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Cannabis, the pregnant woman and her child: weeding out the myths

Abstract

To review and summarise the literature reporting on cannabis use within western communities with specific reference to patterns of use, the pharmacology of its major psychoactive compounds, including placental and fetal transfer, and the impact of maternal cannabis use on pregnancy, the newborn infant and the developing child. Review of published articles, governmental guidelines and data and book chapters. Although cannabis is one of the most widely used illegal drugs, there is limited data about the prevalence of cannabis use in pregnant women, and it is likely that reported rates of exposure are significantly underestimated. With much of the available literature focusing on the impact of other illicit drugs such as opioids and stimulants, the effects of cannabis use in pregnancy on the developing fetus remain uncertain. Current evidence indicates that cannabis use both during pregnancy and lactation, may adversely affect neurodevelopment, especially during periods of critical brain growth both in the developing fetal brain and during adolescent maturation, with impacts on neuropsychiatric, behavioural and executive functioning. These reported effects may influence future adult productivity and lifetime outcomes. Despite the widespread use of cannabis by young women, there is limited information available about the impact perinatal cannabis use on the developing fetus and child, particularly the effects of cannabis use while breast feeding. Women who are using cannabis while pregnant and breast feeding should be advised of what is known about the potential adverse effects on fetal growth and development and encouraged to either stop using or decrease their use. Long-term follow-up of exposed children is crucial as neurocognitive and behavioural problems may benefit from early intervention aimed to reduce future problems such as delinquency, depression and substance use.

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SJ developed the manuscript; JLO developed the concept for article and prepared the manuscript for submission; and AK, PH, CC, SC, J Falconer, MA-L and J Feller reviewed and revised the manuscript and approved the final version for publication.

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Jaques, S., Kingsbury, A., Henshcke, P. et al. Cannabis, the pregnant woman and her child: weeding out the myths. J Perinatol 34, 417–424 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/jp.2013.180

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/jp.2013.180

Keywords

  • cannabis
  • pregnancy
  • lactation
  • childhood neurodevelopment

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