Marijuana, Spice Use Can Affect Embryo's Brain

Smoking Even Fake Weed Can Affect Fetus Development

Pregnant woman smoking
Smoking While Pregnant Is Risky. Pawel Wewiorski / Getty Images

Smoking today's high-potency marijuana, or using synthetic forms of weed, can be dangerous in the very early weeks of pregnancy, causing damage to the developing embryo's brain. If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, you might want to avoid smoking pot, researchers suggest.

Smoking pot can affect the fetal brain as early as two weeks after conception, the study found.

Early studies that showed no adverse effects of smoking marijuana for pregnant women were conducted with smokers of "traditional" marijuana, according to researchers at Texas A&M University.

But today's strains of bioengineered weed can contain up to 20 times the THC.

Furthermore, the fake weed products known as K2 or Spice, contain highly potent TCH analogues, or synthetic cannabinoids, which are 500-600 times more potent than THC.

These extremely potent drugs, used during early pregnancy, can led to a condtion called anencephaly, when babies are born without large parts of their brain or skull, the Texas A&M researchers found.

Brain Damage to Fetus

Additionally, exposure to high-potency marijuana or synthethic marijuana during pregnancy can lead to:

  • Attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder
  • Learning disabilities
  • Memory problems in toddlers and 10-year-olds
  • Agression, anxiety and depression in teens

These adverse effects can take place very early in the pregancy, the reseachers said.

Unaware of the Dangers

"These psychoactive chemicals have the ability to interfere with the first stages in the formation of the brain of the fetus; this event occurs two weeks after conception, earlier than before signs of pregnancy appear," said co-author Dr. Delphine Psychoyos in a news release.

"By the time a woman realises she is pregnant and stops taking these substances it may already be too late for her unborn child."

Young smokers are not aware of the dangers, Dr. Psychoyos said.

Not Your Mother's THC

"This is because many websites on mothering and pregnancy, and those run by pro-marijuana advocacy groups, base their discussions on data collected prior to 1997, when no detrimental affects on pregnancy had been reported; It is important to note here that prior to 1997, pregnant women were mostly exposed to low potency, 'traditional' marijuana, which was the common form of marijuana in the market in the 1970's and early 1980's."

Dr. Psychoyos' study is not the only one that has linked prenatal exposure to marijuana and synthetic marijuana to effects on the brain. After the legalization of medical marijuana, and later recreational marijuana, in the United States, research has increased significantly into the possible danger of smoking while pregnant.

A Variety of Cognitive Impairments

One study found that long-term and heavy marijuana use during pregnancy could "impair brain maturation and predispose the offspring to neurodevelopmental disorders." Another study, with laboratory animals, found that marijuana use during pregnancy caused a variety of cognitive impairments in offspring.

Another study found that exposure to marijuana and synthetic derivatives (designer drugs) during pregnancy could account for "connectivity deficits during cortical development" or, in other words, cause what researchers termed a "dis-jointed" brain.

The researchers suggest that teenagers and young women need to be more aware of the dangers and health risks of high potency marijuana and fake weed if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant..


Alpar A, et al. "At the Tip of an Iceberg: Prenatal Marijuana and Its Possible Relation to Neuropsychiatric Outcome in the Offspring." April 2016

Cristino L, et al. "Fetal cannabinoid receptors and the "dis-joint-ed" brain." The EMBO Journal April 2014

Psychoyos, D, et al. "Marijuana, Spice 'herbal high', and early neural development: implications for rescheduling and legalization." Drug Testing and Analysis 13 August 2012.

Varguis GA, et al. "Persistent inhibitory circuit defects and disrupted social behaviour following in utero exogenous cannabinoid exposure." Molecular Psychiatry March 2016

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