Pregnant women who use marijuana heavily to treat morning sickness affect part of the baby’s brain associated with memory
- Prevalence of pregnant women using pot increased by 62% from 2002 to 2014
- Researchers exposed pregnant female rats to a synthetic chemical that acts similarly to marijuana, equivalent to heavy use in humans
- Baby rats exposed in the womb had reduced nerve connections in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory
Using marijuana during pregnancy to treat morning sickness could damage an unborn baby’s brain, a new study says.
Research conducted on rats found that expecting mothers who used cannabis affected the section of the brain involved in memory and learning.
Previous studies have shown that children born to women who used marijuana during pregnancy are more likely to develop cognitive and behavioral problems.
The team, from Auburn University in Alabama, says its findings confirm pot’s harmful effects on developing brains and advise that there are no safe levels when it comes to expectant mothers.
A new study from Auburn University found rat babies born to mothers exposed to cannabis during pregnancy had reduced nerve connections in the hippocampus (file image)
‘Marijuana is becoming one of the most consumed drugs in pregnancy, but we know from past studies that it has harmful effects on developing brains,’ co-author Priyanka Das Pinky, a graduate student at Auburn University, told DailyMail.com.
For the new study, the team wanted to examine the effects cannabis use could have on a fetus’s hippocampus, which is responsible for processing memory and emotional responses.
They raised pregnant female rats and exposed one group to a synthetic chemical that acts similarly to marijuana.
The dose was equivalent to a pregnant human mother using moderate to heavy amounts of cannabis.
When the baby rats were born, the researchers examined their brains and found that the nerve connections in the ‘brain’s memory bank’ were reduced in rats exposed to synthetic pot in the womb compared to those that weren’t exposed.
Researchers found that this was due to a reduction in a protein known as Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule (NCAM), which helps maintain neural connections and strength.
‘When we examined what was causing this, we found this molecule in brain was not maintaining proper connection in neurons,’ Pinky said. ‘There has not been much data on this molecule before, so that was exciting to see.’
The results suggest that increasing NCAM may reduce the effects of pot, but the authors say further studies are needed.
‘Right now, we’re looking for compounds that increase [production of] this molecule,’ Pinky said.
‘However, we’ve only done research in animal models and there’s always a translational gap between animal models and human models.’
Pinky says that there are many things to consider when it comes to a pregnant woman’s marijuana use including during which trimester she uses it and whether she smokes or vapes it.
‘The first trimester may not have as many effects, and it’s been pre-established that the severity is worse when marijuana is smoked [compared to vaped],’ said Pinky.
‘The effect might vary, but how it might vary and if there is a possible safe use of marijuana during pregnancy is too early to say.’
She added that as many states legalize recreational marijuana, many women might believe that cannabis is safe to use, but she says this is a dangerous mindset.’
‘The research is preliminary, but we will stress that marijuana is bad to use during pregnancy and we don’t encourage women to take it,’ Pinky said.
Research will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics between April 6 and April 9 in Orlando, Florida.