We currently have two questions out there:

Consequences of smoking marijuana during pregnancy (especially first weeks)?

Both deal with:

  • One parent taking a drug
  • A question about how that drug will affect the pregnancy

The question about Zoloft was put on hold within a day, because it was off-topic. It was asking about a prescription drug (vs. recreational), and how it would affect the sperm's involvement with pregnancy.

The other question was about recreational marijuana, and how having smoked it would affect the pregnancy.

I don't understand how the marijuana question is still open. I don't begrudge those who partake, but I wonder if Parenting SE really wants to be the go-to place for such a question? (And the most upvoted answer is essentially: "Congrats, I did it too, so don't worry". It has no information actually pertaining the question.

I wonder if the type of drug asked in the question is affecting the judgment of whether or not this question is still open, and/or the quality of the answers.

If we replaced marijuana with: Alcohol, Zoloft, Lithium, Cocaine, etc., would it still be open? If so, what differentiate's one drug's effects being medical advice and another drug's effects not being medical advice?

Edit: Some more info, valid from when I posted this question:

The Zoloft question was only viewed 13 times in 18 hours before getting closed down. The marijuana question has been viewed over 1800 times in 2 days, and has received 4 VTCs at this moment.

Edit 2: Now the marijuana question closed as duplicate, which made me laugh. The original question was asked 6 months ago, and has been seen almost 5K times. 0 VTCs.

  • 2
    Actually, my answer was calm down (because we were in the same situation and it worked out) and go see your doctor. You left that part out. I was under the assumption that it would be closed as off-topic seeking medical advice. But the OP seemed genuinely terrified and came here. I don't want to seem cold blooded and ignore her if I have been through a similar experience. Jan 20, 2015 at 22:19
  • @BrianRobbins Regardless, the point of bringing up the answer (yours, in this case), was not to list it's entire content, but to point out it doesn't explicitly answer: "I'm just wondering how much it would have hurt the fetus?" Although, it does suggest seeing a doctor and implies (in your experience) that there are no consequences. I completely understand answering in an atypical way because you thought the topic would be closed. That's probably what I would have done if I'd answered. That dilemma is why I asked this question. I apologize for my terse characterization of your answer.
    – user11394
    Jan 20, 2015 at 22:39
  • Thanks for the clarification :) Jan 20, 2015 at 22:46
  • You're totally right: "close for medical advice" is inconsistant and applied seemingly randomly. Stuff that is not medical advice gets closed; stuff that is medical advice gets left open even with harmful answers; similar questions are hit or kiss whether they're closed or not. It's a mess.
    – DanBeale
    Feb 5, 2015 at 0:01

3 Answers 3


The reason I closed the zoloft question and not the marijuana one wasn't so much the type of the drug as the tense of the question. The answer to the zoloft question might potentially influence whether he will stop taking a drug that was prescribed by a doctor in the future. The marijuana questions are asking about something that happened in the past, and therefore cannot influence any medical decisions. The former is asking for advice. The latter is asking for comfort.

So while the zoloft question is clearly off topic, the marijuana one is more of a grey area. I don't use my mod powers to close those, but wouldn't cry if the community voted that way.

  • 1
    The tense being the indicator makes sense.
    – user11394
    Jan 19, 2015 at 6:54
  • So if the question were "I was taking Zoloft when my wife became pregnant; are there any potential side effects for my unborn child?" it would have been left open as not medical advice?
    – user420
    Jan 19, 2015 at 11:42
  • Well, that would move it from "definitely off topic" to "borderline." That's where it gets fuzzy. Jan 19, 2015 at 16:33
  • 1
    Would it be worthwhile to edit it to the "borderline" form and reopen?
    – user420
    Jan 20, 2015 at 16:24

My opinion is that questions that should be closed hit several of these:

  • Best answered by a medical professional
  • Relate to an urgent or serious medical condition
  • Overly specific to a particular set of symptoms/etc. that are uncommon
  • Specific to a particular set of symptoms that are too common ("My baby has a fever")
  • Are phrased to seek specific advice for making a decision about medical treatment
  • Could involve risks to someone if the advice is followed

The zoloft question is borderline to me; I'd be okay with it being open AND okay with closing it, but I'd tend towards closing it the way it is currently phrased. It's asking something that should be asked of a doctor, and it's seeking specific advice for making a decision about medical treatment. We can't offer that advice, because we don't know why the person is taking Zoloft, so we can't understand what potential risks or benefits there would be to stopping it.

The marijuana question was better, in my opinion, because it's asking for advice that would be more appropriate for another parent to provide. It wasn't perfect, but I wouldn't have VtC if there wasn't a good duplicate there. While one (many) of the answer(s) were basically pushing for talking to a doctor, that was a good potential answer to that problem, rather than a reason to close the question. The debate over whether you should tell a doctor was a good example of why it was okay as a question, as opposed to the Zoloft question.

Ultimately, the possibility (or not) of answers other than "Ask your doctor" is probably the main reason I would vote to close Zoloft and leave open (other than duplicate, which it was) Marijuana. The zoloft question couldn't have been answered with anything that was substantially better than 'talk to your doctor', without some editing, because it was largely asking for that particular person.

