Is cannabis dangerous for pregnant women? - study

A study finds that prenatal cannabis use can result in psychopathology in children — and doesn't get better as the children grow older.

A farmer is seen in a cannabis field in the Yammouneh area west of Baalbek, Lebanon, August 13, 2018. (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
A farmer is seen in a cannabis field in the Yammouneh area west of Baalbek, Lebanon, August 13, 2018.
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)

Prenatal cannabis use can impact the long-term mental health of children, according to the findings of a new study published September 12.

Research conducted at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Published in JAMA Pediatrics, this study expanded on the research regarding the effects of prenatal cannabis exposure. 

“PCE [prenatal cannabis exposure] is associated with persisting vulnerability to broad-spectrum psychopathology as children progress through early adolescence."

Dr. David Baranger

What effect does prenatal cannabis exposure have? 

“PCE [prenatal cannabis exposure] is associated with persisting vulnerability to broad-spectrum psychopathology as children progress through early adolescence. Increased psychopathology may lead to greater risk for psychiatric disorders and problematic substance use as children enter peak periods of vulnerability in later adolescence,” writes lead study author Dr. David Baranger. 

According to research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prenatal cannabis exposure that follows the middle of the first trimester, typically between five and six weeks after fetal development, is associated with behavioral problems that follow children into early adolescence. These conditions make exposed children more susceptible to substance use in late adolescence and mental health disorders.  

Prenatal Cannabis Exposure is a huge risk

“Evidence that the impact of PCE on psychopathology does not ameliorate as children enter adolescence further cautions against cannabis use during pregnancy,” writes Baranger. 

 Illustrative image of a pregnant belly.  (credit: PIXABAY) Illustrative image of a pregnant belly. (credit: PIXABAY)

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), prenatal cannabis use has increased from 2018 to 2019, with 4.7 percent of pregnant women reposting use in 2018 and 5.4 percent in 2019. These results, as well as the harmful effects of exposure, should support caution against prenatal cannabis exposure. 

What is the ABCD Study?

Beginning in September 2015, the ABCD Study is the largest long-term study of child and teen health and brain development in the United States. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The ABCD Study investigated a wide array of childhood experiences that affect brain, emotional, social, and cognitive development. The study sought a better understanding of the factors that affect these developments through tracking nearly 12,000 youth as they aged, gathering environmental, cognitive, and psychological information, measuring participants' brain activity and structure using magnetic resonance imagining (MRI), and collecting biological samples.