not everyone agrees that marijuana use during pregnancy is dangerous. A 2007 review of pregnancy and marijuana studies on the website for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) states that most studies studying prenatal marijuana use have not controlled for alcohol and other drug use; among those that have, “most report cannabis' apparent impact on birth-weight and other adverse perinatal outcomes to be minimal.” Another report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, however, found "moderate" evidence that marijuana use during pregnancy was associated with cognitive difficulties and low IQs.
Overall, the consensus seems to be that there's not enough evidence to determine for sure whether or not it's OK to toke while pregnant, which is why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women avoid smoking pot during pregnancy. I can only speak for myself and my own experience, but I can say that while I was aware of the existing research and took the risks into account, I don't regret making the decision to smoke during my own pregnancies.
I remember the first time I smoked pot during pregnancy. My husband and I talked and talked and talked about it. We researched the risks. But we decided that my health was so bad that it was ultimately going to affect my baby's health. After all, I could barely keep any food down, and I was rapidly losing weight, which is dangerous during pregnancy. I was a bit concerned that the baby would suffer from low birth weight as a result of my smoking pot, but my fears were alleviated when I read a study review indicating that it’s tobacco use, not marijuana use, that causes these side effects.
I didn't tell my doctor that I was smoking pot, nor did I tell my midwife. But I didn't care, because for once during my miserable pregnancy, I felt healthy enough to eat and feel like a normal person again.
So we got out the old blue pipe we’d used in grad school. My husband packed it up for me, and I lit it, sucked in, and immediately coughed my head off. But about 15 minutes after that first hit, the omnipresent nausea began to fade. “I think I could go for a pizza,” I said.
I smoked about once a day, in the morning, to combat the nausea. I found that two to three puffs did the trick in controlling my symptoms. I didn't tell my doctor that I was smoking pot, nor did I tell my midwife. But I didn't care, because for once during my miserable pregnancy, I felt healthy enough to eat and feel like a normal person again.
My hyperemesis got worse with every pregnancy. By the time I had my third baby, I was hospitalized for dehydration. I vomited more in the hospital than I did at home, because I wasn’t able to keep smoking. But I didn’t tell them I was smoking, or that it helped control my symptoms. I was too scared of being yelled at, or worse, of having someone call child protective services on me, which I knew had happened to a woman in Texas in 2004, who tested positive for marijuana after giving birth to twins. I said nothing. I just got my intravenous fluids and left.
I was always careful. I smoked in the bathroom with the door shut, away from my other kids. If I smoked, I never drove, and I never took care of the kids alone, despite the fact that I didn’t feel "stoned" at all. I lived in fear of being discovered as a pregnant pot user, because pot is illegal in my state. I was terrified that we’d be discovered, and that the state might take our sons away from us. It's not unheard of, after all, for mothers with legal marijuana prescriptions have had their children taken away. I still live in fear of that happening, which is why I am writing this anonymously.
I don’t feel guilty about smoking pot during pregnancy, nor do I wonder if pot had any negative effect on my kids.
I don’t feel guilty about smoking pot during pregnancy, nor do I wonder if pot had any negative effect on my kids. My oldest son has ADHD, and sometimes I do wonder if he would have had ADHD if I hadn't smoked during pregnancy. But my other sons seem totally neuro-typical, and all of my kids were born at term with normal birth weights, so I try not to dwell on this question.
Ultimately, every mother has to weigh the risks and benefits and read the literature for herself. I needed something to help my nausea or I was in danger of losing my pregnancies. I was miserable, and pot helped alleviate that misery. While many moms would be appalled at me, the way we were at our friend, they might feel differently if they were in our shoes. Or maybe they wouldn't. All I know is I certainly did.
After I started smoking while I was pregnant, we apologized to our friend, because we felt guilty for denying a woman what she saw as a "needed drug." Later, I needed it, too. And I’m not ashamed to say that it helped me tremendously.