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Aug-05-2008 09:00printcomments

Medical Marijuana: A Surprising Solution to Severe Morning Sickness

Marijuana can bring relief to the nausea and discomfort of pregnancy's most well known side effect, morning sickness.

Pregnant women

(SALEM, Ore.) - As is the case for many young women, my indulgence in recreational drugs, including alcohol and caffeine, came to an abrupt halt when my husband and I discovered we were pregnant with our first child. To say we were ecstatic is an understatement.

Doctors had told me we might never conceive, yet here we were, expecting our first miracle. I closely followed my doctor’s recommendations. When I began to experience severe morning sickness, I went to him for help. He ran all of the standard tests, then sent me home with the first of many prescription medicines.

Weeks passed, and, as the nausea and vomiting increased, I began to lose weight. I was diagnosed as having hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe and constant form of morning sickness. I started researching the condition, desperately searching for a solution. I tried wristbands, herbs, yoga, pharmaceuticals, meditation—everything I could think of.

Ultimately, after losing 20 pounds in middle pregnancy, and being hospitalized repeatedly for dehydration and migraines, I developed preeclampsia and was told an emergency cesarean was necessary. My dreams of a normal birth were shattered, but our baby boy, though weighing only 4 pounds 14 ounces and jaundiced from the perinatal medications I’d been given, was relatively healthy.

When, six months later, I again found myself pregnant, I was even more determined to have a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy, and sought out the care of the best perinatologist in the area. At first, I was impressed. This doctor assured me he had all the answers, and that, under his expert care, my baby and I would never experience a moment of discomfort. However, as my belly swelled, I grew more and more ill, and my faith in my dream doctor began to falter.

What convinced me to change healthcare providers midstream was this doctor’s honesty. He admitted that, due to constraints imposed on him by his malpractice-insurance company, some routine procedures that he knew to be harmful would be required of me. We left his office that day and never went back.

As I searched for a new doctor, I ran across information about midwifery and homebirth. At first, I thought this was simply crazy. Have a baby at home, with no doctor? No way! I thought. But, as I began examining the statistics, I discovered an unexpected pattern. In studies comparing planned home versus hospital births, planned homebirths, with a midwife in attendance, have lower rates of neonatal morbidity and mortality. Not only that, but midwives’ rates of such invasive procedures as amniotomy and episiotomy are much lower. Everything I had believed about birth and medicine suddenly came into question. I located a midwife and made an appointment to see her.

We were very impressed with this woman’s education and experience, and were delighted to invite her into our home to share in our second birth. She gave me many new ideas to try to abate the morning sickness, which still plagued me. But despite her best efforts with herbs, homeopathic remedies, and even chiropractic care, my illness remained intractable.

About this time, I ran into an old, dear friend from college. When Jenny came to visit me one particularly awful day, we shared stories of the old days, and I soon found myself laughing as I hadn’t laughed in years. Despite being interrupted by numerous trips to worship the porcelain god, it felt wonderful to share some time with her. But when we began talking about my burgeoning belly, I broke down in sobs. I told her about how I was desperately afraid of what this malnutrition was doing to my baby. I explained how my midwife had told me that preeclampsia appears to be a nutritional disorder of pregnancy, and I didn’t know how I could avoid it if I couldn’t eat.

Jenny listened and cried with me. Then, she tentatively produced a joint from her jacket pocket. I was shocked. We had shared a lot of these in college, but I had no idea she still smoked. Slowly, she began telling me that she knew some women who smoked marijuana for morning sickness, and it really helped them. She hadn’t known anyone with as severe a form of the illness as I had, but reasoned that if it works to quell the side effects of chemotherapy, it must work well.

Understandably, I was concerned about what kind of effect marijuana might have on my baby. The only information I had ever heard on the subject was that it was a dangerous drug that should not be used in pregnancy. We discussed for some time the possibility that it could be harmful, though neither of us had enough information to make any sort of truly informed decision.

What finally convinced me to give it a try was Jenny’s compelling reasoning. “Well, you know that not eating or drinking more than sips of tea and nibbles of crackers is definitely harmful, right? You might as well give this a try and see what happens. You don’t have much to lose.”

