Can I use marijuana during childbirth?
So, it seems that cannabis or marijuana is an effective and safe pain reliever. Can I use it during childbirth?
There’s evidence that cannabis has been used for relief of pain during labour dating back to the fourth century[i] and as recently as the 1800’s[ii]. In Canada, cannabis was legal until 1923 when it was made a controlled substance along with heroin and codeine.[iii]
So, if a drug was used many years ago for pain relief in labour, does that make it safe? Definitely not! Practices like bloodletting and using chloroform were also used as medical treatments for decades. Now we know better. But very often, traditional medicines are proven to be safe and effective.
Or maybe you’ve read about other women who’ve used marijauna recently and had no problems. Does that make it a safe drug? Not necessarily. One person might tolerate a drug well, while another person might not. To tell if a drug has benefits that outweigh its risks, you have to look at how it works in hundreds of people. So let’s take a look at what we do know about cannabis from current research.
What ‘s the research?
You may already know that our bodies have a cannabinoid system that’s part of our central nervous system. Our bodies produce cannabis like compounds known as endocannabinoids that have important roles in mood regulation, brain function and stress response.[iv] This endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the reason that cannabis affects how we feel. The ECS also plays an essential role in fertility and is found at the earliest stages of embryonic development.[v] Throughout pregnancy and infancy, the ECS continues to develop and is important to healthy brain function.[vi]
Often people think that since we have a cannabinoid system and that since our bodies produce cannabis-like substances, that it follows that using cannabis must be safe. This is just not true. All drugs use our bodies own systems in order to work effectively. And even substances that are biologically identical to what our body produces, don’t always work the same ways in the body when they’re ingested or given intravenously. The truth is, we don’t fully understand the ECS, what it does for our brains or how it affects us psychologically.
However, when it comes to research related to pregnancy and cannabis, the only studies I could find looked only at regular use during pregnancy, not short term use during childbirth. While some studies found negative effects of marijuana use during pregnancy[vii] ,the quality of evidence is quite low with very small study numbers (tracking 35 pregnancies, for example) and didn’t account for socioeconomic disparities (most women who admit to using marijuana during pregnancy have a low socioeconomic status) or tobacco and alcohol use.[viii]
To be honest, in the research I’ve found, marijuana doesn’t have a lot of serious adverse effects and most of them are associated with long term use.[ix] Using any form of cannabis regularly during pregnancy or breastfeeding is strongly discouraged by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But pregnant women are often given powerful opioids during childbirth that would not be recommended to be taken on an ongoing basis. At the same time, marijuana has over 400 chemical compounds, most of which we know little about.[x] When you use a product labeled “CBD”, it means that there’s a high concentration of that compound, it’s not purely CBD. It’s important to understand this before making a decision to use it or not.
Tell your midwife or doctor if you plan to use marijuana.
If you’re thinking about using cannabis for pain management during labour, you must tell your doctor or midwife. Cannabis can change how other drugs work in your body and can increase the effects of opioids.[xi] I know this might be scary. But all medical decisions should be made in collaboration with your care provider. They can’t give you the best advice unless you’re honest with them. If you raise this issue and they have a very negative reaction, it might be a time to ask for a second opinion or change care providers. Since there is little research on cannabis, it’s kind of a grey area in medicine right now. Your doctor or midwife has a lot of responsibility with not much good information. So, it’s understandable that they’ll probably discourage you from using cannabis during childbirth. When I say negative reaction, what I mean is if they’re dismissive or threaten you or your baby. It’s one thing to say “Hey, I don’t recommend it. We don’t know enough about it yet.” It’s an entirely different thing to say “Well, you can do that if you want to hurt your baby.”
In general, cannabis has been found to be pretty effective for many kinds of pain relief and has fewer side effects and contra-indications than opioids.[xii] But if you’re thinking of using it during labour, it’s a good idea to think about why.
Is it because you’re scared?
For one thing, labour without drugs can be pretty amazing! We live in these magical bodies that can grow tiny humans, produce the milk to feed them and have hormones that can literally make us high. If you’re afraid of the pain of childbirth, I’d urge you to take a class that can help you make the most of your nervous system and use your own mind-body connection to carry you through labour. It takes effort to learn how to use our minds in this way, but it’s well worth it. One of the benefits: there are no unwanted side effects! Known or otherwise. A HypnoBirthing class will teach you the skills to use your own nervous system to have a childbirth that is manageable and stress-free. Skills that you can use when you want to. No need to wait for anyone else to be ready.
There are other non-drug pain management methods that are very effective, such as acupressure or hydrotherapy (getting in the tub). Why not explore some of those methods? If you’re not down with hypnosis and want something that’s solidly research based, then the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth class is the one for you! This class covers a wide range of comfort measures for birth and the research behind them.
Childbirth doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Learn how your mind and body works. Learn about birth and prepare for it mentally and physically. You might be pleasantly surprised! Then you can choose what drug or medical options you want to use from a place of strength, not fear.