Could medical cannabis be the new THALIDOMIDE? Fears of a crisis as doctors consider doling marijuana-based medicines out to pregnant mothers despite evidence the drug can damage foetuses
- Pressure to loosen NHS guidelines on medical cannabis use is growing in the UK
- The British Medical Journal warned that widespread use could lead to disaster
- The potential crisis was compared to the thalidomide scandal of the 50s and 60s
By GUY ADAMS FOR THE DAILY MAIL PUBLISHED: 24 November 2018
Each of the 400 phone calls to the cannabis dispensaries followed a script. ‘Hi,’ said a female voice. ‘I’m eight weeks pregnant and feeling really nauseated. Are there any products recommended for morning sickness?’
In two-thirds of cases, the reply was: ‘Yes’.
Around half of those callers who’d received an affirmative answer were then advised to buy a specific ‘cure’ in a form they could eat.
Just under 40 per cent were told to get it in a form that could be inhaled or smoked. Most of the remainder were offered tinctures or drinks.
The recommended cure in question? Marijuana. But far from being genuine requests for help from expectant mothers, the phone calls were part of a research project by the University of Colorado.
The researchers were pretending to be pregnant to see how cannabis – legal for medical reasons in the U.S. state of Colorado since 2000 and fully legal since 2014 – was being dispensed. The answers they received offer a worrying insight into the booming medical marijuana industry.
‘After eight weeks [of pregnancy], everything should be good with consuming alcohol and weed,’ one dispensary assistant replied.
‘When I was pregnant and started to feel nauseous, I did not smoke [cannabis] more than two times a day,’ recommended the proprietor of another clinic.
‘Edible [marijuana] would not hurt the child,’ reassured another, telling the woman, wrongly, that something ‘going through your digestional tract’ will have no effect on an unborn child.
Of the 277 dispensaries that recommended cannabis as a cure for morning sickness, three-quarters then attempted to sell a version of the drug containing THC, the chemical that gives users a ‘high’.
Many also advised their pregnant patients to keep their consumption of this intoxicating drug secret from their doctor.
‘The doctor will probably just tell you that marijuana is bad for kids and try pushing pills on you,’ said one. ‘I do not know if the baby doctors are chill or not, [so] do not go stoned when you talk to them,’ warned another.
Perhaps those doctors had good reason for their reservations about cannabis. For the Colorado research paper, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology earlier this year, highlights cannabis as a matter of growing concern to medical practitioners across the world.
Increasingly, marijuana is being sold for medical reasons. Yet this ‘medical’ marijuana is very far from being the safe, natural healthcare product its often-rapacious suppliers would have us believe.
In some circumstances, the product – which is becoming legal in growing numbers of countries, including Canada, the U.S. and most recently Britain in highly specific circumstances – can be dangerous and possibly fatal. Particularly when taken by pregnant women.
To blame is a simple fact: a multitude of studies over several years have shown all forms of cannabis to be ‘teratogenic’. Meaning that, like tobacco or excessive alcohol, they can harm a foetus.
The drug has been linked to a host of serious birth defects, including at least six life-threatening deformities.
They include two congenital heart problems; a neurological condition called anencephaly, in which a child is born with a large portion of the brain missing, often dying within hours; and the birth defect gastroschisis, where the intestines develop outside the body.
‘Babies exposed to marijuana in utero are at increased risk of admission to neonatal intensive care units,’ says Torri Metz, a University of Utah professor who was among the Colorado study’s authors.
‘There are also concerns about possible long-term effects on the developing brain, impacting cognitive function and decreasing academic ability later in childhood.’
Which brings us to the situation in Britain, where there is pressure on the Government from an increasingly powerful cannabis lobby to loosen the NHS guidelines on medical cannabis use.