She was right. I was 32 weeks along and had already lost 30 pounds. I had experienced four days of vomiting tea, broth, crackers, and toast. Nothing would stay down long. In an excited, giggly, reminiscing mood, I told her to “Fire it up!” I took two puffs of the tangy, piney smoke. As it took effect, I felt my aches and nausea finally leave me. Jenny and I reclined against my old beanbag, and I began sobbing again and unintelligibly thanking her—here was the miracle I had prayed for. A few minutes later, when I calmed down, we ordered a pizza. That was the best pizza I had ever tasted—and I kept down every bite.

It was sad that I had to discover the benefits of this medicine late in my second pregnancy, through trial and error, and not learned of them long before—from my doctors. This experience launched a much safer and more intelligent investigation into the use of cannabis during pregnancy.

I spent hour after hour poring over library books that contained references to medical marijuana and marijuana in pregnancy. Most of what I found was either a reference to the legal or political status of marijuana in medicine, or medical references that simply said that doctors discourage the use of any “recreational drug” during pregnancy. This was before I discovered the Internet, so my resources were limited.

The little I could find that described the actual effects on a fetus of a mother’s smoking cannabis claimed that there was little to no detectable effect, but, as this area was relatively unstudied, it would be unethical to call it “safe.” I later discovered that midwives had safely used marijuana in pregnancy and birth for thousands of years. Old doctors’ tales to the contrary, this herb was far safer than any of the pharmaceuticals prescribed for me by my doctors to treat the same condition. I confidently continued my use of marijuana, knowing that, among all options available to me, it was the safest, wisest choice.

Ten weeks after my first dose, I had gained 17 pounds over my pre-pregnant weight. I gave beautiful and joyous birth to a 9 pound, 2 ounce baby boy in the bed in which he’d been conceived. I know that using marijuana saved us both from many of the terrible dangers associated with malnutrition in pregnancy. Soon after giving birth, I told my husband I wanted to do it again.

Not one to deny himself or his wife the pleasures of conception, my husband agreed that we would not actively try to prevent a pregnancy, and nine months after the birth of our second son, I was pregnant with our third child. This time, I had my routine down. At the first sign of nausea, I called Jenny, who brought me my medicine. In my third, fourth, and fifth pregnancies, I gained an average of 25 pounds with each child. I had healthy, pink, chubby little angels, with lusty first cries. Their weights ranged from 8 to 9 1/2 pounds. Marijuana completely transformed very dangerous pregnancies into more enjoyable, safer, and healthier gestations.

But I was caught in a catch-22. Because my providers of perinatal health care were not doctors, they had no authority to issue me a recommendation for marijuana. In addition, I chose not to tell them I used cannabis for fear they could refuse me care. Finally, even if I could get a recommendation, I knew of no compassion clubs (medical marijuana cooperatives or dispensaries) in my area. I had to take whatever my friends could find from street dealers.

Many times I would go hungry, waiting four or more days for someone in town to find marijuana. I became so desperate for relief that I would contemplate driving to a large city like New York and walking the streets until I could find something. Fortunately, each time I almost reached that point, some kind soul would show up with something to get me through. What else is a sick person supposed to do when the only medicine that helps, and is potentially life-saving for her baby, is unavailable? I would much rather go to a store and purchase a product wrapped in a package secured with the seal of the state in which I live than buy from some guy on the street.

Along the way, I discovered the benefits of using marijuana to treat other disorders. At times, I have been plagued by migraines so severe I would wind up in the emergency room. I would receive up to 250 milligrams of Demerol, and sometimes, when Demerol failed, even shots of Dilaudid.

Thanks to my sporadic use of marijuana and a careful dosing regimen, I have not been to an emergency room in more than three years. [In September 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved an application for a rigorous study designed to investigate the medical efficacy of marijuana on migraine headaches.—Ed.] In addition, I was diagnosed as having Crohn’s disease. After months of tests and treatments for my symptoms, I began using a dosing method similar to what I’d used for migraines, and I found that, once again, marijuana provided more relief than anything else. All in all, I’ve been prescribed more than 30 truly dangerous drugs, yet the only one that has provided relief without the associated risks is one many doctors won’t even discuss, much less recommend.

