The History of Cannabis and CBD Use In Pregnancy & Childbirth
Functional benefits combined with a promising safety profile and nonintoxicating effects have made CBD an increasingly popular treatment for issues surrounding acute and chronic pain, anxiety, seizure disorders, migraines, and insomnia. Common symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea and anxiety may be relieved with the use of CBD—but as of 2020, the FDA has stated that there are no comprehensive research studies available that explore the effects of CBD use during pregnancy. (There are a few that examine THC exposure.)
While studies that look at the effects of CBD specifically during pregnancy are limited, there is a well-documented and centuries-long history of cannabinoids delivering effective and consistent relief to pregnant individuals.
CBD Use In Pregnancy & Childbirth
The Ancient World
Mentions of cannabis as a useful treatment for pregnancy, menstrual, and postpartum difficulties appear in historical texts from much of the ancient Eastern world—with the earliest references to cannabis use in pregnancy and childbirth coming from ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Stone tablets dating back to 2000 B.C.E. and the Ebers Papyrus from 3000 B.C.E. describe cannabis as a topical aid to induce contractions and ease the childbirth process. Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians would grind cannabis into honey and form a topical application that could reduce inflammation of the muscles and skin, as well as relieve pain associated with birth and recovery. The Ayurvedic, Arabic, and Chinese traditions also described cannabis as a treatment for migraine, uterine pains, and prevention of miscarriages from 400 B.C.E. onward.
Europe & The Western World
Cannabis found its way to the western hemisphere, too. For swollen breasts that resulted from breastfeeding, pregnancy, or menstruation, the Old English Herbarium of the 11th century directed women to mix cannabis with animal fat to create a rub that could be applied to breasts to relieve soreness and swelling. For the next 700 years, physicians in western Europe would note the use of cannabis as a topical, edible, tincture, inhalant, and suppository to treat uterine, breast, and genital pain—along with more loosely defined issues such as melancholia.
In 1851, the Monthly Journal of Medical Science of Edinburgh stated that cannabis had a “remarkable power of increasing the force of uterine contraction during labour.” Just a few years later in 1854, the Dispensatory of the United States formally declared the medical use of cannabis during childbirth, especially to aid with contractions. By 1862, cannabis was noted for its ability specifically to relieve morning sickness in a woman whose illness was so severe that it threatened her life (likely an early account of hyperemesis gravidarum). Late in the 19th century, physicians had come to the consensus that intoxication wasn't necessary for therapeutic benefit.
The Modern Era
Over the past 100 or so years, physicians and researchers have anecdotally confirmed cannabis’ ability to relieve menstrual, labor, and other obstetric and gynecological pains—and more recent studies have shown exceptionally positive outcomes for women who had reported menstrual issues. Studies examining the effects of cannabis during pregnancy reported that the maternal cannabis usage did not affect birth weight or other growth parameters, prematurity, or congenital issues in newborns. and
CBD has shown time and time again that it is safe to take. A review of 132 clinical and animal studies determined that CBD has no adverse effects on physiological, psychological, or psychomotor functions—and that both long-term use and serving sizes of up to 1,500mg of CBD a day are well-tolerated. (For comparison, the general recommended serving size from Lazarus Naturals comes in at around 25-50 mg.)
Instances of documented cannabis relief are found in texts from all over the world, and from points all throughout history. Similar to many modern anecdotes of cannabis use, historical accounts describe how physicians and their patients finally turned to cannabis after other options had failed in the treatments of nausea, headache, and pain. While medical research still has many questions to answer regarding the effects of CBD and cannabinoids during pregnancy, historical records reveal centuries of promising results that should continue to be explored.
¹Ghalioungui, P. (1987). In The Ebers papyrus: A new English translation, commentaries and glossaries (p. 209). essay, Academy of Scientific Research and Technology.
²Crawford, V. (2002). A Homelie herbe. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 2(2), 71–79. https://doi.org/10.1300/j175v02n02_05
³Christison A. (1851). On the Natural History, Action, and Uses of Indian Hemp. Monthly Journal of Medical Science, 4(20), 117–121.
⁴Wright, T.L. (1863). Some therapeutic effects of Cannabis indica. Cincinnati Lancet and Observer, 6, 73-75.
⁵Farlow, John W. (1889). On the use of belladonna and cannabis indica by the rectum in gynecological practice. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 120(21), 507–509. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm188905231202103
⁶Fried, P. A., & O'Connell, C. M. (1987). A comparison of the effects of prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol, cannabis and caffeine on birth size and subsequent growth. Neurotoxicology and teratology, 9(2), 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/0892-0362(87)90082-1
⁷Zuckerman, B., Frank, D. A., Hingson, R., Amaro, H., Levenson, S. M., Kayne, H., Parker, S., Vinci, R., Aboagye, K., & Fried, L. E. (1989). Effects of maternal marijuana and cocaine use on fetal growth. The New England journal of medicine, 320(12), 762–768. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM198903233201203
⁸Bergamaschi, M. M., Queiroz, R. H., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. (2011). Safety and side effects of cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa constituent. Current drug safety, 6(4), 237–249. https://doi.org/10.2174/157488611798280924