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More pregnant women in California are smoking weed. This condition could explain why.


On a good day, Danielle, who's pregnant with her first child, would throw up 20 times. On a bad day, 30.

"I'm 30 weeks pregnant. I smoke marijuana to deal with the effects of hyperemesis."
Danielle, 22

She has hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare condition that affects as much as 2.3 percent of all pregnancies, according to Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. It can cause severe nausea, weight loss, electrolyte imbalance and vomiting.

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Danielle says she smokes marijuana everyday to help her keep food down.

"Dealing with constantly vomiting on a regular basis, or you lose weight — I lost 25 pounds within my first trimester — it's really hard to function or feel any sort of happiness," said Danielle, who asked that we use a different name because she's scared her child will be taken away.

"You're throwing up some days like 20 to 30 times."
Danielle, pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum

The reason she's afraid she'll lose her unborn baby is not the hyperemesis itself. It's what she's doing to treat it. Danielle said she smokes marijuana every day to combat the nausea and spark her appetite. In fact, she is one of the growing number of pregnant women smoking marijuana in California. According to the American Medical Association, that number has increased from 4.7 percent to 7.1 percent.

Danielle said she first tried Zofran, a nausea suppressor prescribed on one visit to the emergency room.

"It helps a little bit with the nausea, but then you deal with massive migraines to the point where you can't even sit in a room with light," Danielle said.

So she turned to private Facebook groups with names as simple as "HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum)." There, thousands of women share stories about how alternative treatments like cannabis are helping them keep food down.

"I just started smoking like, you know, two, three times a day. Just once in the morning, once mid-day and once at night," Danielle said. "And it helps me just be able to eat and just hold things down."

Danielle's not the only one seeing similar effects. A woman in Massachusetts who spoke to me on condition of anonymity said she first tried cannabis after her husband recommended it.

"He rolled me a joint," the woman said. "That night I ate, I drank and I was OK."

She says her kids are amazing and have "zero developmental delays, zero communication issues and zero growth issues."

"We do not know the effects on the developing fetus."
Dr. Iffath Hoskins, obstetrician at NYU Langone Health

There's still not a lot known about the effects of cannabis on a fetus. A 2016 Washington University in St. Louis study found that maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an "independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes."

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"It is not a good idea to smoke marijuana during your pregnancy," said Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an obstetrician at NYU Langone Health. "You should always, always, always remember that there's not only you, but also your unborn baby."

Hoskins said she tells patients that time is the best medicine. "It's a question of time. Once you get out of the first trimester, it'll get much better," she said. "Most of the time."

For people like Danielle, who say the effects of hyperemesis persisted into her second trimester, only the cannabis has made the vomiting get better.

Even with the legalization of marijuana in California, Danielle -- who has a medical card -- is still afraid of what might happen if the state finds out she's been smoking marijuana.

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"I constantly have a fear of my child being taken due to people thinking I'm being neglectful or that I'm an addict," she said.

I reached out to the California Department of Social Services to see how they felt about moms-to-be smoking weed. They told us that:

"The presence or use of drugs is not the sole determining factor in the abuse or neglect of a child. There must be a nexus between the presence or use of drugs and a danger to the child."
Michael Weston, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at California Department of Social Services

Since Danielle is afraid of asking her doctor for advice, she's turning to private Facebook groups. She's a member of at least three of them. One of the posts published on the day I interviewed her read:

"Somebody help me. I don't know what to do. I'm losing it." Within minutes, comments from all over started pouring in, suggesting everything from edibles to eating 20 small odorless meals a day.

"No one wants to harm their baby, which I think is the reason a lot of women with hyperemesis smoke." said Danielle. "It's like, 'Would you rather not feed your baby, being 25 pounds under where were when you found out you were pregnant? I mean, that makes you feel equally as bad because you're not giving your baby the nutrients they need to grow either."

Related stories on Circa:
These moms are cannabis industry leaders, and they're facing the stigma that comes with it
That organic weed you're smoking might not actually be organic
More pregnant women are using marijuana, according to a new study

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