Cannabis exposure in the womb may increase children's health risks, study finds

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Experts hope the findings encourage pregnant women to avoid the substance

A new study conducted by researchers from the Endocrine Society is adding to the available evidence that pregnant women should avoid cannabis. According to their findings, exposure to cannabis in the womb was associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity and high blood sugar. 

“We found that cannabis use during pregnancy was linked to increased fat mass percentage and fasting glucose levels in 5-year-old children,” said researcher Brianna Moore, Ph.D. “We would encourage women to refrain from using any cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding to minimize adverse health effects in the offspring.” 

Cannabis exposure poses long-term risks to infants

To better understand the impact of cannabis exposure in the womb, the researchers collected urine samples from 103 pregnant women. The team tested for 12 different cannabinoids and metabolites of cannabis. After the women gave birth, they followed up with the infants over the course of nearly five years. 

The study showed that 15% of the women had detectable levels of cannabis in their urine samples during pregnancy. In turn, this affected their children's risk of obesity within their first five years of life. 

On average, their total fat mass was 1.0 kg higher than those not exposed to cannabis, and their fat tissue was nearly 3% higher than those with no cannabis exposure. Similarly, fasting glucose levels were 5.6mg/dl higher among children with exposure to the drug. 

While the study only followed the children through their first five years of life, the findings highlight the potential long-term health risks associated with exposure to cannabis in the womb. The researchers hope to do more work in this area to better understand the health implications. 

“More studies are needed to understand how exposure to different cannabinoids during pregnancy may impact the offspring,” Moore said. 

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