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Using Cannabis During Pregnancy May Increase Risk of High Blood Sugar in Children

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Children who were exposed to cannabis in utero may be at risk for obesity and high blood sugar later in life, according to new research.

Of the children involved in the study, those who had been exposed to cannabis in the womb had a 2.6 percent greater fat mass and higher fasting glucose levels compared to those who werent exposed to cannabis in the womb.

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The study adds to the growing evidence suggesting cannabis use in pregnancy may affect a babys health and interfere with their development.

I am not surprised that prenatal exposure to cannabis has [an] impact on the offspring. In principle, any significant pharmacological intervention (and cannabis is surely one) may impact the newborn either directly (by affecting the fetus) or indirectly (by affecting first the mother and then the fetus), Dr. Daniele Piomelli, the director of the University of California Irvine Center for the Study of Cannabis, told ishonest.

Fetal cannabis exposure is linked to low birth weight and obesity in childhood

The study looked at 103 mother-child pairs living in Colorado.

The researchers collected urine samples from the pregnant women and found that 15 percent had detectable levels of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, in their bodies, which suggests the fetuses had been exposed to the cannabinoids.

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A follow-up visit was scheduled when the children were nearly five years old, at which point the children underwent blood draws after an overnight fast. The childrens fat mass was also measured.

The kids who had been exposed to cannabis in the womb were more likely to be at risk for obesity and high blood sugar.

Its unclear why fetal exposure to cannabis could have had this effect.

Piomelli says cannabis could interfere with the fetuss endogenous cannabinoid system or cannabis may impact the mothers behavior and physiology, altering the babys development.

What we know about cannabis use in pregnancy

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Cannabis use among pregnant women has been increasing in the United States as more states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, although overall rates remain very low.

From 2002 to 2017, self-reported use of cannabis during pregnancy jumped from 3.4 percent of pregnant women to 7 percent.

Previous research has linked maternal cannabis use to negative health outcomes in the baby.

Fetuses exposed to cannabis are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome later in life.

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Development and behavioral issues including visual problem-solving challenges and decreased attention span have been recorded in kids exposed to cannabis in utero as well.

Babies of active cannabis users are more likely to have intrauterine growth problems and low birth weight.

If cannabis is smoked frequently, this may cause lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream which in turn might perturb growth, Piomelli said, adding that we do not know if this applies to other forms of cannabis use like vaping or edibles.

According to Dr. S. Monty Ghosh, an assistant professor and doctor of internal medicine, disaster medicine, and addiction medicine at the University of Alberta, these findings mirror the impact of cigarette smoking during pregnancy.

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It would be interesting [to] explore if this was related to smoking cannabis or ingested cannabis, Ghosh said.

Avoiding cannabis while pregnant is the safest option

Ghosh says the chemicals from cannabis may be able to cross the placenta and reach the fetus.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) all advise against using cannabis products during pregnancy and lactation.

It is best and safest to resume smoking marijuana post lactation due to our limited understanding of the effects of cannabis on the child. Limiting secondhand exposure from cannabis smoke should be a priority, says Ghosh.

The bottom line

A new study has found that children who were exposed to cannabis, including CBD or THC, in utero may be at risk for obesity and high blood sugar later in life. The research adds to the growing evidence that cannabis use during pregnancy may be harmful to the babys health and interfere with their development.

Read more on: cannabis, children

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