Pubdate: Sun, 01 May 2005
Source: Mothering (US)
Section: Issue 124, May/June 2004
Copyright: 2005 Mothering Magazine
Author: Erin Hildebrandt
Note: Erin Hildebrandt is a writer, an activist, and a happily married, 
suburban mother of five. Her website is at
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Women)
Related: Cannabis and the Law
Related: Is Marijuana a Valuable Treatment for Autism?
Related: Common Treatments for Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Related: Marijuana Use during Pregnancy


As is the case for many young women, my indulgence in recreational drugs, 
including alcohol and caffeine, came to an abrupt halt when my husband and 
I discovered we were pregnant with our first child. To say we were ecstatic 
is an understatement. Doctors had told me we might never conceive, yet here 
we were, expecting our first miracle. I closely followed my doctor's 
recommendations. When I began to experience severe morning sickness, I went 
to him for help. He ran all of the standard tests, then sent me home with 
the first of many prescription medicines.

Weeks passed, and, as the nausea and vomiting increased, I began to lose 
weight. I was diagnosed as having hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe and 
constant form of morning sickness. I started researching the condition, 
desperately searching for a solution. I tried wristbands, herbs, yoga, 
pharmaceuticals, meditation-everything I could think of. Ultimately, after 
losing 20 pounds in middle pregnancy, and being hospitalized repeatedly for 
dehydration and migraines, I developed preeclampsia and was told an 
emergency cesarean was necessary. My dreams of a normal birth were 
shattered, but our baby boy, though weighing only 4 pounds 14 ounces and 
jaundiced from the perinatal medications I'd been given, was relatively 

When, six months later, I again found myself pregnant, I was even more 
determined to have a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy, and sought out the 
care of the best perinatologist in the area. At first, I was impressed. 
This doctor assured me he had all the answers, and that, under his expert 
care, my baby and I would never experience a moment of discomfort. However, 
as my belly swelled, I grew more and more ill, and my faith in my dream 
doctor began to falter. What convinced me to change healthcare providers 
midstream was this doctor's honesty. He admitted that, due to constraints 
imposed on him by his malpractice-insurance company, some routine 
procedures that he knew to be harmful would be required of me. We left his 
office that day and never went back.

As I searched for a new doctor, I ran across information about midwifery 
and homebirth. At first, I thought this was simply crazy. Have a baby at 
home, with no doctor? No way! I thought. But, as I began examining the 
statistics, I discovered an unexpected pattern. In studies comparing 
planned home versus hospital births, planned homebirths, with a midwife in 
attendance, have lower rates of neonatal morbidity and mortality. Not only 
that, but midwives' rates of such invasive procedures as amniotomy and 
episiotomy are much lower. Everything I had believed about birth and 
medicine suddenly came into question. I located a midwife and made an 
appointment to see her.

We were very impressed with this woman's education and experience, and were 
delighted to invite her into our home to share in our second birth. She 
gave me many new ideas to try to abate the morning sickness, which still 
plagued me. But despite her best efforts with herbs, homeopathic remedies, 
and even chiropractic care, my illness remained intractable.

About this time, I ran into an old, dear friend from college. When Jenny 
came to visit me one particularly awful day, we shared stories of the old 
days, and I soon found myself laughing as I hadn't laughed in years. 
Despite being interrupted by numerous trips to worship the porcelain god, 
it felt wonderful to share some time with her. But when we began talking 
about my burgeoning belly, I broke down in sobs. I told her about how I was 
desperately afraid of what this malnutrition was doing to my baby. I 
explained how my midwife had told me that preeclampsia appears to be a 
nutritional disorder of pregnancy, and I didn't know how I could avoid it 
if I couldn't eat.

Jenny listened and cried with me. Then, she tentatively produced a joint 
from her jacket pocket. I was shocked. We had shared a lot of these in 
college, but I had no idea she still smoked. Slowly, she began telling me 
that she knew some women who smoked marijuana for morning sickness, and it 
really helped them. She hadn't known anyone with as severe a form of the 
illness as I had, but reasoned that if it works to quell the side effects 
of chemotherapy, it must work well.

Understandably, I was concerned about what kind of effect marijuana might 
have on my baby. The only information I had ever heard on the subject was 
that it was a dangerous drug that should not be used in pregnancy. We 
discussed for some time the possibility that it could be harmful, though 
neither of us had enough information to make any sort of truly informed 
decision. What finally convinced me to give it a try was Jenny's compelling 
reasoning. "Well, you know that not eating or drinking more than sips of 
tea and nibbles of crackers is definitely harmful, right? You might as well 
give this a try and see what happens. You don't have much to lose."

