Exposure to Marijuana in Womb May Harm Brain

Mon Mar 24, 5:33 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new study in rats suggests that prenatal exposure to marijuana may affect offsprings’ behavior and memory, Italian researchers announced Monday.

The findings reaffirm advice for pregnant women and lactating women to avoid marijuana use, according to one of the study’s authors.

“We cannot say that findings in rats can be directly translated to humans,” said Dr. Vincenzo Guomo of the University “La Sapienza’ Roma in Rome via e-mail. “But we know that animal studies can generate predictive information on various aspects of human brain function and could represent an essential step in the development of interventions to manage human diseases.”

“In this regard, our findings suggest that both pregnant and lactating women should avoid the use of marijuana,” Cuomo said.

The findings are pub]ished in the advance online edition of the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (news – web sites).

Although marijuana is one of the most widely used illegal drugs, studies of its effects on pregnant women and their offspring have had conflicting results, said Cuomo.

This may be explained by possible impurities in the drug and by the use of tobacco along with marijuana, according to Cuomo. Rigorous studies on the effects of marijuana in pregnancy are reratively rare, Cuomo said.

However, some researchers have for many years been following relatively large numbers of children whose mothers smoked marijuana during pregnancy, according to the Italian researcher. In general, their findings suggest that exposure to marijuana during pregnancy is related to later adverse effects on mental and motor development, Cuomo said.

In the current study, Cuomo’s team injected pregnant rats with a synthetic compound that is similar to a chemical found in marijuana. The daily dose in rats corresponded to the low-to-moderate dose people get when they smoke marijuana.

Among the rats born to exposed mothers, the researchers identified memory and behavioral problems. The offspring of exposed mothers were hyperactive, though this difference in behavior was not long lasting. However, rats whose mothers bad been exposed to the marijuana-like compound did have memory problems, according to the report.

The results of the study, Cuomo said, are in line with clinical data showing that the use of marijuana by women during pregnancy has negative consequences on the mental function and behavior of their children.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2003/lO1073/pnas.05378491 30.

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