Marijuana and Spice Use Can Affect an 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 during pregnancy. Researchers suggest that it may damage the developing embryo's brain as early as two weeks after conception. For this reason, if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you might want to avoid smoking pot.

Earlier studies which 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 more THC

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

Brain Damage to Fetus

The Texas A&M researchers also found that when the extremely potent drugs are used during early pregnancy, it can lead to a condition called anencephaly. This causes the babies to be born without large parts of their brain or skull.

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

Hidden Dangers

Quite simply, young smokers are not often aware of these dangers. A sexually active woman may be smoking marijuana or synthetics and not immediately know when she becomes pregnant.

"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 study co-author Dr. Delphine Psychoyos. "By the time a woman realises she is pregnant and stops taking these substances it may already be too late for her unborn child."

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 effects 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.

Yet another study found that exposure to marijuana and synthetic derivatives (designer drugs) during pregnancy could account for "connectivity deficits during cortical development." In other words, it can 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.

Sources:

Alpar A, Di Marzo V, Harkany T. At the Tip of an Iceberg: Prenatal Marijuana and Its Possible Relation to Neuropsychiatric Outcome in the Offspring. Biological Psychiatry. 2016;79(7):e33-45. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.09.009.

Cristino L, DiMarzo V. Fetal Cannabinoid Receptors and The "Dis-Joint-Ed" Brain. The EMBO Journal. 2014;33(7):665-7. doi:10.1002/embj.201488086.

Psychoyos D, Vinod KY. Marijuana, Spice 'Herbal High', and Early Neural Development: Implications for Rescheduling and Legalization. Drug Testing and Analysis. 2012;5(1):27-45. doi:10.1002/dta.1390.

Varguis GA, et al. Persistent Inhibitory Circuit Defects and Disrupted Social Behaviour Following in Utero Exogenous Cannabinoid Exposure. Molecular Psychiatry. 2017:22(1):56-67. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.17.

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