She was right. I was 32 weeks along and had already lost 30 pounds. I had 
experienced four days of vomiting tea, broth, crackers, and toast. Nothing 
would stay down long. In an excited, giggly, reminiscing mood, I told her 
to "Fire it up!" I took two puffs of the tangy, piney smoke. As it took 
effect, I felt my aches and nausea finally leave me. Jenny and I reclined 
against my old beanbag, and I began sobbing again and unintelligibly 
thanking her-here was the miracle I had prayed for. A few minutes later, 
when I calmed down, we ordered a pizza. That was the best pizza I had ever 
tasted-and I kept down every bite.

It was sad that I had to discover the benefits of this medicine late in my 
second pregnancy, through trial and error, and not learned of them long 
before-from my doctors. This experience launched a much safer and more 
intelligent investigation into the use of cannabis during pregnancy.

I spent hour after hour poring over library books that contained references 
to medical marijuana and marijuana in pregnancy. Most of what I found was 
either a reference to the legal or political status of marijuana in 
medicine, or medical references that simply said that doctors discourage 
the use of any "recreational drug" during pregnancy. This was before I 
discovered the Internet, so my resources were limited. The little I could 
find that described the actual effects on a fetus of a mother's smoking 
cannabis claimed that there was little to no detectable effect, but, as 
this area was relatively unstudied, it would be unethical to call it 
"safe." I later discovered that midwives had safely used marijuana in 
pregnancy and birth for thousands of years. Old doctors' tales to the 
contrary, this herb was far safer than any of the pharmaceuticals 
prescribed for me by my doctors to treat the same condition. I confidently 
continued my use of marijuana, knowing that, among all options available to 
me, it was the safest, wisest choice.

Ten weeks after my first dose, I had gained 17 pounds over my pre-pregnant 
weight. I gave beautiful and joyous birth to a 9 pound, 2 ounce baby boy in 
the bed in which he'd been conceived. I know that using marijuana saved us 
both from many of the terrible dangers associated with malnutrition in 
pregnancy. Soon after giving birth, I told my husband I wanted to do it again.

Not one to deny himself or his wife the pleasures of conception, my husband 
agreed that we would not actively try to prevent a pregnancy, and nine 
months after the birth of our second son, I was pregnant with our third 
child. This time, I had my routine down. At the first sign of nausea, I 
called Jenny, who brought me my medicine. In my third, fourth, and fifth 
pregnancies, I gained an average of 25 pounds with each child. I had 
healthy, pink, chubby little angels, with lusty first cries. Their weights 
ranged from 8 to 9 1/2 pounds. Marijuana completely transformed very 
dangerous pregnancies into more enjoyable, safer, and healthier gestations.

But I was caught in a catch-22. Because my providers of perinatal health 
care were not doctors, they had no authority to issue me a recommendation 
for marijuana. In addition, I chose not to tell them I used cannabis for 
fear they could refuse me care. Finally, even if I could get a 
recommendation, I knew of no compassion clubs (medical marijuana 
cooperatives or dispensaries) in my area. I had to take whatever my friends 
could find from street dealers.

Many times I would go hungry, waiting four or more days for someone in town 
to find marijuana. I became so desperate for relief that I would 
contemplate driving to a large city like New York and walking the streets 
until I could find something. Fortunately, each time I almost reached that 
point, some kind soul would show up with something to get me through. What 
else is a sick person supposed to do when the only medicine that helps, and 
is potentially life-saving for her baby, is unavailable? I would much 
rather go to a store and purchase a product wrapped in a package secured 
with the seal of the state in which I live than buy from some guy on the 

Along the way, I discovered the benefits of using marijuana to treat other 
disorders. At times, I have been plagued by migraines so severe I would 
wind up in the emergency room. I would receive up to 250 milligrams of 
Demerol, and sometimes, when Demerol failed, even shots of Dilaudid. Thanks 
to my sporadic use of marijuana and a careful dosing regimen, I have not 
been to an emergency room in more than three years. [In September 1999, the 
Food and Drug Administration approved an application for a rigorous study 
designed to investigate the medical efficacy of marijuana on migraine 
headaches.-Ed.] In addition, I was diagnosed as having Crohn's disease. 
After months of tests and treatments for my symptoms, I began using a 
dosing method similar to what I'd used for migraines, and I found that, 
once again, marijuana provided more relief than anything else. All in all, 
I've been prescribed more than 30 truly dangerous drugs, yet the only one 
that has provided relief without the associated risks is one many doctors 
won't even discuss, much less recommend.

My history with medicine and with marijuana has been more extensive than 
average. It is my sincere belief that if the American public were told the 
truth about marijuana, they could not help but support an immediate end to 
cannabis prohibition. Even I believed it was dangerous, until I began 
researching the issue. What I discovered is that not one person has ever 
died from smoking marijuana. The same cannot be said for the results of the 
misuse of some of our most commonly used substances, such as caffeine, 
aspirin, or vitamin A. In addition, marijuana is no more a "gateway drug" 
to other substances than is caffeine or alcohol. Most kids try these things 
long before they experiment with cannabis. And, finally, unlike such legal 
drugs as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, marijuana is not addictive. As 
with Twinkies or sex, a user can come to psychologically depend on 
marijuana's mood-altering effects; however, no physical addiction is 
associated with cannabis.

