Cocaine Use During Pregnancy May Affect Infant’s Brain

Researchers determined that women who use cocaine during pregnancy risk affecting the brain structure of their children. In studying the brains of rhesus monkeys, researchers at the University of Maryland found that prenatal cocaine use could result in the loss of more than half of the brain cells in the infant’s cerebral cortex. The highest level of the brain, the cerebral cortex is responsible for such functions as sensation, voluntary muscle movement, thought, reasoning, and memory.

“This is the first study that clearly shows the possibility that cocaine may affect the brain structure. It shows that it could happen,” said Dr. Michael Lidow, one of the study’s authors. “This is a warning sign. For the study, four monkeys were born to mothers who were given 20mg/kg of cocaine per day during the second trimester of pregnancy. Four other monkeys received no cocaine. Researchers found that that the cerebral cortex in the monkeys whose mothers received cocaine contained 60 percent fewer neurons and was about 20 percent smaller than that of the monkeys who received no cocaine.

Lidow said additional research is needed to determine how the study’s findings may apply to humans.

Source: Author Dr. M. Lidow. Published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. June 2001

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