Getting high while pregnant: how bad is it really?

weed and pregnancy

Interest in cannabis is at an all-time high, with stigmas breaking down in recent years. Pregnant people have taken notice. Studies have indicated that weed and pregnancy is becoming more prevalent, and more are choosing the plant over traditional, doctor-prescribed options.

However, the verdict on risk of consuming during gestation is still out. Still, many pregnant people turn to cannabis for nausea, stress, insomnia, acid reflux, and pain. There is growing research available on weed and pregnancy, though nothing definitive. Because of this, it’s a toss-up whether a prenatal doctor or midwife would support cannabis consumption during gestation. Support or not, people are consuming cannabis while pregnant.

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weed and pregnancy
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Nausea, insomnia, and other reasons to consume cannabis pregnant

Artist and consultant Alexa Jesse is currently pregnant with her first child. She abstained from cannabis for the first two months of pregnancy, but in a moment of severe pregnancy-related discomfort, she tried a tiny hit. Now, she consumes intuitively based on stress, anxiety, and discomfort, which equates to a few times a month, shifting out of smoking into low-dose CBD-rich edibles in the later months.

“For my body and my baby’s, I feel much more comfortable consuming cannabis versus pharmaceuticals and don’t feel there is a risk with the low amounts I’m consuming,” Jesse shared. “If anything, I feel I’m benefiting my body and my baby by getting more restful sleep, reducing my cortisol levels naturally, plus all the beneficial compounds contained in the plant.”

Jesse makes a valid point. A stressed pregnancy negatively impacts a growing baby. Intense stress can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the chances of preterm labor or low birth weight. If life without cannabis as a stress relieving tool becomes unmanageable, there might still be negative fetal impact despite abstention.

Despite many parents speaking out about safely using cannabinoid products while pregnant, most doctors recommend steering patients away from the plant for other options. Dr. Christine Greves, an obstetrician, gynecologist, and expert contributor to Drugwatch, acknowledged the increase in cannabis use among pregnant patients but doesn’t necessarily recommend it.

“There is a need for more studies on this to make conclusions, but given that there is not much information on it, I recommend stopping cannabis use during pregnancy in case there are long-term implications for the fetus,” Dr. Greves said to GreenState.

While there aren’t studies putting a period on whether or not it’s safe to consume cannabis while pregnant, there is relevant research published on the matter.

Research on weed and pregnancy

There are stacks of studies on weed and pregnancy with varying results. Many who support cannabis for birthing parents often cite the same 1991 study from Jamaica as proof that it’s safe. The long-form study checked in with 59 consuming mothers one, three, and 30 days after the babies were born and again at ages four and five. The children’s health was weighed against those with non-consuming mothers of a similar age and social status.

Turns out, the data showed no significant differences in newborns in each cohort. By ages four and five, things like home life and school attendance were more indicative of behavior. While the data is compelling, this study is now over 30 years old.

Solid weed pregnancy data is slow to be collected because there’s too much risk in testing drugs on pregnant people. While few researchers are apt to study humans, some data has been collected from pregnant rats, providing insight into exactly how cannabis impacts a fetus.

One such study showed that consuming high quantities of cannabis while pregnant can max out endocannabinoid receptors in the GI tract of the fetus. Ironically, the CB1 receptor was not one of those maxed out. This is an interesting find, but scientist require more research before understanding what it means for pre and post-birth development.

Another rodent study garnered sexed results. Male rats were given three to 30 mg of CBD powder daily while in gestation and developed a higher possibility for lower heart function in their first month of life. Based on the study, it’s possible that ingesting CBD during pregnancy may alter fetal cardiac endocannabinoid systems.

When it comes to human research on cannabis during pregnancy most data is self-reported through surveys or doctor visits. The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) gathered data about consumption from over 10,000 pregnant parents.

Of these, 272 used cannabis while pregnant with 63 continuing use into the second half of gestation. The study is relevant because it signaled that prolonged use of the plant may create more adverse birth outcomes like reduced birth weight.

Low birth weight is one of the most cited risks of eating or inhaling weed while pregnant. With that in mind, some doctors remain against the topic, while others see openings for medical consumption.

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Weed and pregnancy
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Seeking doctor support for cannabis during pregnancy

Because of the swath of studies on weed and pregnancy, doctors are forced to walk a fine line when adhering to the adage “Do no harm.” If the effects of taking a drug during pregnancy are unknown or show any possibility of impacting birth weight or causing early labor it must be avoided at all costs. This sentiment was echoed when consulting various experts.

GreenState’s own Dr. Leigh Vinocur recommends regarding the risk in a past segment of Ask Dr. Leigh:

“As a physician who also recommends cannabis for her patients, I still feel we are not at that level yet with medical cannabis science and its disease indications. We don’t have all the clinical research we need yet to deem cannabis a critical therapeutic agent that pregnant medical patients need to take,” Vinocur wrote in the column.