Now I find myself mother to five beautiful, intelligent, creative children 
for whom I would lay down my life in an instant. I have been blessed with 
the challenge of helping them grow into responsible, hardworking, and 
loving adults. I have also been blessed with the challenge of protecting 
them from a world fraught with dangers. There are those who would have me 
believe that, in order to protect my children from drug abuse, I must lie 
to them; that I must tell them that marijuana is dangerous, with no 
redeeming qualities. Some say I should go so far as to tell them that it 
couldn't possibly be used as a medicine. Then there are those who would say 
that if I ever find out that my child has experimented with marijuana, I 
should turn her over to expert authorities in order to impart a lesson. 
While this does send a message to the child, it is not the message I want 
to send.

What I teach my children, ages nine and under, about drugs is that medicine 
comes in many forms, and that children should never touch any medicine 
(categorized broadly as a pill, liquid, herb, or even caffeinated beverage) 
unless it is given to them by a trusted adult. My cabinets are full of 
herbs, such as red raspberry leaves and rosemary, which I use in cooking 
and as medicines. I have things such as comfrey, which I use externally, 
that could be dangerous if taken internally. Like all responsible parents, 
my husband and I keep all medicines, cleaning products, and 
age-inappropriate items, such as small buttons, out of the reach of our 
kids and safely locked away.

However, I am aware that the day may come when my kids figure out the trick 
to the lock, so I add an extra measure of safety by educating them about 
the honest dangers of using medicines that are not needed. In addition, by 
sharing my views about the politics behind the issues, I am teaching them 
another, equally important lesson. As Santa Clara University School of Law 
Professor Gerald Uelmen stated last year at the medical marijuana giveaway 
at the City Hall in Santa Cruz, California, "We are teaching our children 
compassion for the sick and dying; only a twisted and perverted federal 
bureaucrat could call that the wrong message."

I have also tried to impart a deep respect for natural healing. By using 
cool compresses and acupressure for headaches before grabbing a 
pharmaceutical such as acetaminophen, I've taught them the importance of 
avoiding dependence on drugs. I have also shown them the benefits of the 
wise and careful use of pharmaceuticals by using them when they were my 
best choice. I try to instill in them a sense of reason and resourcefulness 
by honestly presenting the answers to their questions and admitting what I 
do not know, but searching until I find the answer.

When our oldest child overheard my husband and me discussing marijuana 
prohibition, it opened up a wonderful line of communication about the 
subject. I gave him a very basic explanation: that marijuana is a plant 
that can be used as a medicine. I explained that it could be overused and 
abused, as well. Then I told him that this plant is illegal, and that 
people who are found to possess marijuana can go to jail. The question I 
found myself floundering to answer, however, was when he asked, "Why would 
the police put someone in jail for using medicine?" It is long past time 
parents stood up and took notice of the abuses being leveled on our 
children by well-intentioned but misinformed governing officials. We need 
honest and responsible drug education that treats children as intelligent 
pre-adults who are learning how to live full and healthy lives in a 
dangerous world.

They need every shred of information we can give them, so that they do not 
choose to huff butane or snort heroin simply because they survived smoking 
the joint we told them was dangerous, and because they therefore assume we 
must be lying about the rest. We need to provide an open line of 
communication so that, if they ever have to face areas of ambiguity or 
situations we have neglected to discuss, they will feel comfortable coming 
to us, and not friends or the Internet, to advise them when they need it 
most. In order to do this, we must first educate ourselves.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bolton, Sanford, PhD, and Gary Null, MS. "Caffeine: 
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Review." British Medical Journal 323, no. 7303 (7 July 2001): 13--16.

Conrad, Chris. Hemp for Health. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1997.

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Duran, AM. Dreher, Melanie C., PhD, et al. "Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and 
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Grinspoon, Lester, MD, and James B. Bakalar. Marihuana: The Forbidden 
Medicine, rev ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Hall, W., et al. The Health and Psychological Consequences of Cannabis Use. 
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House of Lords, Select Committee on Science and Technology. "Cannabis-The 
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Parliament (1998). Cited in Iversen, Leslie L., PhD, FRS. The Science of 
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Joy, Janet E., et al. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. 
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Randall, Robert C., and Alice M. O'Leary. Marijuana Rx: The Patients' Fight 
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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Dept. of 
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Tramer, M. R., et al. "Cannabinoids for Control of Chemotherapy Induced 
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FOR MORE INFORMATION Americans for Safe Access: 
Coalition for Medical Marijuana: Drug War Facts: Marijuana Policy Project:

For more information about nausea or marijuana, see the following articles 
in past issues of Mothering: "Nausea During Pregnancy" no. 52; "Marijuana 
in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding," no.42; and "Coping With Nausea in 
Pregnancy," no. 30.
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