In a preclinical study conducted by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), it has been confirmed that consuming THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) during pregnancy could potentially impact the development of the fetus, leading to long-term health effects for offspring. The study, published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics, aimed to identify the potential health impacts of THC use during pregnancy. By exposing pregnant subjects to THC, the researchers found significant changes in the placental and fetal epigenome, which are responsible for gene regulation and expression. These changes were found to be consistent with neurobehavioral conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. The researchers hope that their findings will contribute to the existing literature on THC use during pregnancy and help guide patient counseling and public health policies in the future.
THC Use During Pregnancy Linked to Changes in Fetal Development
Pregnancy is a crucial time for the development of the fetus, and it is important to ensure that pregnant individuals are aware of the potential risks and make informed choices. Recent research from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has shed light on the potential impacts of THC use during pregnancy on fetal development and long-term health outcomes. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the study and its findings to help educate and inform readers about this important topic.
Prevalence of THC Use During Pregnancy
The use of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, has been growing in popularity and availability across the United States. As a result, the prevalence of cannabis use during pregnancy has also increased, particularly during the first trimester when the fetus is most vulnerable. Many individuals turn to cannabis to alleviate common pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness. However, despite its popularity, there is a lack of safety data on the use of THC during pregnancy, making it difficult to fully understand the potential risks.
Lack of Safety Data on Prenatal Cannabis Use
One of the primary challenges in studying the effects of THC use during pregnancy is the limited safety data available. This gap in knowledge makes it difficult for healthcare providers to provide accurate and evidence-based advice to pregnant individuals who may be considering or already using cannabis. The lack of information also contributes to a common perception that cannabis use during pregnancy is safe. However, it is essential to delve deeper into the potential impacts and risks to ensure the health and well-being of both the pregnant person and the developing fetus.
Purpose of the Study
The OHSU study aimed to address the lack of safety data on THC use during pregnancy and identify potential long-term health impacts on the offspring. Researchers conducted a preclinical study using a non-human primate model to simulate human pregnancy and investigate the effects of THC exposure. By studying non-human primates, researchers could closely monitor the impact of THC on placental and fetal development, providing valuable insights into the potential risks associated with prenatal cannabis use.
Non-Human Primate Model Used
Non-human primate models are commonly used in scientific research due to their physiological and genetic similarities to humans. In this study, the use of non-human primates allowed researchers to closely monitor the impact of THC on various aspects of fetal development, including the placenta, lungs, brain, and heart. By studying these key areas, researchers could gain a comprehensive understanding of the potential effects of THC exposure on the developing fetus.
Administration of THC in the Study
In the study, THC was administered to pregnant non-human primates through daily edibles. The effects of THC were then compared to a control group that received a placebo. By comparing the outcomes and monitoring the epigenetic changes in the THC-exposed group, researchers could determine the impact of THC on gene regulation and expression, which are crucial factors in fetal development.
Effects of THC on Placental and Fetal Development
The study’s findings revealed that THC exposure during pregnancy had significant effects on placental and fetal development. Researchers observed alterations to the placental and fetal epigenome, which are chemical modifications to DNA responsible for gene regulation and expression. These changes can influence how genes function and contribute to the development of different body and brain functions. The study found that the alterations in gene regulation and expression were consistent with those seen in common neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder.
Alterations to the Epigenome
The epigenome plays a vital role in gene regulation and expression, and any disruptions to this process can have significant implications for fetal development. The study found that THC exposure during pregnancy led to changes in the epigenome, potentially impacting the normal development of the fetus. These alterations in gene regulation and expression were associated with neurobehavioral disorders, raising concerns about the potential long-term health impacts on offspring exposed to THC in utero.
Association with Neurobehavioral Disorders
The findings of the OHSU study revealed an association between THC exposure during pregnancy and neurobehavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These conditions can have adverse health outcomes in childhood and adolescence, including impaired memory, verbal reasoning skills, increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Understanding the link between THC exposure and neurobehavioral disorders is crucial for identifying potential risks and developing appropriate interventions and prevention strategies.
Potential Effects on Offspring’s Health
The study highlights the potential effects of THC use during pregnancy on the long-term health of the offspring. The altered gene regulation and expression observed in the THC-exposed group are associated with adverse health outcomes in childhood and adolescence. It is essential to recognize that the effects of THC exposure during pregnancy can extend beyond the developmental stage and impact the overall health and well-being of the child throughout their life.
