Culture magazine has an interview this month with Melanie Dreher, the researcher whose 1994 March of Dimes-funded study found that Jamaican mothers who used marijuana bore developmentally superior babies.
A follow up study conducted when the children were 5 years old again showed no negative impacts of marijuana; in fact, they seemed to excel. But no further follow ups could win approval from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dreher reveals. No polydrug abuse was seen in the mothers and very little tobacco or alcohol.
Now dean of nursing at Rush University with degrees in nursing, anthropology and philosophy, plus a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University, Dr. Dreher told Culture, "March of Dimes was supportive, but 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.”
In Dreher's original study, nineteen of the 24 Jamaican mothers reported that cannabis increased their appetites throughout the prenatal period and/or relieved the nausea of pregnancy. Fifteen reported using it to relieve fatigue and provide rest during pregnancy.
The study tested 24 Jamaican newborns exposed to marijuana prenatally and 20 nonexposed babies from socioeconomically matched mothers. At one month, the children of marijuana-using mothers scored markedly higher on autonomic stability, reflexes, and general irritability. Babies born to the heaviest smokers, those who smoked every day, at least 21 joints weekly, scored significantly higher in 10 of the 14 characteristics measured, including quality of alertness, robustness, regulatory capacity, and orientation.
It took three years to publish the study in the US; in fact the five-year study was published first. When the NAS Institute of Medicine conducted its $1-million taxpayer-funded study on cannabis as medicine in the wake of Prop. 215, it amended the Dreher study to say the newborns born to marijuana-smoking mothers were equal, not superior. The study has been omitted from other overviews of the topic.
In a recent talk, Dreher lamented the "terrible arrogance and ethnocentrism" that refuses to accept data from other countries, even Europe and Canada. She spoke about the academic world, where "tenure is often more important than truth." Her employers get letters from irate ex-Marines, for example, demanding she be fired.
She also pointed to a 1989 article in the Lancet "Bias Against The Null Hypothesis: The Reproductive Hazards of Cocaine" which found that the rate of acceptance of articles finding negative consequence of cocaine was 57%, versus 11% (only one) for articles that didn't, even though the latter were methodologically superior. Comparing that to the situation with marijuana, Dreher said, "If we looked at all of the literature that hasn't been published, we might find a very different story."
"We have a lot of red herrings," Dreher concluded. She wonders why there are variances within the exposed group, theorizing it could be because of the "impoverished conditions in which women must raise children," looking for cheapest and most available substance to relieve their symptoms and give them the energy to work. Rather than measuring so-called "executive function" in 9-12 year olds, she thinks we should look at a broader picture, including school performance, leadership skills, and the use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances. "We need research on the quality of life -- and how marijuana enhances it," she said.
Dreher did return to Jamaica and found 40 of the children she studied, who now have children of their own and are doing quite well.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of reports from California tell of children being taken from homes of parents who cultivate medical marijuana under state law. Hear this and weep.
If you're as angry about this as I am, write to your Congressional representatives about this outrage.