Marijuana Use During Pregnancy Linked To Autism

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Pregnant woman at home holding baby shoes on her belly

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A study published Monday in the journal Nature suggests that there is a link between women who use cannabis during pregnancy and children who are born with autism.

“Women who used cannabis during pregnancy were 1.5 times more likely to have a child with autism,” explained the study’s author, Dr. Darine El-Chaâr, who works as a maternal fetal medicine specialist and clinical investigator at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada. “These are not reassuring findings. We highly discourage use of cannabis during pregnancy and breastfeeding.”

Previous studies have connected marijuana use in pregnant women to hyperactivity, impulsivity, low birth weight, attention challenges, cognitive and behavioral issues in children, according to CNN. Another study found that women who use marijuana during pregnancy were 2.3 times more likely to have a stillbirth.

“Based on that, I’m not too surprised by these findings,” El-Chaâr said. “Fetal brain development occurs throughout all gestational ages.”

The study did not document the amount and type of marijuana used by the subjects, nor did it specify how often the women used the substance. Many other expectant moms choose to use marijuana during pregnancy. Some use the substance to treat pain and morning sickness as they feel it is less harmful than medications that are available to treat those conditions. Others, however, opt to use recreationally.

“It helps with different conditions that they may have or for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy,” El-Chaâr said. “Some people (said) they use (it) for sleep or for stress reduction. Still, others use it recreationally; it’s just part of their routine.”

Ironically, the study found that the majority of recreational use occurred in the first trimester, which is considered to be one of the most sensitive times for a developing fetus’s brain.

“You can hypothesize that if there are cannabinoid receptors and the baby’s brain is exposed, it may have (an) effect on brain development,” said El-Chaâr.

Doctors recommend that any woman who learns that she is pregnant to cease marijuana use immediately.

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