The Grapevine

Medical Marijuana For Morning Sickness? Some Doctors Think It'll Help Pregnant Women Relieve Severe Nausea

Medical marijuana
Some pregnant women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a disease marked by unrelenting vomiting, find relief with medical marijuana, but experts are divided on recommending it as an official treatment. Chuck Grimmett, CC BY-SA 2.0

Medical marijuana may be an untapped source of relief for pregnant women suffering from severe morning sickness.

On its own, marijuana uses remains heavily debated: The Daily Beast cited that 23 states so far have "recognized marijuana for its medical benefit" and allow it to be legally prescribed, while other states are only recently considering the idea of legalization. But even in states where it's legal, The Daily Beast has found that many physicians still refuse to sign off on medical licenses for pregnant women. This is to be expected when national guidelines typically warn against marijuana use during pregnancy.

This past July, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released new recommendations inspired by the increased prevalence of marijuana. To ACOG, women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should avoid marijuana based on the findings "endocannabinoids play key roles in normal fetal brain development." Endocannabinoids are receptors that the main ingredient of marijuana, THC, clings on to. And there are some studies that find marijuana use during pregnancy may triple the risk of premature and stillbirth.

Yet, for Trinity Dogood, medical marijuana was the only thing that offered her relief from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) — "an overlooked pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting," the Hyperemesis Education & Research (HER) Foundation reported. It's also reportedly the leading cause for hospitalization in early pregnancy.

Dogood told The Daily Beast that her doctor hadn't prescribed much else for her symptoms than making sure she got her recommended dose of vitamin D. When she'd exhausted several natural remedies for otherwise relief, including essential oils, her boyfriend produced marijuana for the two of them to smoke.

"I couldn't stop heaving long enough to take a hit from the pipe, so he took a hit and blew it into my face," Dogood said. Soon after that Dogood stopped "vomiting up stomach acid."

Dogood is one of an increasing number of women considering medical marijuana. One 2014 study published in the Hawai’i Journal of Medicine & Public Health found that Hawaii women who reported severe nausea during pregnancy were significantly more likely to report use of marijuana during pregnancy than those who did not report severe nausea. In Hawaii, medical marijuana use has been legal since the year 2000.

At the time, researchers concluded that this finding could "indicate use of marijuana as an anti-emetic (either with or without a prescription from a licensed health care provider) among those experiencing severe morning sickness." However, they noted that marijuana use before pregnancy was also associated with an increased likelihood of severe nausea during pregnancy.

"Although medical use of marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for some time, the issue is still accompanied by significant controversy within the state, as it is in the rest of the country," researchers concluded. "More research is needed to investigate the exact nature of the relationship between marijuana use and severe nausea during pregnancy, as well as to quantify other risks to mother and fetus associated with marijuana use during pregnancy."

As for Dogood, she's currently being monitored by Child Protective Services. Though marijuana wasn't in her system when she gave birth (she quit at 36 weeks), it was in her baby's system and CPS has promised to check-in.

Dr. Anthony Anzalone, a general practitioner from New Jersey, told The Daily Beast that marijuana could be potentially risky for the fetus. But, he says, the risks of untreated HG could be even more harmful.

"I did obstetrics for 25 years," Anzalone said. "On a scale from 1 to 10 [in terms of severity], [HG] is off the charts…marijuana would help tremendously."

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