By Elise Herron
October 08, 2019 at 5:30 pm PDT
But How Safe Is It?
While the use of cannabis during pregnancy is a growing discussion around the country, medical opinion is still undecided on its safety.
When Megon Dee-Cave went into labor eight months ago, she didn't ask for pain meds or an epidural. Instead, she reached for tincture of CBD.
"I started out at a low dose," she says, "right around 35 milligrams, just to kind of test it out. As the labor intensified, I dosed myself up a little bit higher."
Dee-Cave, 35, says cannabis helped lessen the pain of her contractions, so "they weren't as long or as intense." It wasn't the first time she'd used cannabis to mitigate the discomfort of carrying a child, either. She vaped and used topicals throughout her pregnancy, and later on even smoked pre-rolls—mostly opting for strains high in CBD and low in THC. Cannabis was especially helpful in calming migraines caused by hormone spikes, she says.
Dee-Cave, who owns Oracle Wellness Co., a CBD product line, had connected with a community of parents who also turned to cannabis while pregnant, and it convinced her that using cannabis would be a "safe alternative" to the pharmaceuticals typically used to ease pain during childbirth.
But because the drug is still federally illegal, and thus largely untested among pregnant parents, the midwives assisting with her home birth were prohibited from helping as she dosed herself while in labor via a homemade tincture.
"Between being in the zone of bringing your child into the world and just purely out of it, it was kind of hard to accurately dose myself," she says. But she says, "Plant medicine made sense for me in order to reclaim my human experience in giving birth."
While the use of cannabis during pregnancy is a growing discussion around the country, medical opinion is still undecided on its safety. There are still very few studies of the effects of CBD and THC on fetuses. In some states, like New York and Colorado, using cannabis while pregnant, even in small doses, is enough to flag Child Protective Services.
After recreational cannabis became legal statewide in 2014, the Oregon Health Authority issued warnings about the harms of using pot around children—one document says, "The THC in marijuana can pass into your baby when you are pregnant or breastfeeding." Also, Oregon Health & Science University's website warns that using cannabis while pregnant can lead to premature birth and low birth weight.
A study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California found that cannabis use among pregnant mothers nearly doubled between 2009 and 2016. Researchers also found that "prenatal marijuana may impair fetal growth and neurodevelopment," but added that more studies are necessary as THC potency continues to rise.
Kelly Young-Wolff, the California researcher who ran the Kaiser Permanente study, says that as more and more states move to legalize cannabis, studies show "public perception that cannabis is harmless is increasing." But she emphasizes that more research is necessary for pregnant women to make informed decisions.
"Women are getting messages from online media and cannabis dispensaries suggesting that cannabis use in pregnancy is harmless and even beneficial for mood disorders or nausea during pregnancy," she says. "It is important that data on rising prenatal cannabis use not be used to exploit or stigmatize women, but instead to help educate and empower women to make informed decisions to protect their health and the health of their baby."
But Dee-Cave isn't the only Portland mom to turn to pot for relief while pregnant.
Alison Osborn, 32, says she smoked in small amounts throughout her pregnancy to help with stress, anxiety and discomfort.
Osborn has been a regular smoker for about 13 years, and worked in the cannabis industry for over a decade before getting pregnant. At the start of her pregnancy, she said she "decided to try to not smoke as much as possible." But after talking with her doctor about using cannabis in small amounts, she decided to start "hitting a vape pen twice a week." According to Osborn, it "took a literal and metaphorical weight off the pregnancy."
Dee-Cave and Osborn say their babies were born healthy.
I went out there knowing what I was getting myself into," she says. "I don't hide what I do or how I do it. But there's still a lot of stigma, and that comes from not knowing."
"She was lively and she cried and she went straight for nursing," Dee-Cave says of her daughter, Rayne N. Cave."
Dee-Cave is now hoping to destigmatize cannabis for other expectant mothers. She currently offers consulting services on integrating weed into pregnancy, and she hopes to connect with soon-to-be parents in Portland willing to use CBD during childbirth so she can document the process.