• The University of Washington wants to find the impact of using cannabis while pregnant
  • The number of pregnant women using cannabis to treat morning-sickness has nearly doubled in 7 years
  • Previous studies looked at cannabis use in conjunction with other substances, “No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively”

The University of Washington, USA, is to launch a new study to investigate the impact cannabis has on unborn babies.

Researchers at Kleinhans Lab, UoW, have launched the “Moms + Marijuana” study to investigating the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy on the development of babies’ brains.

There has been a recent increase in the number of pregnant women in the US using cannabis to help treat nausea while pregnant, leading researchers to question whether the practice is safe for unborn babies.

A 2017 JAMA study of nearly 280,000 pregnant women in North California, found that there had been a 3% increase in the number of pregnant women using cannabis for morning-sickness between 2009 and 2016, rising from 4% to 7%.

There was also a notable difference between the women’s self-reported use of cannabis and the prevalence of cannabis in their system found by toxicology testing, suggesting that the number of women using cannabis during their pregnancy could be even higher.

The evidence that mother’s are using cannabis to help alleviate nausea during pregnancy is clear. What is not clear, however, is the true impact this is having on their children.

While there have been studies conducted in this area, according to the study’s website, these study are not a reliable source of information due to their focus on addiction (rather than purely cannabis use), i.e. expecting mothers using alcohol and other substances as well as cannabis.

The research team at Kleinhans Lab, led by Natalia Kleinhans, is hoping their intensive study will help plug the gap of knowledge in this area.

“No one has looked at marijuana use [during pregnancy] exclusively.”
Natalia Kleinhans, study lead author 

Speaking to KXLY, Kleinhans explained why there is a need to investigate pure cannabis use, rather than conflate it with other substance use in pregnancy:

“The very few investigations that have studied prenatal cannabis exposure and infant brain development have all involved women who are polysubstance drug users.

“No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively.

“This study will also involve periodic drug testing during pregnancy to verify in real time that mom’s aren’t using other drugs, rather than relying on the mother’s self-report after the child is born.”

The researcher team are looking for participants between 21-34 who have been pregnant less than 13 weeks. They are looking for two control groups: one group consisting of women who regularly use cannabis, while the other group will consist of women who do not use cannabis at all.   

Participants will meet with researchers three times during pregnancy to complete urine-based drug tests and questionnaires. During the pregnancy, the mothers will fill out secure surveys online each week documenting their daily use of cannabis, and other substances, in addition to questions related to mood and nausea.

The mothers will also be expected to bring their baby in at six months old for behavioural assessments and an MRI scan to determine the impact cannabis use or lack thereof, has had on the baby’s brain development.

In return for their participation, mothers will be compensated $300 for completing all parts of the study, as well as receiving digital images of their baby’s brain, along with a developmental report and feedback session by phone with the licensed psychologist who conducts the behavioural assessments.

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