Herbs for Labor VIII: Marijuana

In this edition of her Birth Wisdom series called Herbs for Labor renowned herbalist Susun Weed shares her perspective on the controversial topic of marijuana use during labor. According to Susun, Marijuana has the ability to promote relaxation, openness, curiosity, and humor in labor. Birth Wisdom seeks to cover topics such as this from multiple expert perspectives to encourage community dialogue. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Welcome. Welcome once again to the cave of Grandmother Growth. Come in. Come in,  and sit down. Sit down and I will pour some tea for you. Don’t eat any of the cookies, though, until we have chatted. Then, only then, you may, if you wish, sample one, only one, and only if you can spend the night here.

We are speaking about herbs for labor, are we not? We have spoken of the cohoshes, the rooty blue and black. We had discussed the mint sisters: catnip, skullcap, and motherwort. We have learned about the uses, and problems, of life-root and wild ginger. We have giggled our way through that mood-improving pair passionflower and hops. And we have had our minds (and uteruses) altered by lobelia.

Are there more herbs to be used during labor? Yes. Yes, indeed there are: Some with powerful effects on uterine contractions, some with hormonal effects, and some that help us see labor and delivery in a fresh way. Today I will introduce you to a mysterious lady who does all three. Her botanical name is Cannabis sativa; her common names are perhaps too numerous to list: marijuana, Mary Jane, and reefer are among the commonest.

An old term for someone who smokes marijuana is a “hop head,” reminding us that Cannabis and Humulus share a family. Indeed, the effects of marijuana and hops are quite similar. With one major exception: Hops is currently legal and marijuana is often illegal. The biggest drawback to using marijuana is the possibility of arrest.

Even some of the most well known birth visionaries have found judicious use of marijuana during labor to be one of our most important allies.

I agree, so long as we understand the nature of this green ally. First, every marijuana plant is different, even if grown from clones under the same conditions. Second, every person reacts to marijuana differently. Third, there is a huge difference in the effects that arise after smoking the herb and ones feeling after eating it.

Actually, these three things are true for all herbs. (And foods – think of varietal wines and olive oils – and even for drugs.) But they are blatantly obvious with marijuana.

  •  Some types of marijuana heighten awareness and wakefulness, other bring ease and indolence. One can judge the effects of the herb one has but not predict the effects of different batches of the herb.
  • Some birthing women react to marijuana with paranoia, fear, and psychic/emotional closure, others react with relaxation, openness, curiosity, and humor. Those who have some experience with this herb will usually able to tell you what is likely to happen to them.
  • The effects of smoking marijuana are instantaneous and can be finely gauged, so the dose is perfect for the individual. The effects of eating marijuana are delayed by an hour or two and so cannot be judged until it is too late to ingest more (or less).
  • The effects of an overdose of smoked marijuana (tachycardia, alarm, paranoia) recede as rapidly as they appear. The effects of an overdose of eaten marijuana (nausea, erratic heartbeat, inability to move, loss of consciousness) linger for hours, sometimes days.

Marijuana is a magnifier. It will magnify what is in the room, in the psychic air, in the emotional aura, in the birthing woman, in the sensory field. This magnification, used wisely, is of tremendous aid to both midwife and birthing woman, heightening their connection to and responsiveness to the baby being born. Marijuana is the ultimate fetal monitor.

When the midwife is able to create a safe psychic space, marijuana allows the birthing woman to feel that and partake of it, no matter how frightened she may be. When the midwife is able to hold a safe physical safe, marijuana allows the birthing woman to trust her body and flow with it. When the midwife is able to open her heart to the birthing mom and baby, marijuana allows them both to share that space with her.

If you, the midwife, feel uneasy, threatened, worried, upset, confused, or unsure, marijuana will magnify those fields, possible slowing or shutting down labor.

Much of what happens during labor is below the threshold of conscious thought. The brain regions that control birth are ancient, wordless, and easily triggered (for good or ill) by sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and tastes. Marijuana links into these preverbal centers, provoking a deep trust in the process of birth.

Now, do you want a cookie with your tea or would you prefer to join me in a bowl of this magical plant. Let the wisdom spin and spiral with the smoke. Let go and trust in life. Green blessings are everywhere.

Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (Weed) and Herbal Healing for Women (Gladstar) at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.

For an alternative Birth Wisdom perspective on marijuana use during pregnancy and childbirth, read: Marijuana and Pregnancy: What are the Risks?