Inspired by a panel discussion featuring Ina May Gaskin, the “mother of authentic midwifery”, a few months ago here in Amsterdam, I decided to take a closer look at the topic of using cannabis during pregnancy and childbirth. While Ms. Gaskin did not discuss cannabis consumption with us, she did make a few remarks which roused my interest in the subject. This is some of the information I have found on the topic. Take a look for yourself.
Long before it was banned, cannabis was an approved remedy, or medicine, in obstetrics. It has a calming effect and helps combat nausea. Cannabis can work wonders for women struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a pregnancy-related disorder. No effective, pharmaceutical treatment exists for this condition, but cannabis can provide immediate relief.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (severe vomiting in pregnancy)
Characterised by extreme and persistent nausea and vomiting throughout the day, as well as at night and on an empty stomach, and also weight loss: hyperemesis gravidarum is a serious pregnancy condition which, if left untreated, can be fatal for mother and child. Approximately 0.5 to 2.0% of pregnant women display serious symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum.
Case study reports involving expectant mothers describe how cannabis is the most effective – and also only – drug that helps against these complaints. It eliminates the nausea and vomiting, stimulates the appetite and is a digestant. In some states in the USA, medicinal cannabis is permitted to treat hyperemesis gravidarum. According to my research, this is not yet the case in Europe, however.
Dr. Wei-Ni Lin Curry, a woman affected by this condition, described her own situation as follows:
“Within two weeks of my daughter’s conception, I became desperately nauseated and vomited throughout the day and night. … I vomited bile of every shade, and soon began retching up blood. … I felt so helpless and distraught that I went to the abortion clinic twice, but both times I left without going through the with the procedure. … Finally I decide to try medical cannabis. … Just one to two little puffs at night, and if I needed in the morning, resulted in an entire day of wellness. I went from not eating, not drinking, not functioning, and continually vomiting and bleeding from two orifices to being completely cured. … Not only did the cannabis save my [life] during the duration of my hyperemesis, it saved the life of the child within my womb.“
Dr. Curry has conducted a short pilot study on the topic herself and the results can be reviewed here (in English only).
Historically, cannabis and hemp were used to naturally induce labour or stop bleeding, to alleviate pain or to start the process of lactation.
What works for some women is not necessarily going to be suitable for others. There are cannabis strains to expand consciousness, whilst others have a relaxing effect and produce a sensation of lightness. While giving birth, some women find that cannabis can trigger anxiety and possibly even paranoia, whilst others respond with a sense of relaxation, sense of humour, curiosity and openness. The latter are the effects I have read about on numerous occasions. Also, Susun Weed, the famous herbalist from the USA, can confirm that cannabis helps women in labour calm down, relax and helps foster curiosity and a sense of humour.
Ina May Gaskin also asserts that a sense of humour and laughter are entirely beneficial during labour. Cannabis is believed to have a significant impact on contractions and possess a hormonal influence. It is also supposed to give a fresh perspective on the birth and delivery.
A lot of what happens during childbirth has to do with instinct and occurs way below the level of the conscious mind. Cannabis can help a woman put her trust in the birthing process and not over-think the process. Mrs. Gaskin also always makes reference to the fact that childbirth should be as uninhibited as possible and that women should be encouraged to follow their own gut instincts.
Historic references to the therapeutic use of cannabis for a variety of female conditions go back to the 7th century BC. In his book “Cannabis Treatments in Obstetrics and Gynaecology: A Historical Review” Dr. Ethan Russo writes that parts of the cannabis plant, including its flowers and seeds, were used in China and Persia to induce contractions, prevent miscarriages/stillbirths and reduce postnatal bleeding.
According to tradition, Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis as a remedy for labour pains.
In the mid-nineteenth century, cannabis tinctures were a popular compound in Western cultures and a range of cannabis-based prescriptions arose. For example, just a few drops mixed with warm water were an effective formula against pain during delivery, as well as for hysteria and menstrual cramps. In the mid-nineteenth century, virtually every chemist produced their own tincture.
Together with colleagues, Dr. Melanie Dreher has studied cannabis consumption in pregnant women in Jamaica over a period of many years and reports that the plant has traditionally been used to treat nausea and to stimulate the appetite. Admittedly, consumption of cannabis is not officially encouraged in Jamaica, and in fact the opposite applies; nevertheless, Jamaican women regard the custom of therapeutic cannabis consumption for themselves and their unborn child as an aid and remedy.
During her 30-year study on cannabis consumption in pregnancy, Dr. Dreher concluded that there is no scientific proof that consumption of cannabis is harmful to the human foetus.
In their book “Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence” John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer state that “[m]arijuana has no reliable impact on birth size, length of gestation … or the occurrence of physical abnormalities” among infants. This finding appears to have been corroborated by studies in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Australia as well.
Let us return to the woman who inspired me to look at the historic and most recent information on cannabis use during pregnancy and childbirth.
Readers of our blog are perhaps unfamiliar with Ina May Gaskin as the “mother of authentic midwifery”, knowing her more as the co-founder of The Farm, an international hippy community in Summertown, Tennessee which is based on principles of non-violence and respect for the earth. Others might know her as the first woman to have been admitted to the High Times Counterculture Hall of Fame, an honour that was bestowed in 2000.
Ina May Gaskin is not just another midwife. No! She has re-kindled the debate around natural births. Together with other midwives, she has started up her own birthing centre on The Farm, at which her book “Spiritual Midwifery” plays a key role. She is also the founder of “The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project”, an initiative in the USA to commemorate mothers who died of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and publicise more widely the issue of maternal death in childbirth.
Her work is portrayed in films such as “Birth Story” and “The Business of Being Born”. It is fair to say that she is one of the most famous midwives in the world. Her contribution to natural midwifery is immense: “less is more” or “nature knows best” are just two statements we often hear from her.
Perhaps it is time for modern midwifery to take a look back if it wants to move forward. Cannabis has a significant part to play, but we need more independent, clinical studies and not just case study reports and surveys, important though they may be, in order to market cannabis for pregnancy and childbirth. I am aware of the debate on the topic and it is neither the first, nor the last, that the subject will have to face.
In 2012, my colleague Seshata also wrote an article on the topic of “cannabis and pregnancy” which I would not want to keep from you. You can find it here.
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