Pregnant Jamaican women seeking relief from nausea and stress often turn to cannabis in the form of a tea or tonic to alleviate their symptoms.

Nearly 40 years ago, Dr. Melanie Dreher was chosen by her professors to go to Jamaica and study the effects of cannabis use on pregnant women and their infants. Dreher lived among the rural people of Jamaica, and discovered that the use of cannabis in daily life is routine. She conducted several community-based studies examining the health and development of Jamaican women and children, and released several reports showing that children born to mothers who use cannabis are better adjusted than children born to mothers who do not use the plant.

Dreher studied 24 Jamaican infants exposed to marijuana in the womb, and 20 infants that were not exposed. She discovered that the culture polices its own cannabis intake, and considers the herb a sacrament. Study results showed no negative impact on the children born to mothers using cannabis; on the contrary, they seemed to excel.

Often, North American studies on cannabis use by pregnant women claim to show that it can result in birth defects and developmental problems; however, those studies do not isolate cannabis use from harmful substances such alcohol and tobacco, or even meth and heroin.

Dreher’s principal funder, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was not pleased with the results of her field work, and discontinued funding her research. Dreher said in an interview, “It was clear that NIDA was not interested in continuing to fund a study that didn’t produce negative results. I was told not to resubmit. We missed an opportunity to follow the study through adolescence and through adulthood.”

Now the Dean of the College of Nursing at Rush University, Dreher’s field work evolved into her book Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science and Sociology.