Why More Women Are Smoking Weed While Pregnant
“I had really chill babies.”
Photo via Facebook
This article first appeared on VICE Canada.
Virginia Vidal wasn't expecting to have any more children when she became pregnant with triplets.
Vidal, now 46, her husband, and their three children, took a Mexican vacation in 2006. A few weeks after they came back to Toronto, Vidal was the only one feeling ill. She found out she was pregnant but unlike with her previous three pregnancies, she had severe morning sickness.
"I would throw up five to seven times a day and I would be nauseous constantly," Vidal told VICE. When she was about 14 weeks pregnant, she took an ultrasound and discovered that she was going to have triplets.
"I remember being very frustrated with being sick all the time to the point where I was considering not continuing on with the pregnancy." A friend recommended she try cannabis.
Vidal ended up with the munchies, eating everything in her cupboard. She was ecstatic.
"I was able to eat, I was able to keep the food down, and I had energy," she said.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among pregnant women, the prevalence of past-month marijuana use increased 62 percent from 2002, when it was 2.37 percent, to 3.85 percent in 2014.
"Although the prevalence of past-month use among pregnant women (3.85%) is not high, the increases over time and potential adverse consequences of prenatal marijuana exposure suggest further monitoring and research are warranted," reads a discussion on the study, which was headed up by a researcher from Columbia University medical school.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse says cannabis is the most popular "illicit drug" used during pregnancy and that prenatal exposure has been linked to adverse effects on cognitive development and academic achievement. It has also been linked to premature birth and low birth weights.
Alan Bell, a clinical researcher and professor at the University of Toronto who sits on the medical advisory board for medical marijuana producer Tweed, told VICE using weed during pregnancy is a "remarkably terrible idea and should be strongly discouraged."
"The little information we have about use of cannabis during pregnancy points to poor fetal outcomes, particularly in regard to neurocognitive development," he said.
But research on the subject is scarce. One study, that tracked Jamaican babies born to mothers who used cannabis found that there was no significant difference in developmental outcomes of those babies and babies born to non-users, except that the cannabis babies scored higher on reflex tests at 30 days old.
Vidal told VICE she was told to take Diclectin, a morning sickness drug, during her pregnancy but she couldn't keep it down. She later found out that the drug was not as safe as it was purported to be. Throughout her pregnancy, she drank cannabis-infused teas, ate edibles, and vaporized, rather than smoking.
"I don't think I got high. I felt I got pain relief and the mental calmness that my mind really needed," she said.
Her triplets were born in February 2007, at 34 weeks—full term for a multiple—and each weighed more than four pounds. She said she continued to use weed while breastfeeding and her babies were "very hungry."
Fellow Toronto mom Katie also turned to cannabis during her pregnancy with twins last year.
Katie, who doesn't want her last name to be used due to privacy concerns, told VICE she was unable to get out of bed and felt like she had vertigo. She'd been using cannabis for anxiety and depression since she was a teenager but thought she would have to stop when she was pregnant.
Instead, it wound up being the only thing that allowed her to get out of bed before 2 PM.
"Once I figured that out it became my daily regime," she said, noting that she made her own edibles, including a cannabis-infused coffee, and focused on low dosing.
"Never during my pregnancy would I say I felt high. I just had enough of the medicine so that it curbed my nauseous feelings."
Her twins were born in July at 34 weeks and five days; one weighed 6 pounds and the other 5.5 pounds.
"They're happy, healthy, relaxed. They do great with people," Katie said. "I had really chill babies."
Katie, a freelance producer in advertising, is now working on a book about her experiences. She thinks there's too much of a stigma around women using cannabis during pregnancy, when really she believes it should be looked at the same way as taking Tylenol or Aspirin.
"I don't think there is enough information out there because I don't think they've been allowed to do proper studies," she said, citing the current prohibition laws and lack of funding as barriers.
"Do I think there could be side effects of using marijuana during pregnancy? Likely yes, but it's no different from using other drugs."
Meanwhile, Vidal has started her own line of cannabis teas called Mary's Wellness.
She said her triplets, now 9, are very smart and social and she hopes that acceptance is building for mothers who choose to use cannabis during pregnancy.
"Look at other cultures who have been doing this for thousands of years," she said. "We're just catching up. I think we're quite behind."
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.