While more and more states legalize medical marijuana, it turns out that we know little about its impact on pregnant women and their unborn child. Meanwhile, animal studies reveal that cannabinoids produced in our body play an important role in its development, which is why THC derived from cannabis can interfere with the processes regulated by them.
Can medical marijuana be used during pregnancy? What are the risks of medical marijuana for pregnant women or those planning to have a child?
Medical marijuana and pregnancy
Medical marijuana is legal in some countries, and others may soon join them. Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center say – “so far little research has been done on the effects of cannabinoids on the unborn child and pregnant women”. Even those who do not use marijuana, can be exposed to marijuana (by a way of passive smoke). Meanwhile, animal studies carried out in recent years give worrying results. An article that was published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology state that THC threatens not only women who are already pregnant, but also those who plan to get pregnant.
THC is stored in the mother’s tissues before pregnancy
THC accumulates in the body, endangering the child. Cannabinoids are lipophilic – that is, they are stored in adipose tissue and other tissues with a high-fat content (like the brain). They can be there for a long period – its quantity is reduced by half every 8 days. In this way, the adipose tissue becomes a THC store, from which it can be released. It can be detected in the blood even after 30 days.
Can Medical Marijuana Be Used During Pregnancy?
THC easily penetrates into the blood of the unborn child even though there is a barrier between. Materials provided by Health Canada shows that the barrier is much easier to penetrate than in the case of the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, women of child-bearing age must use contraception if they are on medical marijuana treatment.
THC may increase the risk of congenital malformations
Folic acid is a vitamin necessary for the proper development of the fetal nervous system. Its deficiency causes serious developmental defects, including cleft of the spinal cord (spina bifida), and increases the risk of miscarriage. Cannabinoids interfere with the use of this vitamin, in other words, using medical marijuana may increase the risk of congenital malformations.
The effect of THC on fetal development
Cannabinoids have the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, including stem cells, influencing the signal pathways or growth factors. The fetus develops from the same cells. THC has a negative effect on the growth factor, BDNF, which is crucial to the development of nerve cells. The review of the studies shows that disruption in the production or action of the growth factor is associated with lower IQ in the child, as well as the development of autism and cognitive impairment.
In addition, THC also affects the vascular growth factor (VEGF), which causes the development of umbilical vessels that enable nutrition of the fetus.
Medications during pregnancy
Majority of medications cannot be used during pregnancy because it may increase the risk of premature delivery, and in the fetus, it may cause defects or increase the likelihood of serious diseases in the future. Recently, even the use of acetaminophen (paracetamol), the only analgesic-antipyretic drug that was believed to be safe in the last three months of pregnancy, has been questioned.
The grass is not always greener
In 2016, scientists have found a link between the use of acetaminophen and autism spectrum disorders/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). Researchers at Georgetown University, working on the subject ‘Grass is not always greener’, point out that animal studies can only suggest how cannabinoids can affect a growing baby. Nevertheless, the results of the experiments carried out so far are quite disturbing.
Evidently, the answer to the questions ” Can medical marijuana be used during pregnancy?” is No. Considering the risk THC poses to the health of the unborn child.