The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, has granted the University of Washington $193,759 to conduct a study on the effects of cannabis use on pregnant women and their babies.
The study will look into whether the use of cannabis is safe, especially when morning sickness starts kicking in and expectant mothers would be seeking relief. One of the most common uses of medical cannabis is for alleviating nausea and vomiting, as well as for improving appetite.
In the last few years, along with the growing number of states legalizing cannabis, there has also been a steady increase in the number of pregnant women who use weed to get relief from morning sickness.
This won’t be the first study on cannabis consumption during pregnancy. There have been earlier studies on the matter and results are pretty consistent: cannabis consumption during pregnancy might not be safe.
A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that women who consume marijuana while pregnant could be at higher risk for giving birth pre-term.
Earlier research also suggests that cannabis use during pregnancy can increase the risk of women giving birth to stillborn babies. Another study conducted on rats also suggests that using marijuana could affect the brain development of a fetus.
And yet there are studies that evaluated newborn birth weights and multiple biometric parameters after exposure to cannabis in utero. It was found that babies exposed to cannabis while still in their mothers’ wombs are more likely to have low birth weight.
What makes this study different from the earlier ones?
According to the study solicitation from the University of Washington Kleinhans Lab, which will be in charge of the research, most of the previous studies on prenatal cannabis exposure have centered on addiction, with pregnant participants using substances like alcohol in addition to weed. This one will look into the effects of cannabis alone on prenatal development.
This new study is led by Natalia Kleinhans.
They are now recruiting participants, who must be 21-34 years old, must be less than 13 weeks pregnant, and must either consume cannabis frequently or not at all. They need a total of 70 participants: 35 pregnant women who are using weed to alleviate their morning sickness and 35 pregnant women who are using prescribed medication for their morning sickness.
Participants will meet with the researchers thrice during their pregnancy to complete urine-based drug tests and questionnaires. Outside of these meetings, they will also fill out secure surveys online each week during their pregnancy to document their daily use of cannabis products and other substances, as well as to answer questions that are related to their nausea and their mood.
They will then bring in their babies in at six months old for an MRI scan and for behavioral assessments.
The researchers said that they do not expect to find anything medically concerning during the infant MRI scans. However, if they do see something in the images that may indicate a health issue, the parent and baby will be referred to a doctor.
The participants who complete all parts of the study will earn up to $300. They will also have the opportunity to receive digital images of their baby’s brain, as well as a developmental report and feedback session with the licensed psychologist who is responsible for behavioral assessments.
All the procedures of the study are approved for safety and confidentiality by the University of Washington Human Subjects Division and the National Institutes of Health.
The project already began in February and will end in January 2021.