Despite the global shift towards more lenient cannabis laws, it is essential to consider potential health concerns associated with its use, particularly among pregnant women.
A pleasurable relief for some, cannabis has found itself injected into the sphere of medicinal therapy as well as recreational use. Although many countries, including India, enforce a ban on recreational cannabis, some nations like Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand recently embraced legal recreational use. In particular, the US has seen a rapid surge in cannabis use among expectant mothers, largely to combat pregnancy-related symptoms like morning sickness. However, this increase raises crucial concerns about possible health risks for the developing infant.
A recent preclinical study cautions that THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the principal psychedelic component in cannabis, may harbor harmful effects on fetal development. This Oregon Health & Science University-led research, featured in Clinical Epigenetics journal, warns of potential long-term health risks for the child when exposure to THC occurs in utero.
The study, spearheaded by Lyndsey Shorey-Kendrick, underscores that cannabis poses significant health risks for certain groups, notably pregnant women. Their findings revealed that THC administration to pregnant subjects (nonhuman primates) provoked substantial alterations in the placental and fetal epigenome, a system of chemical compounds controlling the genome’s operation. The research team found that these THC-induced changes mirrored those typical of various widespread neurobehavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.
Such disorders often characterize symptoms like impaired memory and verbal reasoning, along with heightened impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention.
However, prenatal cannabis use has also been linked to other medical concerns. A 2020 study in the Sleep Health journal indicated a connection between prenatal cannabis use and sleep difficulties in children.
Moreover, several studies correlate cannabis use during pregnancy with an increased likelihood of developmental and hyperactivity disorders in children later in life. Complications like premature birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, low birth weight, and reduced head circumference have also been associated with marijuana use during pregnancy.
The warning doesn’t end at childbirth. Breastfeeding mothers should also abstain from cannabis use. According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, THC can persist in breast milk for around six weeks.
The debate may persist on the legality of cannabis, but the potential health risks it poses to mothers and their offspring is not to be overlooked. Cannabis use, like anything else, requires a moderation and a sense of responsibility, particularly during sensitive periods such as pregnancy and breastfeeding.