One of the medical uses for marijuana is in treating nausea, such as in people undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. People have been using marijuana to treat nausea for thousands of years, and there are even FDA-approved THC-based drugs for this purpose. One group that frequently uses marijuana for nausea is pregnant women suffering from morning sickness, or its more severe form hyperemesis gravidarum.
More than 50% of pregnant women experience morning sickness, and it typically lasts from the sixth week to the twelfth week of pregnancy. Morning sickness isn’t dangerous, but hyperemesis gravidarum can be harmful to both the mother and the baby if it is severe and left untreated, as a result of the possible lack of nutrients and electrolyte imbalances. It’s no wonder, then, that suffers would turn to any possibility for relief.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that marijuana may not be safe for use in pregnant women. Prenatal exposure to marijuana has long been believed to cause poor health outcomes and behavioral abnormalities in childhood and later in life. One review found that women who used cannabis during pregnancy had an increase in the odds of anemia, and infants exposed to cannabis in utero had a decrease in birth weight and were more likely to need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit.
THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which is known to promote sharing, humor, creativity, neuronal plasticity (the ability of the brain to change), learning, open-mindedness, and an ability to think outside the box. It is known to play a significant role in the formation of synapses during early brain development. The body produces natural chemicals that interact within the EC system called cannabinoids, and like THC, they interact with receptors to regulate important body functions. When a person ingests marijuana, THC overwhelms the EC system, quickly attaching to cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body and interfering with the ability of natural cannabinoids to do their job. In the user, it can disrupt memory, affect judgment and decision-making skills, and lead to anxiety and other mental health problems. Although there haven’t been nearly as many studies done as with cigarettes and alcohol, researchers believe that these effects can be passed on to an unborn child as well.
Synthetic cannabinoids, often called Spice or K2, are chemically similar to THC and interact with the same cannabinoid receptors, but they are often much more potent. There is some evidence that prenatal exposure to synthetic cannabinoids can cause birth defects such as brain abnormalities, deformations of the eyes, and facial disfigurement (cleft palate). Studies in mice showed that these side effects could occur with exposure at the human equivalent of the third or fourth week of pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant.
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