The University of Washington is undertaking a study to measure the effects cannabis has on an infant’s brain development, cognitive and motor development, medical health, and social behavior after prenatal exposure. Unlike other studies that have not excluded alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs, these study participants will only consume cannabis during pregnancy.
During the study, test subjects are required to report their cannabis use weekly, only use cannabis from a licensed vendor, and send digital photos to record CBD and THC concentrations. Leading the research are Dr.’s Natalia Kleinhans and Stephen Dager, who say they will track cannabis use through pregnancy and scan infant brains at six months to identify any negative side effects.
“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.” — Dr. Kleinhans, in a statement
The researchers are recruiting seventy pregnant women less than thirteen weeks pregnant, thirty-five for test and control groups. The control group will consume no cannabis, alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs. The test group will consume cannabis at least twice a week primarily to control morning sickness. Participants will be drug tested during the study rather than mothers self-reporting their drug intake.
“Most medications prescribed for morning sickness have not been rigorously tested in pregnant women and appear to have side effects that are not minor. Remember that thalidomide, a particularly extreme case, was given to women to reduce nausea during pregnancy,” Dr. Kleinhans said. “Pregnant women have minimal drug-safety information to rely on when deciding whether to take a pharmaceutical, but it’s marijuana that has the negative connotation.”
At six months, both groups of infants will be evaluated for cognitive and social development, communication, motor skills, temperament, and other behaviors. Researchers will also use Functional MRI (FMRI) technology to assess if cannabis exposure affected parts of the brain responsible for reward and addiction.
“Smell is one of the earliest developing senses, and it activates brain regions that have cannabinoid receptors and are involved in reward and addiction. We will use fMRI to look at the integrity of the reward system that we think could be affected by marijuana – to see if there is a change,” Kleinhans said in a press release.
The study comes at the same time as the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board are requiring all retail cannabis shops to display mandatory signage warning against using cannabis when pregnant and/or breastfeeding.