Link to Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD
The association between THC exposure during pregnancy and neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, is of particular concern. These conditions can significantly impact a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. The findings of the OHSU study contribute to the existing body of research linking prenatal cannabis exposure to neurodevelopmental disorders, emphasizing the importance of addressing the potential risks and promoting safer habits during pregnancy.
Common Perception of Safety
One of the significant challenges in addressing the risks of THC use during pregnancy is the common perception that cannabis is entirely safe. Many pregnant individuals may not be aware of the potential harm and may perceive cannabis as a natural and harmless way to alleviate pregnancy symptoms. It is crucial to inform and educate pregnant individuals about the potential risks associated with cannabis use, allowing them to make informed choices regarding their health and the health of their baby.
Importance of Understanding the Risks
The study conducted by OHSU highlights the importance of understanding the risks associated with THC use during pregnancy. While more research is needed to fully comprehend the extent of these risks, it is essential to communicate the existing evidence to patients and support safer habits during pregnancy. By promoting open and transparent dialogue about the potential risks, healthcare providers can empower pregnant individuals to make informed decisions about their health and reduce potential harm to their developing fetus.
Lack of Discussion with Patients about THC Use During Pregnancy
A significant barrier to addressing the risks of THC use during pregnancy is the lack of discussion between healthcare providers and their patients. The study’s corresponding author, Jamie Lo, emphasizes that it is not common practice for providers to discuss cannabis use with pregnant individuals or those trying to conceive. By initiating a broader dialogue about the potential risks, healthcare providers can better educate their patients and improve the long-term health outcomes of children exposed to THC during pregnancy.
Improving Children’s Health Through Dialogue
The lack of discussion regarding the risks of THC use during pregnancy prevents individuals from making informed decisions and accessing appropriate support and resources. By improving the dialogue around this topic, healthcare providers can play a crucial role in promoting safer habits during pregnancy and improving children’s long-term health. Open and non-judgmental conversations between healthcare providers and their patients are fundamental in fostering trust, education, and informed decision-making.
Limited Literature on THC Use During Pregnancy
The study conducted by OHSU contributes to the limited existing literature on THC use during pregnancy. The lack of safety data in this area hinders healthcare providers’ ability to provide accurate advice and support to pregnant individuals. Further research is crucial to enhance our understanding of the potential risks of THC exposure during pregnancy, allowing for more informed patient counseling and the development of evidence-based public health policies.
Guiding Patient Counseling and Public Health Policies
The findings of the OHSU study have important implications for patient counseling and public health policies. By addressing the knowledge gaps surrounding THC use during pregnancy, healthcare providers can guide their patients towards safer habits that prioritize the health and well-being of both the pregnant individual and their developing fetus. Evidence-based public health policies can also be developed to ensure that appropriate information and resources are available to support pregnant individuals in making informed decisions regarding cannabis use.
Researchers and Their Contributions
The OHSU study was conducted by a team of dedicated researchers led by Lyndsey Shorey-Kendrick, a computational biologist in the Division of Neurosciences at OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC). Alongside Shorey-Kendrick, the research team included Eliot Spindel, Elinor Sullivan, Owen McCarty, and Jason Hedges, all experts in their respective fields. The combined efforts and expertise of the researchers contributed to the study’s comprehensive findings and insights into the potential impacts of THC use during pregnancy.
Support and Funding for the Study
The research conducted by OHSU was made possible through the support and funding provided by various organizations and foundations. The Reproductive Scientist Development Program, March of Dimes, March of Dimes Foundation, and Silver Family Innovation Award were among the organizations that supported the study. The Office of the Director, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, all of the National Institutes of Health, also provided funding for the research. The acknowledgment of these funding sources is essential in recognizing the collaborative efforts and resources dedicated to advancing our understanding of THC use during pregnancy.
In conclusion, the OHSU study sheds light on the potential risks and long-term health impacts associated with THC use during pregnancy. The findings highlight the importance of informing and educating pregnant individuals about the potential harm and promoting open dialogue between healthcare providers and their patients. Further research is needed to enhance our knowledge in this area, guide patient counseling, and develop evidence-based public health policies. The collaborative efforts of researchers and the support of organizations and foundations are essential in advancing our understanding of the potential risks and promoting the health and well-being of pregnant individuals and their developing fetuses.