Soon after Amy Smith* started thinking about having a baby a few years ago, she wondered what she’d do about her marijuana habit.
Smith had deployed twice with the US Army and had returned from Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. At one point, her doctors at the VA had her taking 22 pills to help her sleep and stop her depression and anxiety.
Then she discovered marijuana. Smith went off all the prescription medication and began self-medicating by smoking cannabis. “It was amazing — how it helped me get out of bed. I wasn’t terrified of being at the grocery store anymore. I wasn’t on the verge of losing my mind.” (A resident of Utah, the drug only became legal for medical use last November.)
In 2014, Smith became pregnant with her first child. And after Googling studies about the risks, “dancing around the topic” with her doctor, and having many long and difficult discussions with her husband, she decided to use marijuana 4 to 5 times per week while pregnant and while breastfeeding.
“When my anxiety showed up when I was pregnant, I knew what I was in for,” she stated. “I could pile up the medications [and] eventually end up in the hospital. I chose marijuana instead.”
The marijuana landscape is rapidly changing in the US. Weed has been legalized in 32 states for medical purposes, in 10 states plus DC for recreational use, and cannabis is being marketed directly to pregnant women for morning sickness. And now more and more women are grappling with the question Smith faced: whether to use while pregnant.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises doctors to screen for marijuana use in pregnant women and encourage users to quit — even in cases when weed is being used for medicinal purposes — while carrying and breastfeeding.
“There are many matters about fetal marijuana use and the potential for adverse effects on the fetus,” said researcher Kelly Young-Wolff of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. “And although the health effects of fetal cannabis use are complicated and not well understood, no amount of cannabis has been shown to be safe during pregnancy.”
Despite that, Smith is part of a growing, but a still small, group of women who are opting in. Aside from her husband, she just hasn’t told a soul about it because, according to her, “It’s too much of a risk socially and legally.”