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Cannabis consumption in pregnancy may or may not be associated with restrictions in growth of the fetus, miscarriage, and cognitive deficits. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that cannabis use be stopped before and during pregnancy. There has not been any official link between birth defects and marijuana use. Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance among pregnant women.
The role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in female fertility has long been suspected and studied. Most studies through 2013 linking development of the fetus and cannabis show effects of consumption during the gestational period, but abnormalities in the endocannabinoid system during the phase of placental development are also linked with problems in pregnancy. According to Sun and Dey (2012), endocannabinoid signaling plays a role in "female reproductive events, including preimplantation embryo development, oviductal embryo transport, embryo implantation, placentation, and parturition". Karusu et al (2011) said that a "clear correlation ... in the actual reproductive tissues of miscarrying versus healthy women has yet to be established. However, the adverse effects of marijuana smoke and THC on reproductive functions point to processes that are modulated by ECS.".
Recent data indicates that endometrial expression of cannabinoid receptors in marijuana smoking mothers is higher than non-smokers. Keimpema and colleagues (2011) said, "Prenatal cannabis exposure can lead to growth defects during formation of the nervous system"; "[c]annabis impacts the formation and functions of neuronal circuitries by targeting cannabinoid receptors ... By indiscriminately prolonging the "switched-on" period of cannabinoid receptors, cannabis can hijack endocannabinoid signals to evoke molecular rearrangements, leading to the erroneous wiring of neuronal networks". A report prepared for the Australian National Council on Drugs concluded cannabis and other cannabinoids are contraindicated in pregnancy as they may interact with the endocannabinoid system.
Although it is difficult to draw firm conclusions, there is some evidence that prenatal exposure to cannabis may be associated with deficits in language, attention, cognitive performance, and delinquent behaviors. THC exposure in rats during the prenatal developmental phase may cause epigenetic changes in gene expression, but there is limited knowledge about the risk for psychiatric disorders because of ethical barriers to studying the developing human brain. While animal studies cannot take into account factors that could influence the effects of cannabis on human maternal exposure, such as environmental and social factors, a 2011 review of rodent studies by Campolongo et al. said there was "... increasing evidence from animal studies showing that cannabinoid drugs ... induce enduring neurobehavioral abnormalities in the exposed offspring ..." Campolongo et al. added that "clinical studies report hyperactivity, cognitive impairments and altered emotionality in humans exposed in utero to cannabis". Martin et al. investigated recent trends in substance abuse treatment admissions for cannabis use in pregnancy in the US, based on Treatment Episodes Data Set (TEDS) from 1992 to 2012, and discovered that, while the proportion of treatment admissions for pregnant women was stable (about 4%), the admissions for women who were pregnant and reported any marijuana use grew from 29% to 43%. A 2015 review found that cannabis use by pregnant mothers impaired brain maturation in their children, and that it also predisposed their children to neurodevelopmental disorders.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that further research is required to "disentangle" effects of cannabis use from a mother's concomitant drug use and other environmental factors. A 2016 meta-analysis showed that after accounting for confounding factors, cannabis alone was not responsible for adverse neonatal outcomes.
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