Austin moms turning to marijuana to treat postpartum depression

Silhouette of person smoking. (KXAN File Photo)
Silhouette of person smoking. (KXAN File Photo)

Highlights

28 states allow medical marijuana for a number of conditions including postpartum depression

1 in 7 women battle postpartum depression

Newly filed SB 269 looks to cover more debilitating medical conditions under the law including post-traumatic stress disorder


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Her long brown hair hangs over her face, her big brown eyes full of wonder, she has an ease about her which she’ll tell you doesn’t come easy.

At first glance, she doesn’t look like a mom of three. On most days, if it’s not the baby tugging on her leg, it’s her toddler but she’s learned to keep moving by wrapping the baby on her back, carrying the toddler and guiding her eldest.

She’s a mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend and she admits there are many days she’s just overwhelmed. “Let me start by saying that things aren’t the same as they used to be, we have moved fast and we are finding ourselves trying to evolve as parents to keep up and thrive as families,” she wrote in an email to KXAN. “In a society that has changed very much in its understanding and encouragement to mothers rearing the next generation of world citizens, it is easy to lose sight of how overwhelming it can be to immerse yourself in motherhood.”

She’s 34-years-old and the mother of three children ages: 9, 3 and 2. After the birth of her second child, she said she started having symptoms of postpartum depression, specifically postpartum rage. To treat the problem, she turned to something that doctors can’t legally prescribe.

Celia Behar with her two children. (Courtesy: Celia Behar)
Celia Behar with her two children. (Courtesy: Celia Behar)

“At the suggestion of my therapist/doctor I began using cannabis to relieve the symptoms of PPD/ptsd,” she explained. After using cannabis for several months, she says the drug is allowing her to look at a stressful situation in a calmer way. “It allows me to slow the reaction process slightly so that I may make a different decision,” she wrote. “It allows me to be present with my children whereas in the past I would be consumed with thoughts of the millions of things on my to-do list. Playing dolls and Legos, reading the same book dozens of times in one day is something I can now do with joy and mindfulness.”

The mother, who wished to remain anonymous, is among a growing group of mothers in Austin secretly using marijuana to treat postpartum depression. She, like so many, is worried about being arrested and her children taken away. Child Protective Services explained that many of their cases often start with allegations of substance abuse and it takes just one complaint from any source to launch an investigation.

“After doing my research, I determined that this is something that helps me so immensely, that I would be irresponsible to bypass. This is not a decision that I take lightly and I look forward to the day we can study this in more detail and remove the stigma of both PPD and cannabis use.”

According to postpartum support groups, one in seven women battle postpartum depression during pregnancy or after giving birth.

Celia Behar is one of those mothers who battled postpartum depression. She started seeing signs after giving birth to her oldest daughter. “I couldn’t get out of bed. I was sobbing. I didn’t feel connected to my daughter.” The California mom admits it took her a while to realize what she was dealing with. “I didn’t want to hurt her or anybody else, I definitely wanted to hurt myself and more than anything I just wanted to disappear.”

Behar turned to therapy and even got a prescription for Prozac, but she said the side effects made her feel numb. “My hands would shake, which I hated. No sleep. There was definitely insomnia, upset stomach and really bad migraines.” Desperate for help after her second daughter was born, Behar turned to something she doubted at first: marijuana. “It works right away, it’s more natural, there are no lasting side effects to it. My rage was gone, I mean I didn’t have that anymore.”

Behar said she started smoking it at night once her kids were asleep, and after some time and research from Moto Perpetuo Farm she moved to oils, lotions and edibles. The life coach and blogger said she noticed that she was more focused and patient with her children. “I’m not stoned. I’m not high, obviously when you’ve got kids you have to be hyper aware, but if you had a glass of wine no one is going to judge you, but if you smoke part of a joint there is still that stigma.”

Doctor’s Orders

Currently, 28 states allow medical marijuana for a number of conditions including postpartum depression. The stigma is slowly fading in places like California where doctors can now recommend cannabis to their patients.

