- Study on rats found some developed birth defects when exposed to THC
- The effect was only seen on mice with a genetic mutation for cell growth
- Scientists warn this discovery means expectant moms should avoid pot
Even women trying to have children should be told to avoid drinking cannabis for fear that it may increase the risk of birth defects, experts told TODAY.
NHS owners and other health agencies around the world already say expecting mothers should stay off the drug.
But now scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai say it may also be ‘inappropriate’ for women trying to become pregnant.
The warning comes on the heels of a study on pregnant rats, in which academics intentionally exposed them to THC.
THC is the chemical component of cannabis that is responsible for giving people the sensation of feeling ‘high’.
A study on rats found that some people may develop brain and facial defects when exposed to THC, which led scientists in the study to try to conceive about the potential danger of using the drug. Women were encouraged to warn.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of cannabis?
Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning that possession can result in a prison sentence of up to five years and those who supply the drug can face up to 14 years in prison.
However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy.
But smoking it can also lead to feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or paranoia.
Scientific studies have shown that the drug can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress, but prolonged heavy use can worsen depression by reducing the brain’s ability to clear bad memories.
It may also contribute to mental health problems in people who already have it, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.
Marijuana can be prescribed for medical use in more than half of US states, where it is used to treat anxiety, aggression, and sleep problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it might help people with autism, eczema or psoriasis.
Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and a 52-year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and colon cancer from taking the drug.
Pups of pregnant mice with a genetic vulnerability exposed to THC were born with holoprosencephaly – where the brain and face fail to form correctly.
Expected mice carrying the same mutation not exposed to THC did not have offspring with the same defect.
And puppies without the mutation who were exposed to the cannabis chemical also did not develop the condition.
Lead researcher Dr. Robert Krauss, an expert in cell, developmental and regenerative biology, published the findings in the journal Development.
He added: ‘Our results suggest that fetuses are sensitive at a very early period, before many women know they are pregnant.
‘Therefore, even when women are trying to become pregnant, cannabis consumption may be inappropriate.’
Dr Krauss cautioned that the findings were important because the THC concentration of cannabis is now ‘very high’.
Skunk – which makes up most of the cannabis sold on UK streets – contains more THC than traditional strains.
It is deliberately created by dealers aiming to produce the most potent strain of the drug possible in order to maximize their profits.
And Dr. Krauss cautioned that the study also raised questions about the effects of CBD, which is said to have many medicinal benefits.
He adds: ‘Since CBD is widely available and is often seen as beneficial – or at least harmless – it would also be worth investigating.’
The scientists exposed pregnant rats to THC about a week after conception.
They then followed the development of pups from mice, including some that weakened a key mechanism involved in brain cell development called ‘hedgehog signalling’.
According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, holoprosencephaly occurs in one in 250 human pregnancies.
The NHS currently advises pregnant women against drinking cannabis, stating that using it regularly can affect a baby’s brain development as they get older. But it says the drug has not been linked to birth defects.