My history with medicine and with marijuana has been more extensive than average. It is my sincere belief that if the American public were told the truth about marijuana, they could not help but support an immediate end to cannabis prohibition. Even I believed it was dangerous, until I began researching the issue.

What I discovered is that not one person has ever died from smoking marijuana. The same cannot be said for the results of the misuse of some of our most commonly used substances, such as caffeine, aspirin, or vitamin A. In addition, marijuana is no more a “gateway drug” to other substances than is caffeine or alcohol. Most kids try these things long before they experiment with cannabis.

And, finally, unlike such legal drugs as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, marijuana is not addictive. As with Twinkies or sex, a user can come to psychologically depend on marijuana’s mood-altering effects; however, no physical addiction is associated with cannabis.

Now I find myself mother to five beautiful, intelligent, creative children for whom I would lay down my life in an instant. I have been blessed with the challenge of helping them grow into responsible, hardworking, and loving adults. I have also been blessed with the challenge of protecting them from a world fraught with dangers.

There are those who would have me believe that, in order to protect my children from drug abuse, I must lie to them; that I must tell them that marijuana is dangerous, with no redeeming qualities. Some say I should go so far as to tell them that it couldn’t possibly be used as a medicine. Then there are those who would say that if I ever find out that my child has experimented with marijuana, I should turn her over to expert authorities in order to impart a lesson. While this does send a message to the child, it is not the message I want to send.

What I teach my children, ages nine and under, about drugs is that medicine comes in many forms, and that children should never touch any medicine (categorized broadly as a pill, liquid, herb, or even caffeinated beverage) unless it is given to them by a trusted adult. My cabinets are full of herbs, such as red raspberry leaves and rosemary, which I use in cooking and as medicines. I have things such as comfrey, which I use externally, that could be dangerous if taken internally. Like all responsible parents, my husband and I keep all medicines, cleaning products, and age-inappropriate items, such as small buttons, out of the reach of our kids and safely locked away.

However, I am aware that the day may come when my kids figure out the trick to the lock, so I add an extra measure of safety by educating them about the honest dangers of using medicines that are not needed. In addition, by sharing my views about the politics behind the issues, I am teaching them another, equally important lesson. As Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Gerald Uelmen stated last year at the medical marijuana giveaway at the City Hall in Santa Cruz, California, “We are teaching our children compassion for the sick and dying; only a twisted and perverted federal bureaucrat could call that the wrong message.”

I have also tried to impart a deep respect for natural healing. By using cool compresses and acupressure for headaches before grabbing a pharmaceutical such as acetaminophen, I’ve taught them the importance of avoiding dependence on drugs. I have shown them the benefits of the wise and careful use of pharmaceuticals by using them when they were my best choice. I try to instill in them a sense of reason and resourcefulness by honestly presenting the answers to their questions and admitting what I do not know, but searching until I find the answer.

When our oldest child overheard my husband and me discussing marijuana prohibition, it opened up a wonderful line of communication about the subject. I gave him a very basic explanation: that marijuana is a plant that can be used as a medicine. I explained that it could be overused and abused, as well. Then I told him that this plant is illegal, and that people who are found to possess marijuana can go to jail. The question I found myself floundering to answer, however, was when he asked, “Why would the police put someone in jail for using medicine?”

It is long past time parents stood up and took notice of the abuses being leveled on our children by well-intentioned but misinformed governing officials. We need honest and responsible drug education that treats children as intelligent pre-adults who are learning how to live full and healthy lives in a dangerous world.

They need every shred of information we can give them, so that they do not choose to huff butane or snort heroin simply because they survived smoking the joint we told them was dangerous, and because they therefore assume we must be lying about the rest.

We need to provide an open line of communication so that, if they ever have to face areas of ambiguity or situations we have neglected to discuss, they will feel comfortable coming to us, and not friends or the Internet, to advise them when they need it most. In order to do this, we must first educate ourselves.

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Campbell, Fiona A., et al. “Are Cannabinoids an Effective and Safe Treatment Option in the Management of Pain? A Qualitative Systematic Review.” British Medical Journal 323, no. 7303 (7 July 2001): 13–16.