Postpartum Symptoms

  • Mood Swings
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Insomia
  • Anxiety

“I’m not allowed to write a prescription like I would be able to do with antibiotics,” explained Dr. Bonni Goldstein, Medial Director of Canna-Centers in Los Angeles and author. “I’m allowed to approve a patient once I evaluate them, and make sure they qualify, and in addition to making sure they qualify based on the law, I also ask myself the question ‘would this person benefit from the use of medical cannabis? If they qualify and I do think that they would benefit I’m allowed to approve them.'”

Once they get the approval, patients can pick up cannabis at a number of dispensaries. Dr. Goldstein’s patients are using cannabis to treat everything from symptoms related to cancer to postpartum depression. “These are not people who are saying ‘lets get high.’ These are people who are saying ‘I have a real situation going on, I’ve seen my doctor, I’ve tried this medication and it’s not working. I need a different solution.'”

Dr. Goldstein recently published Cannabis Revealed, a book detailing the science behind the plant’s use. “It’s quite safe and it may work and we have this system in our brain that may be imbalanced and this plant may be the answer to put it back into balance,” explained Dr. Goldstein. “Right now, we do not have good pharmaceuticals that could replace what the cannabis plant does.”

However, not all doctors agree. Dr. Carly Snyder is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist in New York and also part of Postpartum Support International, a group connecting women with professionals who can help. She’s concerned there’s not enough research. “There are limited studies that suggest that there maybe some motor delays for babies who are exposed to the metabolites of marijuana via breast milk. There are not enough studies to say anything really with any definite certainty, obviously there are concerns about a mom who may be impaired by virtue of using marijuana caring for a newborn or infant.”

Dr. Snyder pointed out there are many options and alternatives for mothers battling postpartum depression if their current treatment is not working. “It’s imperative that they get help, but I would suggest that they search for a provider that can help them… if they want to go a natural route, acupuncture can be wonderful, meditation is excellent.”

Mixing marijuana with postpartum depression is something David Houke with the Austin Recover Center in Buda thinks could be dangerous. He explained that marijuana can be addictive and can stay in the body for several weeks. “People look at that and think, well I didn’t have cravings, I didn’t have this horrible feeling, so I must not be addicted to it–that’s one of the misnomers or myths about addiction, that it has to involve a craving and that’s not always the case.”

The center has a program which caters to mothers who are battling addiction and their babies. While the mother is being treated, her baby is in daycare in the next building. Houke said some of the mothers who have gone through the program have dealt with postpartum depression. “We know that there is genetic predisposition to becoming addicted and if there is any potential for that it’s best not to touch it at all,” said Houke.

Marijuana Laws in Texas

Two years ago, Texas lawmakers legalized small amounts of cannabis oil, but only for certain patients with severe forms of epilepsy. The Texas Compassionate Use Act passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and by about two-thirds in the House. When he signed it into law, Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear that this would not open the door to legalize marijuana in Texas. But the bill’s co-author, Senator Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, says it leaves out a lot of people who need treatment.

This session Menendez has filed a bill, SB 269, to cover more debilitating medical conditions under the law including post-traumatic stress disorder. “What I don’t understand is why it is that politicians feel like they can pick and choose which legitimate medicines are available for doctors to prescribe,” said Sen. Menendez, “all I’m trying to do is allow for medical doctors to be able to in consultation with their patients decide which course of medication is best for them.”

Since KXAN told him about the mothers secretly using in Austin, he said postpartum depression should be considered. “I’m not a medical professional, but if a medical professional is currently prescribing a medication for someone suffering from clinical depression or bipolar or whatever the issue may be, I’m not going to get in the way,” said Menendez. “Here we have something that’s known to have medicinal benefits for people and we tell people no if you go get that you’re a criminal.”

Sen. Menendez encourages mothers battling postpartum to contact his office along with the governor and other representatives. He’s hoping to get a hearing on SB 269 this session.

For Behar, medicating in the shadows is a problem that more women to need to speak up about. “Someone has to start talking about it. I think moms have power, a lot more than we give credit.”

 

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