Cannabis during pregnancy may cause mental health issues in children

Mental health is the buzzword of today. Children whose mothers used cannabis during pregnancy may develop attention and behavioral problems around ages 11 and 12. The findings come from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, also called the ABCD Study.  Scientists at Washington University analyzed data and published their findings in JAMA Pediatrics last month.

Considering that prenatal cannabis use increased from 3 % to 7 % between 2002 and 2017, the warnings against pot use for pregnant women need to get stronger.  (The first two states voted to legalize pot in 2012, and now that number stands at 19 states.)  While mental health problems in youth are growing, it’s shocking that states follow policies that increase mental health risks.

In 2019, Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that no amount of marijuana is safe for pregnant women.  That year, 5.4 % of pregnant women used cannabis, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  The crucial time for exposure begins in the middle of the first trimester, after 5 or 6 weeks of gestation. (Pot shops have been known to recommend marijuana for morning sickness, which typically begins around this time.) 

Prenatal marijuana exposure also increases the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).    The newest study to connect marijuana use and preterm birth came out last week. 

What the Study Says and Does

The study is part of an ongoing, longitudinal analysis supported by NIDA, National Institute for of Drug Abuse.

An analysis of data comes from more than 10,000 children aged 11 and 12.  It suggests that exposure to cannabis in utero was associated with a higher risk of developing disorders such as ADHD, aggressive behavior, conduct disorder and rule-breaking behavior. These conditions may put these children at a greater risk of mental health disorders and substance use in their teen years.

The ABCD Study tracks nearly 12,000 youth as they grow into young adults. Investigators regularly measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and collect psychological, environmental, and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. ABCD Study seeks to understand the factors that influence the brain, cognitive, and social-emotional development.  It has the ultimate goal of providing actionable information to help educators, health professionals, and policymakers.  Hopefully, the lives of all children will improve now and in the generations to come.

The NIH now recommends that all pregnant women be screened for marijuana use. 

Earlier results on mental health risks in same study

The results fall in line with earlier research on the same children, who participate in the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study. The long-term project, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health, has been tracking the brain development of nearly 12,000 children via MRI scans.

A 2019 study looked at these children when they were 9 and 10 years old.  That analysis found the same association between prenatal cannabis and behavioral issues. It also showed that children exposed to cannabis in utero tended to have lower birth weight, lower brain volume and lower white matter volume.

The NIH-funded results add to growing scientific evidence of the negative health effects of cannabis use during pregnancy

We’ve published several other articles about this problem.  Dr. Drew Edwards explained National Academy of Science research showing women’s misconceptions about the risks of pot use in pregnancy in this article, Stoned Babies and Underachieving Adults.

He goes into much detail about the brain effects of cannabis.

Pamela McColl wrote another good article on pregnant women who use marijuana: Smoking Marijuana During Pregnancy is Dangerous

For more information, check out NIDA’s press release.