Obstetrics, the care of women in childbirth, includes one of the oldest and most well-known medical applications of cannabis. Pregnancy is frequently marked by nausea and vomiting, commonly called “morning sickness.” Marijuana is famous for its anti-nausea and appetite stimulating properties. Increased food consumption is generally thought to provide greater health for both mother and fetus through all stages of pregnancy. Marijuana is also know to reduce physical discomfort both as an anti-inflammatory agent and as an analgesic, thereby also decreasing the stress characteristic of pregnancy. And marijuana is historically reported to ease the pain of childbirth by relaxing uterine contractions. Prior to 1970, when America became subject to a sharp increase of anti-marijuana propaganda, the effects of cannabis during labor were openly discussed in the Journal of the American Medical Association:


The sensation of pain is distinctly lessened or entirely absent and the sense of touch is less acute than normally. Hence a woman in labor may have a more or less painless labor. If a sufficient amount of the drug is taken, the patient may fall into a tranquil sleep from which she will awaken refreshed. As far as is known, a baby born of a mother intoxicated with cannabis will not be abnormal in anyway.[i]


            In analyzing the many conflicting studies on birth weight, length of term, and teratogenicity (birth defects), the current weight of evidence suggests that cannabis does not harm the human fetus.[ii] Most health experts do, however, urge caution in the use of cannabis during pregnancy. Australian health authorities have remarked that, “… given the uncertainty about the validity of self-reported cannabis use in many of the null studies [showing now evidence of birth defects], it would be unwise to exonerate cannabis as a cause of birth defects until larger, better controlled studies have been conducted.”[iii] A similar caution is expressed by cannabis researcher Leo Hollister:


While no definite clinical association has yet been made between cannabis use during pregnancy and fetal abnormalities, such events are likely to be rare and could be easily missed. The belated recognition of the harmful effects on the fetus of smoking tobacco and drinking alcoholic beverages indicates that some caution with cannabis is wise.[iv]


            In contrast to the caution and reservations expressed by research scientists, well-controlled field studies conclude that cannabis use is not harmful to mother or developing fetus. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1994 sought to clarify previous research on prenatal use of cannabis that was considered inconclusive and conflicting.[v] A highly controlled study, Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes in Jamaica: an Ethnographic Study, conclusively determined that the offspring of prenatal marijuana users had significantly higher test scores on habituation to auditory and tactile stimulation; their degree of alertness was higher; their capacity for consolability was higher; and they had fewer startles and tremors during their first week following birth. At thirty days after birth, the offspring of prenatal marijuana users had a higher quality of alertness; their voluntary and involuntary reflex systems were more robust; they were less irritable; and they were more adept at organization than the offspring of non-using mothers with similar cultural and economic backgrounds.[vi] [vii]

            A similar finding is noted in the 1997 birth of a healthy child to a cannabis-using mother in the United States. Keeping careful records of daily cannabis consumption during term, the mother discovered that moderate use of marijuana to relieve pain and physical stress had great benefits to herself and no adverse effects on the newborn. Increased cannabis use by the mother following childbirth was also found to have no adverse side effects. (Clinical evidence shows that metabolized cannabinoids enter the milk of breastfeeding mothers.) Medical examination of the infant showed all areas of development well within normal ranges one year following delivery.[viii]

            Don Wirtshafter, owner of The Ohio Hempery, the largest hemp trading company in America, provides a well documented report on the use of cannabis in birthing. The mother, Christine Wirtshafter, used nutritional treatments that included hemp seeds and hemp seed oil to provide protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids to the growing fetus. Hempseed oil, was applied for perineal massage. A difficult birth lasting approximately 36 hours was greatly relieved with ingestion of medicinal cannabis. The child, named Sativa, was born in 1994. Mother and child continue in good health.[ix]

            Warning: although cannabis has been used as a medical treatment in obstetrics for thousands of years in most parts of the world, cannabis prohibition in the United States can endanger the health of mothers and infants testing positive for cannabinoids in conservative medical practices. In all cases, the physician in charge should be aware of adjunctive medications prior to any complications arising from legal issues. Mothers have been known to lose custody of their children for testing positive for cannabinoids.[x] In another case, a traditional midwife practice in Santa Cruz was shut down for possession of marijuana.[xi]

            Related sections: Analgesia, Arthritis, Chromosome Interference, Digestive Disorders, Fertility, Marinol, Muscle Spasms, Premenstrual Syndrome, Sexual Activity.

[i] Mikuriya, Marijuana Medical Papers, 1839-1972. Oakland: Medi-Comp Press, 1972

[ii] Zimmer and Morgan, Marijuana Myths: Marijuana Facts. New York: The Lindesmith Center, 1997

[iii] “The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use.” Chapter 6, National Drug Strategy Monograph No. 25, Australia

[iv] Hollister, “Health aspects of marijuana.” Pharmacological Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, 1986

[v] Klein, Stein, and Hutzler, “Cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana: Varying associations with birthweight.” International Association of Epidemiology. Vol. 16, No. 1, 1987

[vi] Dreher, Nugent, and Hudgkins, “Parental marijuana exposure and neonatal outcomes in Jamaica: An ethnographic study.” Pediatrics, Vol. 93, No. 2, pp. 254-260, February 1994

[vii] Komp, “Babies Born to Marijuana Smoking Mothers in Jamaica are Found to be Developmentally Superior.” Source:

[viii] Ward, “Birth of an Olympian.” 1998

[ix] Wirthshafter, “A Hempen Birthing.” Source:

[x] Reports from the Oakland Cannabis Co-op Meeting, May 1998

[xi] Mount, ed. “Introduction to cannabis and childbirth.” Source: