In recent years, cannabis has become increasingly legalized around the world, making it a popular method of self-care, from balms that help relax muscles to bath products that promote sleep. But while many swear by the plant’s calming effects, one study finds that pregnant women should stay away from it.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the City University of New York and published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). 322 mother-child pairs from an ongoing New York study on stress in pregnancy (starting in 2009) were examined. The researchers examined gene patterns in the placenta of these women as well as the early childhood behavior of their children. They measured the children’s hormone levels when they were 6 years old and used electrocardiogram recordings to measure heart function when the child was exposed to stress. The researchers also asked parents to fill out a questionnaire that assessed their child’s behavioral and emotional functions.
The study found that the children of mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy had higher levels of anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity, and the stress hormone cortisol. They were also more sensitive to stress. Looking at the mothers’ placental tissue (taken during childbirth), researchers found that cannabis use was associated with lower levels of genes that build immunity, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines that help protect against disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
According to the researchers, cannabis has become one of the most commonly used recreational drugs in pregnant women. Although the study is small, the researchers warn that cannabis use could have negative effects on fetal development and childhood.
“We know cannabinoid signaling plays a role in stress modulation, which is why some people use cannabis to reduce anxiety and relax,” said Yoko Nomura, professor of psychology at CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College and lead author of the study in a press release. “However, our study shows that exposure to cannabis in the womb has the opposite effect on children, resulting in increased levels of anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity compared to other children who were not exposed to cannabis during pregnancy to have.”
“Pregnant women are bombarded with misinformation that cannabis is not a risk, while the reality is that cannabis is stronger today than it was a few years ago. Our results show that use during pregnancy can have long-term effects on children, ”said Yasmin Hurd, PhD, Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai and lead author on the study. “The study results underscore the need for impartial education and contact with the general public and particularly vulnerable groups of pregnant women about the potential effects of cannabis use. Disseminating this data and accurate information is critical to improving the health of women and their children. “