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Department of Health, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Rota. “The Safety of Home Birth: The Farm Study.” American Journal of Public Health 82, no. 3 (March 1992): 450–453.

Duran, AM. Dreher, Melanie C., PhD, et al. “Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes in Jamaica: An Ethnographic Study.” Pediatrics 93, no. 2 (February 1994): 254–260.

Grinspoon, Lester, MD, and James B. Bakalar. Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine, rev ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

Hall, W., et al. The Health and Psychological Consequences of Cannabis Use. National Drug Strategy Monograph Series 25. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1994.

House of Lords, Select Committee on Science and Technology. “Cannabis—The Scientific and Medical Evidence.” London, England: The Stationery Office, Parliament (1998). Cited in Iversen, Leslie L., PhD, FRS. The Science of Marijuana. London, England: Oxford University Press, 2000: 178.

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Munch, S. “Women’s Experiences with a Pregnancy Complication: Causal Explanations of Hyperemesis Gravidarum.” Social Work and Health Care 36, no. 1 (2002): 59–76.

Nettis, E., et al. “Update on Sensitivity to Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.” Current Drug Targets: Immune, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders 1, no. 3 (November 2001): 233–240.

Randall, Robert C., and Alice M. O’Leary. Marijuana Rx: The Patients’ Fight for Medicinal Pot. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1998.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Dept. of Health and Human Services. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse 2000. Washington, DC: SAMHSA, 2001.

Tramer, M. R., et al. “Cannabinoids for Control of Chemotherapy Induced Nausea and Vomiting: A Quantitative Systematic Review.” British Medical Journal 323, no. 7303 (7 July 2001): 16–21.

US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition.” Docket 86-22 (6 September 1988): 57.

“Vitamin A Toxicity.” The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, Sec. 1, Ch. 3, “Vitamin Deficiency, Dependency and Toxicity.”

Woodcock, H. C., et al. “A Matched Cohort Study of Planned Home and Hospital Births in Western Australia 1981–1987.” Midwifery 10, no. 3 (September 1994): 125–135.

Zimmer, Lynn, PhD, and John P. Morgan, MD. Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. New York: The Lindesmith Center, 1997.

Zimmerman, Bill, PhD, et al. Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You? New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1998.

Erin Hildebrandt wears many hats. She's wife to Bill Hildebrandt, mom to five beautiful kids, activist, artist, legally registered Oregon medical marijuana patient, public speaker, and an internationally published writer. She co-founded Parents Ending Prohibition, and her writing has been printed in Mothering Magazine, New York's Newsday, and Canada's National Post, among many others. Erin has been interviewed for a front page story in USA Today, and she has been published in the American Bar Association Journal. Speaking as a survivor of child sexual abuse, Erin also appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show. She has also testified before Oregon Senate and House committees, and Maryland Senate and House committees. We are very pleased to feature the work of Erin Hildebrandt on

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eim April 17, 2012 1:20 am (Pacific time)

sounds good but its haram for us islam religion.. Im an HG pregnant woman too..

Nemomum July 18, 2011 9:33 am (Pacific time)

I had hyperemesis gravidarum for my entire first pregnancy. Spent 14 months researching HG and looking for a cure. Now pregnant with baby 2 and ill again. Cyclizine stopped working, Stematil never worked, phenergen didn't work and gave me CNS side effects and now I've been told to go home and get on with it by the midwife as they won't give me anything else. My research indicated cannabis would be the answer but I've no idea how to find safe cannabis in the UK, not mixed with anything else, and I'm in a rented house or I'd think about growing some. So ill, hungry and thirsty and I have a baby to look after. There are medical cannabis groups for MS but we need to raise awareness of this treatment for hyperemesis gravidarum as nobody approved of cannabis use by pregnant women, would they rather leave the women to starve and the babies to miscarry? No idea if anyone can help here in the UK. I put on two stone prior to getting pregnant so that if it was as bad as last time I had weight saved up to lose, if I hadn't then I don't know where I'd be. The doctors and midwives have just left me to starve. Terrible. I post on the 'help her' hyperemesis forum.