That said, the Zoloft question could be reopened if it goes something like this:

I'm taking Zoloft, and have heard it has potential complications for women who are pregnant. Has its effect on men who wish to conceive a child with their wife been studied? Is there any information I should bring with me to my doctor when I go to discuss this with him/her?

That's answerable here, because it's entirely staying away from asking us to directly give medical advice to a specific person. I'd personally like to be very picky about these questions, and I realize I'm straying into a picky area by making this distinction - but I think you end up with better answers and better questions if you do it this way.


My opinion:

I disagree that the question on Zoloft's impact, if any, on sperm is asking for medical advice.

As the older question on marijuana shows, there is precedent for asking about chemicals and their impact on pregnancy. For other examples, see:

I don't consider these to be "asking for medical advice" because they're not saying "should I do x?", but rather "what are the known impacts of x, so that I can make my own decisions based upon scientific evidence.

That being said, I find it troubling that the top two answers on the newer marijuana question (higher voted by a wide margin) don't provide any real meaningful evidence to the support the answers. Only the one even falls within our "back it up" policy, and that only barely (i.e. "I smoked during pregnancy" isn't terribly helpful for determining potential harm, which is what the OP seemed to be asking.

Note that our policy does state:

Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally.

Answers that fail to meet those criteria, particularly on a question that is explicitly looking for concrete medical possibilities, should be either edited to include sources, or downvoted, not upvoted.

I'm not sure if these answers got upvoted because they were supportive, because of the specific topic (or a combination of the two), or if the consensus view of the community has changed enough since the original discussions that evidence-based answers are no longer considered important.

If the later case is true, then it is likely that we need to be much stricter on what constitutes off-topic due to "medical advice". If we hold ourselves to strict standards, through voting, editing, and what types of content we, as a community, encourage, then I feel we can be fairly lenient on the scope of topics. In fact, I think that this type of self-policing is crucial to our ability to grow as a site and eventually graduate. If we can be responsible in our curation of "expert-level advice", then we will attract expert-level participants.

However, if the trend persists of upvoting content that is essentially "don't worry, because why be negative?", then I have deep concerns about the future growth of this site.

  • I'm concerned as well, and I'd also like to have firmer guidelines on what I should VTC. I can down vote for whatever reason, but VTC should be clear. I didn't VTC that Zoloft question, because after the marijuana question I was no longer sure how to handle that type of question. I was also avoiding voting for, editing, or commenting on the answers because I wasn't sure about the longevity of the question.
    – user11394
    Jan 18, 2015 at 19:04
  • I think the answers were upvoted because people could identify with the woman's dilemma. "I think that this type of self-policing is crucial to our ability to grow as a site and eventually graduate." I can see being concerned with the lack of close votes and down votes (Almost all the answers have down votes), but how can you hold members responsible for the up votes? I think (I'm not sure) that this was a hot question (I remember seeing a strange icon of a flame on my phone). As for including references (or answering the question at all, even though I close voted)... Jan 19, 2015 at 12:03
  • ...I did go back and include a reference (sorry I didn't do it when I submitted the answer). I addressed this before: if a question like this isn't closed quickly, some questionable advice gets submitted in comments (like the advice to withhold information from her doctor) and answers (such as the answer citing irreversible brain damage). I answered in part because there was no cited advice in spite of the question having gotten answers. Is it possible that this is not only a self-moderation issue, but a moderator issue as well (I know we're short)? If so, does Tim Post need to be aware? Jan 19, 2015 at 12:10
  • 1
    Your answer was fact-based even without the citation, so please dont think I intended criticism of your answer; I didn't consider it problematic before the edit. I didn't realize this made the hot questions list; that could certainly explain the high score, and that sort of thing has been a problem in the past. Definitely agree about the lack of moderation (and that is in no way a criticism of Karl; the blame rests solely on my shoulders!). I had reached out to Tim last week, but have not yet received a response, so he may still be on leave.
    – user420
    Jan 19, 2015 at 12:17
  • No, I did not feel criticized, just explaining. (Besides, I'm not above criticism.) I'm sorry to bring up moderation. In essence, there's only so much users can do, especially when a question is hot. That's the point I was trying to express. Jan 19, 2015 at 22:08
  • It was certainly a hot question, of course. I remember seeing it a few times in the sidebar.
    – Joe
    Jan 20, 2015 at 16:23
  • I think the difference between this question and the cat feces/etc. questions are largely that this is a prescription drug that really, really should have no action taken regarding it without talking to a doctor. The other questions are not asking something that has nearly the urgency to see a doctor, and while there are risks involved (toxoplasmosis, listeria) they are reasonably answered by studies that aren't specific to the person - Zoloft is (because of why it might be prescribed).
    – Joe
    Jan 20, 2015 at 16:38
  • @Beofett If Tim isn't answering regularly (and he is posting regularly, ish) you might consider reaching out to Jon Ericson or one of the other community coordinators who's posted here.
    – Joe
    Jan 20, 2015 at 16:41

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