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  • Writer's pictureAaron Killion

Can You Get a Medical Card While You're Pregnant?

Can you get a medical card while pregnant? The simple answer to this is that laws in certain states don't prohibit the issuing of medical marijuana cards to pregnant women or mandate the revocation of an existing MMJ card during pregnancy.

However, pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy who are considering using marijuana during their pregnancy should research the topic thoroughly and consult a knowledgeable medical professional who can provide guidance based on their unique situation.

How Common Is Marijuana Consumption During Pregnancy in the U.S.?

It is difficult to get an accurate idea of how widespread marijuana use is in pregnancy due to a lack of research and reliance on self-reporting. Ko et al. (2020) reported that 4.2% of women from eight states with a recent live birth claimed to have used marijuana during pregnancy. This compares to 9.8% who reported regular marijuana use before pregnancy and 5.5% after.

However, studies that rely on participants self-reporting cannabis use may not tell the whole story. In one study, around 20% of pregnant women 24 years old and younger screened positive for marijuana. The same study concluded that women were twice as likely to show marijuana consumption via drug tests than what they stated in self-reported measures.

Reasons Someone Might Want to Take MMJ While Pregnant

Cannabis provides relief from many of the symptoms associated with pregnancy, which makes it especially attractive to pregnant mothers. Ko et al's 2020 study reported stress relief, anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting to be the most common reasons for marijuana use during pregnancy. 

  • Marijuana is often consumed to control symptoms of stress or anxiety. Because pregnancy can be a highly stressful time for some expectant mothers, marijuana could be seen as a quick fix.

  • Nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms of pregnancy that women may seek to treat with cannabis. The best strains for nausea are effective in providing relief for nausea in general, making cannabis attractive to pregnant women who are suffering from morning sickness (especially in severe cases).

  • The perception of cannabis as a safe and natural product alongside the legalization and growing normalization of cannabis use in society could lead women to think that cannabis is a safer treatment option than pharmaceuticals.

What the Law Says

Cannabis is considered an illegal drug at the federal level. However, 38 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana for approved conditions, including some symptoms that are common in pregnancy. This creates a potential legal and moral headache when discussing the use of marijuana during pregnancy. Cases like the Ridgell case may work to set precedents on how the law will treat maternal marijuana use in the future.

The Ridgell Case

The use of medical cannabis in Arizona is protected by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act which legalized marijuana to treat AZ’s qualifying conditions in 2010. The legality of marijuana use during pregnancy was upheld in the Court of Appeals in 2023 in a case that rejected an accusation of neglect against a mother who consumed marijuana to treat nausea during her pregnancy.

In this case, the judge ruled that since the defendant was taking marijuana under medical supervision, her marijuana usage was equivalent to taking any other prescription medication. Though this ruling will have legal weight in the state of Arizona, it won't set a precedent in states where cannabis remains an illegal drug. As a result, pregnant women around the country may face similar legal challenges in the future.

Risks of Consuming Marijuana During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

While marijuana consumption during pregnancy may be legal in certain states, it could be best to wait until after delivery and the cessation of breastfeeding before commencing or continuing treatment with MMJ. There is evidence to suggest that the consumption of marijuana during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding carries preventable risks.

The Risks of Intrauterine Cannabis Exposure

There are several possible risks associated with consuming cannabis while pregnant. These include an increased risk of:

  • Low birth weight

  • Long-term brain development problems

  • Premature birth

  • Increased risk of stillbirth

  • Fetal growth restriction

Avoiding marijuana during your pregnancy could give your baby a better chance at a healthy start to life.

Risks Associated with Marijuana Use While Breastfeeding

Chronic use of cannabis can lead to an accumulation of THC in human breast milk. This could affect the baby’s brain development.

Smoke Exposure Carries Additional Risks

The CDC warns about the dangers of marijuana smoke for pregnant women and their babies. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco smoke as well as THC, which could pass to the baby if inhaled (even second-hand) in large amounts.

Take diligent measures to avoid second-hand smoke and ask those who live with you to consider alternative delivery methods—such as tinctures, edibles (stored far out of the baby’s reach in a locked compartment), capsules, or topicals—if they wish to use cannabis during this sensitive time.

Alternative Strategies for Morning Sickness

Between 50 and 90% of expecting mothers experience morning sickness and up to 114,000 yearly suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness. Understandably, women will search for effective ways to alleviate their symptoms. 

If you are struggling with pregnancy-related nausea, there are some strategies you can try at home before seeing a doctor about medical marijuana. These include:

Some alternative therapies may also help:

  • Acupressure

  • Acupuncture

  • Hypnosis

  • Aromatherapy

  • Milk thistle (ask a health professional about the most appropriate dosage)

Though there is little scientific evidence to back up the efficacy of these treatments, anecdotal reports suggest that some women benefit from them during pregnancy.

It's Essential to Attend Prenatal Checks

Whether or not you consume marijuana products during pregnancy, it’s vital to attend all prenatal checkups and to disclose information about any marijuana consumption to your doctor or midwife. Providing your health providers with all of the information will enable them to help you in the best way possible as well as alert them to any risk factors that could affect your baby's health.

Seek Medical Advice

Though MMJ use during pregnancy may technically be considered legal in certain states, expectant and breastfeeding mothers should exercise extreme caution, research extensively, and consider the health and legal implications of MMJ treatment at this time.

Because of the increased risk of adverse health consequences for the unborn child, cannabis is generally considered a last resort during pregnancy. Try alternative treatments first and see an experienced physician if your symptoms become severe.

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