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Updated: May 28, 2023

(Note: September 12, 2002)

Prenatal cannabis exposure is associated with attention, social, and behavioral problems that impact children into early adolescence (11 and 12 years of age).  This exposure would occur following the middle of the first trimester, generally after five to six weeks of fetal development.  This might put a child at greater risk of mental health disorders and substance use in late adolescence when youth are typically more vulnerable to these disorders and behaviors. 

This study was released this week (September 12, 2022) in JAMA Pediatrics from new research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse which is part of the National Institutes of Health.  The study analyzed data from the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and health in children and teens in the United States, which is supported by NIDA and nine other Institutes, Centers, and Offices of the NIH. The study was conducted by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis.

previous analysis using baseline data from the ABCD Study found an association between prenatal cannabis exposure and behavioral problems in these children at 9 to 10 years of age.

Preclinical studies have shown that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive substance in cannabis, can cross the placenta and potentially affect brain development.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the increase in cannabis use among pregnant women:

2019     5.4 %

2018     4.7%

2017     7.0%

2002      3.0%

The results of this new analysis further support caution against using cannabis during pregnancy, the authors say.

The ABCD Study tracks nearly 12,000 youth as they grow into young adults. Investigators regularly measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and collect psychological, environmental, and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. The ABCD Study seeks to understand the factors that influence the brain, cognitive, and social-emotional development, with the ultimate goal of providing actionable information to help educators, health professionals, and policymakers improve the lives of all children, today and for generations to come.  (“NIH News Release 9/12/22”)

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study and ABCD Study are registered trademarks and service marks, respectively, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.



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