PDXRosebud October 23, 2010 10:29 am (Pacific time)

I am a medical cannabis grower and am 8 weeks pregnant. I quit smoking a month ago (the day I found out I was pregnant) but have continued to vaporize my weakest Indica strain (no White Widow for me!) only when the morning sickness and nausea become overwhelming. I have eliminated all drugs with the exception of vaping ganja and drinking an occasional cup of coffee (1-2x/wk) which strangely seems to also help with the morning sickness, but I feel far guiltier over the coffee than the cannabis. Caffeine, antihistamines, alcohol, and smoke of any kind (due to oxygen deprivation and combustion of any material causing the release of carcinogens) are all known to be harmful to a developing baby, but there is surprising empirical evidence in studies by Dr. Melanie Dreher that points toward ganja doing more good than harm. However, I am scared that even though I am otherwise legal to use and grow (my very fine and all-organic) cannabis, eating an organic diet and taking the highest quality fish oil and organic, food-derived prenatals that I will be listed as a child abuser if I admit my ganja use to my midwife at my first prenatal appointment in two weeks. I've been unable to find any solid information pertaining to procedure in the State of Oregon for moms admitting to eating, smoking or vaping cannabis while pregnant. I already love my baby very much and don’t want him/her taken away by Child Protective Services. Any reliable sources on this subject would be most appreciated.

KayinChicago September 22, 2010 7:41 am (Pacific time)

I can't tell you the relief I feel at reading this article. I'm 3 months pregnant and have been diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum since I was 6 weeks pregnant. The doctors prescribed me an anti-nausea drug at first, whcih worked great. Sadly, after 6 weeks taking that I've built up a tolerance to it and it just doesn't work. So it's been yet more days of being unable to keep even a glass of water down. My neighbor and close friend has always been an advocate of cannabis to provide relief from morning sickness during pregnancy, and gave me a joint to smoke. The nausea was gone instantly. I limit my smoking to 1 joint a day and it keep the nausea/sickness at bay long enough for me to actually eat and keep food down, I haven't felt this good since I fell pregnant. I wish to God I could find a sympathetic doctor who would understand where I'm coming from. As it is, I'm terrified whenever they do blood or urine tests, in case I get "caught out" and wonder what kind of trouble I could get into. Thank you so much more making me not feel like the world's worst mother.

Anonymous June 19, 2010 4:56 am (Pacific time)

I have been a medical marijuana user/ activist and am 7 weeks prego. I use a vaporiser which uses no smoke, only vapors, and effectivly uses approx. 90% of the thc. pregnant women should not be smoking but consider the alternative. you need nutrition from food to enjoy a healthy pregnancy and this is a deffinite way to get it! not to mention the cancer curing properties it has, it really is a wonder drug that should be legal for all. So, to all you pregos out there, EAT! btw, im writing this as i am up sick, i smoked and now im gonna eat. before, id be eating pills with no luck. and if you still doubt it, do some research! you'd be amazed. i was!

Anony June 2, 2010 8:49 am (Pacific time)

I had a baby in Oregon. I admitted to my OB-GYN after the delivery that I'd used marijuana in early pregnancy to help with morning sickness, and found myself battling with Child Protective Services for a week before I could take my baby home. They wouldn't even let me breast feed even though I and the baby tested negative for any drugs. They made me sign a paper admitting to be a child abuser by "using marijuana during pregnancy" and as soon as I did, they released my healthy baby to me. But now I'm in the "child abuse registry" for that reason and no other. This was in the 1990s. Their policies might have changed since then.

Mary Jane May 30, 2010 4:52 pm (Pacific time)

Hi, I was hoping to get a response but not really expecting one. I'm pregnant with my second child and about 6 weeks along. I've been smoking marijuana to alieviate the sickness. Smoking is not good for my developing fetus. Just wondering if anyone has tried eating/drinking the thc and what effects it had on the morning sickness. Also, is it just as dangerous to eat it as it is to smoke it?

