Cannabis Use During Pregnancy May Increase Risk Of Mental Disorders, Other Problems

Women who use marijuana during pregnancy may face an increased risk that their baby suffers from mental disorders, sleep disturbances and attention issues later in life, according to the findings of a new study.

Infants with prenatal cannabis exposure were more likely to experience depression, suffer from psychotic like experiences, and have lower cognitive performance later in their childhood, according to researchers from Washington University in St. Louis.

The findings were published September 23, in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, involving a review of data from the ongoing longitudinal Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study, a cross-sectional analysis of nearly 12,000 children with data on prenatal cannabis exposure conducted at 22 sites across the United States from June 2016 to October 2018.

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Among the participants, 655 parents reported marijuana use during pregnancy.

Researchers analyzed data on the children’s brain function and whether they had psychotic-like experiences like hallucinations or delusional thinking, attention issues, social problems, or sleep disturbances around 9 years old. Researchers also adjusted for other factors, like maternal alcohol use during pregnancy and family history of psychiatric disorders.

Even after accounting for other risk factors, marijuana use during pregnancy increased a child’s risk of psychotic behavior, which can be precursors to other psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.

The children had an increased risk of suffering from attention problems, behavioral issues, higher incidence of depression and anxiety, and sleep disturbances. They also had lower cognitive performance.

The risk for side effects was even higher if a mother continued to use marijuana after finding out she was pregnant, as opposed to use during the first four to eight weeks of pregnancy before many women become aware they are pregnant. Using pot during that time frame increased the risk of side effects to the child because it exposed the fetus to cannabis when the endocannabinoid type 1 receptors are developing.

Researchers theorize tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in marijuana that leads to the high, may interfere with developing infants’ brains, especially during early pregnancy when the brain is forming.

In recent years, cannabis use has increased. In the early 2000s, roughly 3% of pregnant women indicated they used marijuana during pregnancy. Now, as marijuana has become legalized in many states and is widely available in other forms, such as easy to consume edibles, more people are partaking in marijuana use. Roughly 7% of pregnant women report using cannabis now. Some women report using it daily. This is a more than doubling from 20 years ago.

Some pregnant women may use marijuana to help with nausea or morning sickness. However, doses of marijuana for an adult woman are far too high for a developing fetus.

“This study suggests that prenatal cannabis exposure and its correlated factors are associated with greater risk for psychopathology during middle childhood,” the researchers wrote. “Cannabis use during pregnancy should be discouraged.”


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