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Smoking Marijuana While Pregnant: How Pot Affects An Unborn Baby’s Brain Development

Many prospective mothers have been guilty of smoking marijuana while pregnant – that’s a fact. The majority of those mothers probably didn’t realize that by smoking marijuana, they could affect their baby’s brain development. A newer study suggests that not only can marijuana affect the way in which brain cells are wired, which in turn can disrupt natural brain development. On January 27th 2014, neuroscientist Tibor Harkany of the Karolinska Institute (in Sweden) published a study in the EMBO Journal entitled 11 Facts Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Brain.

The general takeaway message from this study is, in the words of one of Tibor Harkany (a leading neuroscientist), “[pregnant] mothers should avoid marijuana.” These researchers found that the THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is what directly leads to interference in the forming of connections between various nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is a part of the brain that helps us form memories and is involved in higher cognitive processing skills.

Smoking Marijuana While Pregnant: Avoid Pot During Pregnancy

Harkany, the neuroscientist leading the study also stated that prenatal marijuana exposure could have effects that last well into adulthood. In other words, if you smoke cannabis while you are pregnant, it could have a lifelong effect on the brain development of your child. It is hypothesized that prenatal exposure may also sensitize the brain to future drug exposure and/or psychiatric illnesses.

How marijuana affects unborn baby’s brain

  • Brain development – THC affects the development of the infant’s brain. The brain may not develop fully or properly if affected by this substance.
  • Cognitive deficits – Learning problems, memory problems, problems with problem solving, etc. may be a result of smoking marijuana while pregnant.
  • Disrupts synapses – Synapses help connect nerve cells and allow for the efficient transfer of neurotransmitters. These will be disrupted by the THC exposure.
  • Fewer connections – The child’s brain will end up forming fewer overall connections – as evidenced by the study.
  • Psychiatric illness – By smoking during pregnancy, you are putting your child at risk for developing a major psychiatric illness.  Various illnesses include: depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, and schizophrenia.  Read more about whether smoking marijuana can cause schizophrenia.
  • Sensitized to drug exposure – The newborn may be sensitized to drug exposure and thus may actually end up exhibiting drug-seeking behavior later in life.

How marijuana affects infant physical development

  • Decreased birth weight – Overall birth weight tends to be decreased if a baby is exposed to marijuana during pregnancy.
  • Higher risk of leukemia – One study found that children may be at a greater risk of developing leukemia if their mother’s smoked while they were in the womb.
  • Lack of physical activity – Past research has shown that mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy tend to have less active children.
  • Reduced length – The length of your baby may be reduced.
  • Smaller head circumference – Babies end up being born with smaller average head circumferences.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3163087/

What the Harkany et al. (2014) study found

In the study, Harkany et al. tested marijuana’s effects in a few different protocols. They grew brain cells from mice in the presence of THC, they injected pregnant mice with THC, and they studied brains of various aborted human fetuses whose mothers smoked marijuana while pregnant. The researchers saw that a protein in the nerve cells called “SCG10” (Superior Cevical Ganglion 10) was lower in brains of both humans and mice exposed to THC in comparison to those who weren’t exposed. SCG10 is a protein that is vital to create normal brain wiring in humans.

Although Harkany was unable to pinpoint how marijuana exposure may affect the brain on a molecular level, the brain can become hypersensitive to THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) during early childhood development. It is at this point in a child’s life when their brains form major connections. Since the drug could possibly interfere with these connections, it could be detrimental to the child, therefore marijuana should be avoided.  Previous research demonstrates that children exposed to marijuana in the womb may have cognitive deficits, seek out drugs, develop attention deficit disorder, anxiety, or depression.

Medical marijuana: Harkany also added that even if you are prescribed marijuana for “medical purposes,” that it should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy.

How long before pregnancy should you stop smoking marijuana?

It is recommended by Harkany, the leading researcher, that individuals stop marijuana days before they are pregnant. He stated that the drug would be cleared from the body in a matter of days, not months. By stopping days in advance, it is unlikely to affect the fetus in any way.

Is it safe to smoke marijuana during pregnancy?

No. If you look at the research and literature available, you will see that it’s not a good idea. Although your child may not turn out to have any cognitive problems as a result of you smoking pot, it’s not worth the risk. Most experts would agree that exposing a developing fetus to marijuana isn’t a smart idea because it may have lifelong effects on the child’s brain development.

Many marijuana users may remain skeptical because there is a lot of falsehood and propaganda regarding THC. However, this study is not something to be skeptical about. They examined aborted human fetuses from mothers that smoked marijuana. They found that the THC played a significant role in causing deficits in brain development. Is it really worth putting your child at risk for lifelong development problems just because you want to smoke? No.

What are the chances that your child will turn out totally messed up as a result of you smoking during pregnancy? Pretty slim. Although the likelihood that your child will end up with difficulties as a result of your smoking marijuana is relatively low, why risk it?

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