Texas Moms Are Secretly Using Marijuana to Battle Postpartum Depression

By Paul Gaita 02/16/17

Postpartum depression is not an approved medical condition in Texas' medical marijuana program. 

woman smoking a joint.

Most new mothers experience some form of depression after childbirth—anxiety, sadness, anger—that lasts a few days after delivery. But for a very small percentage of women, the depressive symptoms continue beyond that time period, and develop into a debilitating condition that can last for several months or even a year.

Approximately 6.5% to 12% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, an unpredictable mood disorder that remains largely unexplained by medical professionals. 

Therapy and personal support are often suggested as early treatment for the condition, but a growing number of new mothers in Austin, Texas are turning to marijuana to contend with the emotional pain of postpartum depression. Though it's proven successful in many cases, they must use cannabis in secret due to the Lone Star State's strict policy regarding marijuana use for specific medical conditions.

However, a new bill has been introduced in the Texas Senate that seeks to expand marijuana use for a wider array of health issues, including postpartum depression.

The Austin-based television station KXAN spoke to several women who have turned to marijuana to aid in their struggle with postpartum issues. Some, like Celia Behar, spoke openly about her experience, which began with crippling depression after the birth of her eldest daughter. "I couldn't get out of bed," she recalled. "I didn't want to hurt her or anybody else. I just wanted to hurt myself and more than anything, I just wanted to disappear."

A doctor prescribed Prozac, which left Behar with numbness, tremors and migraines, but after the birth of her second daughter, she turned to marijuana, first in joint form and later as an oil and edible. "It worked right away," she said. "There are no lasting side effects. [And] my rage was gone – I didn't have that anymore."

Behar's statements are a rarity among Austin mothers using marijuana. Many use in secret, fearing arrest and possible intervention by Child Protective Services, which often launches an investigation on the basis of a single complaint.

Marijuana remains illegal in Texas save for small amounts of cannabis oil for use with certain forms of epilepsy, as detailed in the Texas Compassionate Act, which Governor Greg Abbott has been firm in his refusal to expand any further.

But as one woman who spoke anonymously to KXAN noted, the results were worth the risk. "I determined that this is something that helps me so immensely that I would be irresponsible to bypass," she wrote in an email. "This is not a decision I take lightly."

The medical profession appears to be divided as to marijuana's efficacy for postpartum depression. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, medical director of Canna-Centers of Los Angeles, has patients with postpartum depression for whom she has prescribed marijuana, and believes that if the patient qualifies for use to treat their condition, they should be allowed to use it.

"These are not people who are saying, 'Let's get high,'" she noted. "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."

But Dr. Carly Snyder, a New York-based reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist, believes that not enough research has been conducted to prove that marijuana is an effective treatment. "There are limited studies that suggest that there may be some motor delays for babies who are exposed to the metabolites of marijuana via breast milk," she said.

Snyder believes that treatment is essential for mothers experiencing postpartum depression, but also said that other alternatives may prove just as effective. "If they want to go a natural route, acupuncture can be wonderful, [and] meditation is excellent," she said.

For those in Austin that choose marijuana as their preferred form of treatment, Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) has co-authored a bill which will expand the number of medical conditions covered under the Texas Compassionate Act.

Postpartum depression should be among those conditions, according to Senator Menendez: "I'm not a medical professional, but if a medical professional is currently prescribing a medication for someone suffering from clinical depression, I'm not going to get in the way," he said. "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."

The senator is encouraging mothers dealing with postpartum depression to contact his office in order to help get a hearing on his bill this session.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.