Women use it anyway
Marijuana is “one of the most widely used substances among pregnant women in the U.S,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
One Kaiser Permanente study found the number of pregnant women who reported using marijuana grew from 4% to 7% between 2009 and 2016.
Most doctors, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend pregnant and nursing women abstain due to a lack of research. Despite their advice, many women believe marijuana is a better option than over-the-counter or prescription drugs.
One Delawarean’s story
Morgan Coble lives in Bridgeville. She’s 35 and nine months pregnant with her first child. She suffers from chronic pain due to injuries from an auto accident, as well as post-traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety. She’s using medical marijuana to cope.
“I have a [lumbar spinal] disc protrusion pressing on a nerve root,” Coble said. “I also have a couple bulging discs in my neck. It’s always painful.”
Initially, Coble was treated with cortisone and steroid injections, but she was miserable between treatments. She said she had a “nerve block” injection, but was one of the few people for whom the procedure did not work. Before her pregnancy, Coble also took tizanidine, a muscle relaxant, and ibuprofen, as well as vortioxetine and Xanax for her mental health.
Around the time she discovered she was pregnant, doctors told her that she was a spinal surgery candidate. That’s on hold until the baby comes.
About two years ago, Coble’s doctor, Ronald Luna in Georgetown, certified her for a Delaware medical marijuana card. She goes to the dispensary in Lewes, where she usually gets about two ounces. That lasts one to two months.
“Normally the pain ranges between an eight and a 10, at worst. Depending on which strand I use, I can get it down to between four and six,” she said. “It doesn’t fully take it away, but it means I can function.”
As for functioning mentally, Coble said, “Some strands are really just a body high, not high like when you’re a teenager smoking in high school kind of thing. You don’t get that head high.”
When she discovered she was pregnant, doctors recommended she stop all her medications, but Coble was concerned that carrying a baby would mean immense pain due to her injuries.
According to Coble, Dr. Kennedy Yalamanchili, with Delaware Neurosurgical Group in Newark, recommended she continue using only medical marijuana to cope with the pain. His office did not return phone calls.
“I try not to use it every day,” she said. “Usually I use it at night, so I can sleep.”
Unless nature takes its course earlier, she is scheduled to be induced at Beebe Medical Center September 30. The staff there is aware of her medical marijuana use.
Beebe representatives didn’t respond when asked if they condone medical marijuana use by pregnant women, but urged women to be up front with their doctors.
“Beebe Healthcare encourages our providers and their patients to work together on an entire care plan, including appropriate medication,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hawtof, vice president and chief of medical operations. “Our providers take a careful history and ask about all medication use, in order to take the best care of their patients.”
More research needed
There is not enough research to say conclusively if medical marijuana is beneficial, detrimental or inconsequential during pregnancy.
Dr. Richard Henderson is a practicing obstetrician in Wilmington and chairs the government affairs committee of the Medical Society of Delaware.
He said, “It should be studied more. Right now it’s a Schedule One drug, and that makes it illegal for any investigative study. That has really hampered any real, thorough clinical investigation into what conditions it may be used for.”
This year, the MSD signed a letter asking the federal government to reschedule marijuana so it can be better researched. At this time they’re adamantly opposed to any non-FDA-approved marijuana use, including during pregnancy.
“There have been no studies on fetal development [in marijuana-using mothers] to guide physicians and obstetricians like myself, but the animal studies are concerning,” Henderson said.
For Coble, unmedicated back pain and PTSD would have made pregnancy unbearable. Rather than continuing to take medications known to be potentially dangerous to fetuses, she opted to use only marijuana.
“You have to weigh out the pros and cons of taking any medication while pregnant,” Coble said. “I just feel something that is naturally grown instead of being produced by big pharmaceutical companies is the safer option for me and my baby.”