Using ‘harmless’ CBD during pregnancy may negatively impact fetal brain development

AURORA, Colo. — Cannabidiol (CBD) is typically viewed as the “harmless” part of marijuana. However, researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus now say that using this increasingly popular substance during pregnancy could possibly injure a developing fetus.

“We found oral consumption of a high dose of CBD during pregnancy impaired problem solving in female mice,” says Emily Bates, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Typically, people take CBD for nausea and anxiety relief because they think it’s a safe alternative to other medications. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive component in cannabis that produces a “high” sensation, CBD is a non-psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

Since CBD appears to confer some of the same medical benefits as THC, in a much less potent way, scientists have been conducting several trials to see if it is truly a natural remedy. Even so, this is the first study to share insight on how CBD may impact neural development in the womb, according to Bates.

Human fetus, baby in womb
(© unlimit3d – stock.adobe.com)

What happens when pregnant women use CBD?

The team of researchers found that CBD reduced excitability in the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain implicated in learning. Additionally, they found an increase in pain sensitivity in male mice only, while the female mice displayed cognitive impairments. Bates says more research is necessary to better understand these sex-specific findings and why they take place.

CBD is widely considered as a beneficial product that doesn’t come with downsides in the United States. Many may find it safe enough to use during pregnancy to combat various ailments for this reason. As such, Bates hopes that this research allows physicians and pregnant patients to become more informed about the safest things to consume for the best maternal and fetal outcomes.

“This study is important to help clinicians and pregnant patients know that consuming CBD during pregnancy may have some effect on the brain development of offspring. It’s important now more than ever because CBD recently became federally legal and is available at grocery stores and gas stations,” Bates concludes in a media release. “We need clinicians to start asking about CBD consumption at prenatal visits and educate the public about potential risks during pregnancy.”

The team looks ahead to exploring their findings more deeply and investigating things in a more detailed way. They will start to determine if timing and CBD dosing during different trimesters throughout pregnancy plays a role in frequency and severity of the brain impairments noted in this study.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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