Morning sickness is one of the first trimester of pregnancy's more irritating quirks, and though suffering expecting mothers can sniff as many lemons and eat as many protein-rich foods as they want, sometimes there's not much to do but wait for the nausea to pass. Unfortunately, studies show some pregnant women are smoking pot to ease morning sickness, and health officials are warning the trend could pose unknown problems for babies.
The study, which was published in a research letter in JAMA on December 26, sourced data from a California health care database system of about 318,000 pregnant women, finding that from 2009 to 2016, marijuana use among pregnant women increased to 7.1 percent, up from 4.2 percent. More troubling, per the study, is that younger women were more prone to smoking pot while pregnant, with pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 24 increasing their use from 9.8 percent to 19 percent, and pregnant women under the age of 18 increasing their use from 12.5 percent to 21.8 percent.
Pot's reputation as a medical tool has grown considerably in recent years. Doctors say marijuana can offer a slew of health benefits, aiding in the relief of symptoms of nausea, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, anxiety, and chronic pain, to name a few. In the United States, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and seven states and DC have legalized marijuana for recreational use as well. It is also broadly used — in April, a poll found that 52 percent of Americans have smoked pot at some point, and 44 percent of those who have tried it still use it today.
But while there are plenty of reasons why smoking (or, even better, vaporizing) pot is good for your non-gestating body, it may not be the best thing to do when you're harboring a fetus. In January 2017, after JAMA published another study showing an uptick in marijuana use among pregnant women, Nora D. Volkow, who heads up the National Institute on Drug Abuse, authored a counterpoint outlining the risks of smoking pot while pregnant. As Volkow points out, THC, which can make its way past a woman's placenta, does interact with the human body's brain development, and it's not a great idea to introduce it in utero.
"THC and other cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the body's natural cannabinoid system, which plays a role in fetal development. These cannabinoids also play a role in brain maturation, influencing the movement of neurons to their final destinations and ensuring proper connections between cells," Volkow told Medscape Medical News, after another study on cannabis use in pregnancy was published in April. She added, "Studies in animal models have found that even low doses of prenatal THC can cause cognitive dysfunction and emotional dysregulation, as well as increased vulnerability to addiction in adulthood."
Doctors have also linked marijuana use while pregnant to low birth weights, premature births, small head circumferences, small body lengths, and even stillbirths. These complications are already more prevalent among teen mothers than in slightly older women, which is worrying for medical professionals, since research showed teenagers are also more likely to smoke pot while pregnant than their older peers.
"These results matter," Volkow told Medscape, "because, compared with pregnant adults, pregnant teens are at increased risk for having pregnancy-related complications, premature delivery, and delivering babies with developmental problems. Babies born to mothers using marijuana during pregnancy, and particularly during its early stages, can suffer long-term effects of maternal prenatal drug use."
So, basically, if you're suffering from morning sickness, it's best to stay away from weed. Instead, try eating something small - like a granola bar or a few crackers — before you get out of bed in the morning, eat more but smaller meals more frequently, stock up on ginger ale and bland foods like chicken broth, and take comfort in the fact that, at the very least, morning sickness can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy, even if it's not a particularly fun one.