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Oh, the Humanity

The murky take on marijuana and prenatal motherhood

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America's Jetsonian future is nigh. Companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are close to spitting wealthy tourists into space. Robots large and small are talking with us (or at us), replacing us at work and whooping us on Jeopardy. Heck, hoverboards are already a retro fad. We've become immortals, gods, and life in Orbit City, it seems, is good. Progress!

And yet childbirth, the ultimate OG act of mortality, is no less removed from death. Maternal death rates in the United States, the most technologically advanced society on the planet, have more than doubled since at least 1987. Although its therapeutic benefits have been proven ad nauseum in other facets of life, marijuana remains a question mark for all involved in utero.

A new comprehensive study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), which reviewed and analyzed thousands of recent research reports on the health effects of marijuana, found "substantial evidence of a statistical association between maternal cannabis smoking and lower birth weight of the offspring." A similar review published in last October's issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology discovered the same connection, but determined it was "attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors." Independently, there isn't conclusive evidence of marijuana's affiliation with low birth weight, say the researchers.

Still, an author of the study told National Public Radio in September, "Any foreign substance that doesn't directly benefit maternal or fetal health should be avoided."

Despite the risks, expectant moms are lighting up, often to combat the nauseating symptoms of morning sickness or its more severe incarnation, hyperemesis gravidarum, which can result in dangerous levels of weight loss and dehydration. Another recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in 2014, 11.6 percent of pregnant women, ages 18 to 44, admitted smoking or ingesting cannabis within the previous year.

"Marijuana did help. Immensely," a woman named Shauna (her name was changed) told VICE in 2015. "I don't think I would have made it through [the pregnancy] without cannabis."

Serious repercussions lie in wait for some who admit such use. In Colorado, a newborn child who tests positive for a Schedule I drug, such as cannabis, is considered, by law, a victim of child abuse or neglect (even though both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in the state). Here in Washington, positive toxicology tests for both mother and infant are reported to Child Protective Services.

What gives? Our new freedoms, whether in self-driving cars or marijuana legalization, can dazzle and delight, but surely they come with a great responsibility, an obligation to our humanity. As Joseph Campbell warns in The Power of Myth, "Technology is not going to save us. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being." ♦