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Getting Stoned While You're Pregnant Is More Complicated Than You Think

'Weediquette' host Krishna Andavolu talks about the tricky issues behind tonight's premiere episode.

by Krishna Andavolu; as told to Larry Fitzmaurice
Oct 17 2017, 7:45pm

VICELAND

Tonight, Weediquette returns to VICELAND with an episode focusing on pregnant women who use cannabis to treat illnesses they suffer from while pregnant. We spoke with Weediquette host Krishna Andavolu about what he learned filming this episode, as well as the upcoming season at large. What follows is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

This week's episode is a story about a pregnant woman suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum or HG. She experiences nausea throughout the day, every day; it's morning sickness, but it happens throughout the pregnancy rather than just stopping after the first trimester, which is usually what happens.

She's had a baby before and had the same syndrome, and she took the medication that was prescribed by her doctor—but her baby experienced some pretty radical birth defects that she claims are the medication's fault. The drug hasn't been definitively linked to the birth defects she's talked about, but there's a class-action lawsuit that's been filed against the drug's maker as a result of misleading marketing—it was originally developed for cancer patients.

So this time, instead of taking the meds, she thinks that weed works better for her, smoking pot a few times a day. We saw how bad her HG really is and what it does to her: She's unable to function, she loses weight, and it puts stress on the pregnancy itself. In a sense, this is a story about a woman who's pregnant and doing something legal in her state—she lives in Maryland—but the stigma of a pregnant woman smoking weed is still the last taboo given that medical marijuana is acceptable. The visceral stigma of it is something a lot of people feel, and you see it—"Holy shit, is this OK?" That reaction is where this story started for me.

Since the beginning of Weediquette, I've wanted to follow the story of a woman who's pregnant and smokes pot because she thinks it helps her—to see how it helps her, what it could be doing to her fetus, how law enforcement and Child Protective Services deal with it, and what might happen in the end. Our ability to do this story is a testament to working for three seasons and finding a subject brave enough to go on-camera, tell us why she does what she does, and let us roll with her up until she has the baby. We learned that the science of how it might be hurtful to a developing fetus is still a bit unclear, and that pregnant women are oftentimes held to different standards of behavior than other people.

There's a tendency in Child Protective Services to punish women who step out of line with acceptable behavior while pregnant. That punishment, to me, is indicative of a double standard that women and men are held to, and a further effort on the part of some lawmakers to chip away at a woman's right to an abortion. We tell a small story where we see one family battle through an illness and the consequences of it, but that story ladders up to the biggest issues in sexism, misogyny, and a woman's right to reproductive justice in the United States.

At first, I thought, Does she have a justifiable leg to stand on as far as the medicine that surrounds her is concerned? But I realized that it doesn't matter if it's justified. It's her body, and her choice. There's plenty of things people are not supposed do when they're pregnant—eat shellfish or soft cheeses, drive a car after eight months, ride on a plane. If weed is legal, though, you should be able to do it without the outsized punishment that's offered to women who do so.

A struggle you see throughout Weediquette is that doctors are trained to be healthcare professionals, and pharmaceutical companies are allowed to exist under the FDA, but in contrast to the individual experience of health and wellness, how do those two things intersect? Cannabis culture posits a different method of interfacing with your own healthcare—it's much more about self-sufficiency and less about relying on perceived wisdom. That's laudable, I think, and a really interesting way of going about thinking about health.

The thesis I've put together as a result of reporting over the last three years is that cannabis culture is resistance culture—a culture that doesn't bow down to perceived wisdom or the hierarchies that have been set before it. It's always been marginalized, and as it becomes more acceptable, you can look at a lot of the power structures in America through that lens. That's what we're doing in this season—in part because the political climate is so polarizing. We're looking at how cannabis culture interfaces with what's going on in the world today. I'm really proud of how we've been able to use the show to tell the story of what it's like to be an American now—and who knows when you'll get a chance to tell stories like this again?

You can catch Weediquette on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.

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