“A lot of nuances” are required when balancing the risks and benefits of cannabis, says Dr. David Baranger.
As more and more countries end cannabis bans, consumption rates among pregnant women are on the rise: before the pandemic, almost 7% of pregnant Americans I mentioned using cannabis, and that It has increased since then. But the question remains: is it safe?
National health organizations such as the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise pregnant women not to use cannabis, but this advice is based on inconclusive data suggesting that cannabis may It causes low birth weight, psychological disorders, and neurological problems that appear later in life.
new Research thesis published in JAMA Pediatrics by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. Missouri, notes that prenatal exposure to cannabis “is associated with continued exposure to widespread psychopathology as children progress through early adolescence,” which “may lead to an increased risk of mental disorders and substance use.”
Leafly spoke with the letter’s lead author Dr. David Baranger, a neuroscientist in the Department of Psychology and Brain at Washington University in St. Louis. Baranger’s research focuses on psychopathology and substance use disorders. Talk to us about the current study, and about the challenges of scientific research related to cannabis.
It is not a risk-free substance for a child. We think there is a hint that cannabis may have some negative consequences for a person’s offspring. It is not A massive effect, even if causal… At this point, we can’t say cannabis is definitely better or worse than anything else.”
The data comes from a 10-year continuous study
The conclusions of the thesis are based on a review of data from Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) StudyIt is the country’s largest long-term study of adolescent brain development to date. The ABCD study, conceived in 2013 and launched in September 2015, is a decade-long study tracking behavior and brain development in nearly 12,000 children in the United States. Data is collected Through a combination of questionnaires, interviews, games, genetic testing and MRI machines.
With support from organizations that include the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the ABCD study seeks to measure how changing biology in nine- and 10-year-olds interacts with childhood activities, including “sports, video games, social media, and unhealthy sleep patterns.” and smoking ‘as they age. The study includes questions about cannabis but does not focus exclusively on cannabis use.
Members of the research team at the University of Washington analyzed data obtained through questionnaires with parents about their use of cannabis during pregnancy. They did not conduct interviews or tests with the people themselves. The ongoing study provides some of the best data for researchers in an area that, Baranger told Leafly, has been in “crisis over the past decade.”
“Previous work in the prenatal cannabis world has had to rely on relatively small samples: ten, thirty, maybe a hundred entries,” Baranger said. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions. We realized that the questions we really cared about required massive samples to answer.” “You need hundreds, if not thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people to answer these questions.”
Baranger and colleagues organized the individuals into three groups: those who only reported using cannabis before knowing they were pregnant, those who used cannabis before and after mothers knew they were pregnant, and those who reported not using cannabis during pregnancy.
They then used longitudinal assessments from the first two years of data, between June 2016 and October 2018, as well as annual follow-ups in 2019 and 2020.
Of the more than 10,000 people studied, only about 600 reported using cannabis either before or before and after they knew they were pregnant. And the questions weren’t necessarily designed to capture the information Baranger and his team were looking for. Controls were made for genetic covariates and other substances, such as the parents’ use of alcohol and tobacco.
“We tried to control whatever was available to us that might be indicative of pre-existing risk, such as family history, parental use, and whether the child himself had used any drugs up to that point. We control genetic risk for mental health disorders, including ADHD. Cannabis use. This study is the first attempt to try to decipher it with a large sample, but there is a lot of work to be done.”
The pitfalls of cannabis research
“The new and changing legal aspect of cannabis has made it possible to find funding for studies where you recruit people who use cannabis.”
Dr. David Baranger, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington
Because cannabis is illegal federally, its use cannot be studied in real time. Instead, these data rely on parental self-report, and post-fact correlations, which are not necessarily causal. The letter states that the research team’s findings may be skewed based on “a small sample of offspring exposed to cannabis before birth, the likelihood of under-reporting of use during pregnancy, inaccurate data about the timing/frequency/efficacy of cannabis exposure, and a lack of data on some .Potential confusions.”
“You have a questionnaire that asks people about their drug use during pregnancy. And it was “Have you been using a drug, including cannabis” — and cannabis was a sub-question — “When did you learn you were pregnant?” And then “After you learned you were pregnant, did you or did you stop taking Use these drugs?” Baranger says, “This is our measure of cannabis use, and it’s not entirely complete. Will they remember how much cannabis they were using? Can? Maybe not. And they didn’t really ask that question.”
Baranger told Leafly that he personally supports cannabis legalization, and that “we need a lot of research on this” before making final statements. But obtaining funding for cannabis-related research, not to mention peer review, remains a major challenge. The paucity of research on prenatal cannabis exposure can be attributed, in part, to the federal bureaucracy and flawed system for determining which studies are accepted into authoritative scientific journals.
Other study authors have secured funding for prospective, long-term studies aimed at looking at pregnant cannabis users and their children’s development, but this will likely take years to get started.
Creating a study that requires pregnant women, Baranger said, takes a really long time and requires negotiating through an unusual amount of bureaucracy.
While some may find the paper’s findings worrying, Baranger said many of the FDA-approved substances recommended for pregnant women carry their own risks, and parents should feel empowered to make the decision for themselves. Advice on cannabis use comes from a place to minimize harm and reduce risk, at least for him.
“There is danger out there, and you have to weigh that benefit,” he said. I think some of the concerns about drug abuse are exaggerated. I think a lot of nuances are needed in order to unpack it. This should be taken into account when making your decision about what is best for you and your child.”