Debate emerges over medical marijuana use during pregnancy

FORT MYERS, Fla. Florida voters greatly expanded the legal use of medical marijuana across the state in November, but whether pregnant women should be allowed to use it remains a gray area.

State lawmakers are considering a rule making it illegal to prescribe marijuana to a pregnant woman.

“With animal research, we know marijuana does cause problems with pregnancy,” Naples OB-GYN Karysse Trandem said. “There are higher incidents of still births, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and also in some studies of humans there’s proof that it causes neurological problems in children.”

The problems that children of women who used marijuana while pregnant also include learning difficulties, hyperactivity and attention disorders and some social interaction disorders, Trandem said. The National Institutes of Health as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend against marijuana use for expectant mothers.

Despite the warnings, a government survey found almost 4 percent of pregnant women admitted to using marijuana while pregnant, and researchers believe the number may be much higher.

Some mothers say marijuana has helped them deal with brutal nausea and other side effects of pregnancy.

“I would just eat a few almonds here and there; that was the only thing that I could keep down, almonds and seltzer water,” an anonymous mother said. “And as soon as I vaped the cannabis, instantly I was hungry and was able to hold down entire meals, and it was great.”

The mother said her baby turned out OK.

“He has met all the major milestones,” she said. “We never had to take him to the doctor other than just for his normal check-ups.”

Some professionals believe mothers like her are doing the right thing. Dr. Emily Earlenbaugh — who isn’t a medical doctor — holds a medical marijuana card for chronic pain and makes a living helping people, including pregnant women, decide whether the drug is right for them.

Earlenbaugh contends research showing ill effects from marijuana use among expectant mothers doesn’t take key factors into account.

“If you’re already using, tobacco, alcohol during pregnancy, you’re more likely to also be using cannabis,” Earlenbaugh said, “And we really can’t say whether those patients who are reporting cannabis use are not taking other substances at the same time.”

Trandem suggests pregnant women turn to other medicines he believes are less risky.

“I think it’s important to know that there are real struggles and real reasons why people are using marijuana,” Trandem said. “But I want to encourage women and men who know that their wives or partners are using marijuana or illicit drugs, that there are other options that are safer in pregnancy that won’t have the same side effects on their baby.”

Resources and help for pregnant women looking for alternatives to medical marijuana are available in Lee County through the SalusCare Welcome Center at 239-275-3222.

Collier County has a multitude of resources available, as shown below:

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