Dr. Leigh’s recommendations follow those passed down in doctoral training programs, but the journey takes on complexities when a patient uses cannabis medicinally. For example, when taken during pregnancy, antidepressants have been shown to have negative birth side effects.

Recommending switching over to this option from cannabis may not be better for the patient. Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr. Dave Rabin explained more in a statement sent to GreenState.

“We have to play a very careful risk versus benefit calculation when we work with our patients. And everybody’s different. Some people don’t respond to cannabis well, especially THC forms of cannabis can make some people uncomfortable and cause nausea, so that also has to be taken into account,” Dr. Rabin shared. “But in general, we weigh out and calculate the risk of the other medications that we’d be using to treat things like depression or nausea and the risks of cannabis.”

This balancing act sometimes means trusting the patient’s experience and intuition with cannabis over herding them to a pharmaceutical option with known side effects. Still, as legality spreads, more birthing parents are feeling comfortable speaking about their pregnancy experiences with the plant. However, in some locales, legal risk remains.

Telling a doctor about cannabis consumption while pregnant may lead to the involvement of child-protective services in some states or with certain providers. Due to medical racism, this risk is higher for people of color.

Drug tests are protocol for prenatal intake appointments. Testing positive for cannabis at the first appointment can shape care for the rest of the pregnancy, sometimes carrying over to birthing and postpartum care. In prohibition states, and some states where marijuana is legal, babies are also tested for drugs after birth. When a baby tests positive for cannabinoids, parents are sometimes reported to CPS. Because of these circumstances, many who may be interested in weed during pregnancy abstain completely or quit in the last trimester.

Real stories of weed and pregnancy

Elizabeth Sage, certified Ganjier and cannabis consultant at Sage Advice MN, didn’t consume cannabis until her third pregnancy at 41. At this point in her life, she worked in the cannabis space and felt supported by her community in her consumption. As a medical patient, Sage felt comfortable disclosing to her doctor, who shared that low birth weight was the biggest risk.

“I joked back that all of my babies have been big babies, so perhaps putting him on a preemptive diet would be fortuitous. He laughed. And that’s how I knew he could stay my doctor,” Sage recounted.

The gut instinct that a care provider is on the same page is a blessing. Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have that. Writer and new mother Joycelin Arnold chose the plant despite a lack of support from her first care team.

“I chose to consume cannabis during pregnancy as opposed to all the other prescription drugs that were offered for morning sickness, pain, and anxiety that comes with pregnancy because I wanted a natural birth and pregnancy that I could safely have,” Arnold said to GreenState.

After disclosing consumption to her doctor, the care got dramatically worse, forcing her to change providers. Still, the cannabis professional stands by her decision, feeling empowered to consume intuitively following years of budtending, working as a brand ambassador, and writing in the weed space. Many pregnant people who opted for weed echoed this: birthing parents feel safer to consume with a cannabis-educated support system.

Cannabis journalist and managing editor for San Diego Mag Jackie Bryant has just that but opted out of consuming during her pregnancy last year. After a window of ramped-up consumption before getting pregnant, Bryant chose to abstain until she was finished breastfeeding.

“I’m on a break from weed! Trust me, nobody is more surprised than I am,” Bryant announced in her award-winning newsletter Cannabitch. “But it turns out I’m pregnant, and while I know plenty of women use cannabis in various ways while knocked up with no issues at all, I’ve decided not to.”

She wrote the statement without judgment against those who chose the other road and did experience setbacks that made her miss the plant, but ultimately, Bryant stuck to the fetus-induced T-break.

However, she did comment to GreenState that she lit up immediately after deciding to stop breastfeeding–and the consumption habits are back to pre-baby levels, if not more. After all, gentle parenting and cannabis are a match made in heaven. Bryant’s story highlights the key fact that the choice is one person’s alone: the birthing parent.

Weed or not to weed, that is the question

There’s no proof that cannabis is safe to consume while pregnant, but the true risk is being slowly uncovered by research and anecdotal evidence. This mosaic of cannabis and pregnancy among mothers in the industry echoes the bigger picture. The choice to consume cannabis anti-depressants or nothing during pregnancy is personal. It doesn’t look the same for everyone—that goes for patients and doctors.

Dr. Greves’ approach to a patient expressing interest in cannabis for nausea or insomnia is to steer them to an alternative route like ginger products. On the other hand, Dr. Rabin considers the patient’s experience with cannabis medicine, weighing the risk of one option versus another. Each care plan fits a certain patient, highlighting the importance of finding the right care provider.

Whether a birthing parent chooses to consume cannabis or not, it is vital to have a doctor, midwife, doula, partner, and/or care team that is supportive and nonjudgmental. Remember, stress can have a negative impact on a baby. If a prenatal doctor doesn’t feel right, explore other options, and if conscious cannabis consumption for relief does feel right, find an open-minded doctor to speak with about it.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.