AMANDA April 19, 2010 12:12 pm (Pacific time)


Sarah Fiske April 2, 2010 7:48 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you so much for this. I spent a few hours in the ER this afternoon recieving 2 packs of saline and zofran from severe morning sickness, I am 6 weeks along, and was sent home with zofran. I started researching it, and something just doesn't feel right about it. My husband and I have spent the last couple of hours debating marijuana or zofran, while not pregnant we use marijuana for migrains, and other ailments as we prefer natural over synthetic. This article sealed the deal. Marijuana will be what gets us through this. Thank you so much for putting us at ease, it is a tremendous help.

Tena H December 1, 2008 12:31 pm (Pacific time)

I am a hyperemesis gravidarum survivor. I was hospitalized 17 times in 6 months for extreme dehydration and vomiting blood. I lost 42 lbs which was 29% of my body weight. My doctors did nothing for me, none of their medications worked at all. I was left for dead and almost lost my baby too. The only way I made it through was by self medicating with marijuana. It suppressed the constant nausea and allowed me to eat a small bit. Marijuana was the only way I made it through my pregnancy, when I was out of it was when I would get so bad that I would have to be admitted into the hospital. My baby suffered no ill effects from using marijuana during my pregnancy, he is perfect in every way.

Melissa November 10, 2008 4:55 am (Pacific time)

I am thankfull for reading your page. My boyfriend thinks Im crazy when I say that I need to smoke a little something to make myself be able to eat and keep it down. I was saverly sick for the first 5mnths of my first child and found the only thing to help to be thc. Now 8 weeks pregnant with my second and I am sick all day everyday, I dont even know how it is Im am to go to wrk normally because I feel so ill and vomitt all the time. People dont even take my sickness seriously, they just say ahh your pregnant its JUST morning sickness, hehe. Im like JUST?? I feel sicker now and cannot eat a thing than I would with the flu. I have no relief!!! I know what my relief could be because of smoking mary with my first, but my previous father to be does not see it that , Ive been trying to respect his views but I am in need and think the advantages of smoking it will far out way the disadvantages (whatever they may be). SO once again thank you for assuring me that I am not crazy for thinking of using this as my relief from what seems like torture for wanting a sweet little one!!

Jasmin G October 7, 2008 11:16 am (Pacific time)

I am currently 4 1/2 months pregnant, and suffer from severe all day sickness, and often times feel ashamed of going to the DR. and having him ask for urine, then frowning upon me when I come up positive for THC. What they do not understand is that Regalin, or Zofran will not help someone who has trouble swallowing water let alone a pill, that within a matter of seconds will come back up tasting like metal. Thanks Erin for speaking out about this, I wish more people including Dr.s would educate themselves moreso on the marijuana issue, and not look down upon us women who smoke during pregnancy to be able to eat, gain weight and have somewhat of a normal pregnancy.

Matt Haines September 1, 2008 8:11 am (Pacific time)

Marijuana would put the chemical, energy, and pharmacutical companies out of business! Thats why it is illegal. In the words of Bob Marley: "The Great God is on the earth."

Telford August 7, 2008 8:15 am (Pacific time)

Makes me wonder why OB/GYN's, pediatricans, other medical professionals and professional journals are not on the same page as the writer of this article? Are there any double-blind longitudinal studies available, or in progress? Certainly other countries, e.g. , in Europe have developed replicable research on this? The fetus is highly suseptible to numerous environmental influences, so hopefully there is some good research available, somewhere.

Barbara Houtchens August 6, 2008 6:25 pm (Pacific time)

someone needs to study the effects of marijuana on high blood preasure, after a monetary incress my blood preasure drops to normal leavels that not even Norvasc could match as confirmed by my Dr.

Jodie Emery August 6, 2008 4:40 pm (Pacific time)

Excellent article! Our magazine Cannabis Culture has covered pregnancy and cannabis use, too. The truth needs to be told -- thank you, Erin, for sharing your story.

Laura Shanley August 5, 2008 7:28 pm (Pacific time)

This is a wonderful article! Those of us who have benefitted from using marijuana in pregnancy (and in my case, in labor) need to feel comfortable sharing our stories. Despite the fact that it's been condemned by those who haven't done their research, it is a natural, gentle herb that has helped millions of people throughout history. Thank you, Erin, for speaking out!

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