UW to pay pregnant women on pot to study effects on unborn babies

The University of Washington is conducting an experiment in which pregnant mothers will use the drug cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, to see the effects on infants.

The university has received roughly more than $190,000 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct the study, which recruits women to take marijuana from the first to last trimester of their pregnancy, according to KOMO-TV

As the project information details, 70 total subjects will participate in the study. Half of these women will be taking marijuana at least twice a week to combat morning sickness, while the other 35 will take prescribed medication, but no marijuana. 

Participants who complete the study will receive $300, according to the study’s website

The test subjects are to document their weekly marijuana use by sending photos of the drug’s packaging to the researchers. This is to give the researchers information about the total percentages of both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in pot, and cannabidiol (CBD), a non-active component that allegedly helps to alleviate certain pregnancy symptoms. 

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Researchers will perform brain scans on the babies when they reach six months of age to identify any possible impacts and risks of drug exposure, including the development of brain disorders.

“This study is targeting a very specific population of women who are using marijuana to manage their symptoms while they’re pregnant,” UW radiologist and research project leader Natalia Kleinhans said, according to KOMO-TV. “There’s little research to back up the medical and public health advice they’re getting to stay away from pot to control nausea.”

The study also hopes to determine how cannabis exposure affects the infants’ olfactory activation or sense of smell.

“Smell is one of the earliest developing senses, and it activates brain regions that have cannabinoid receptors and are involved in reward and addiction,” Kleinhans said. “We will use fMRI to look at the integrity of the reward system that we think could be affected by marijuana – to see if there is a change.”

One of the major concerns that prompted the study was the lack of accurate prior research, which “likely underestimated potential risks of cannabis use during pregnancy because modern strains are 3x more potent than they were 30 years ago,” according to the study details.

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This is not the only study that plans to research cannabis use in pregnant mothers. 

The National Institute of Drug Abuse doled out $234,000 to the University of Denver in 2018 for a study titled “Cannabis Use during Pregnancy, Maternal Brain, and Mother-Infant Relationships,” according to Fox News. In this study, researchers are investigating whether or not the mother exhibits “mood dysregulation, impaired parenting ability, and dampened neural responses to their children.”

Various studies have shown the danger and breadth of such experimental research, as ultimately seven percent of pregnant women, or roughly one in 14, self-reported that they used marijuana in the last month, according to a study published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Studies also detail a correlation between marijuana use during pregnancy and a heightened chance of low birthweight and premature birth, as reported by AP News. Previous scientific research has shown that marijuana may have adverse, brain-altering effects. 

A study from New Zealand in conjunction with Duke University also found that people who smoked marijuana often as teenagers and had a disorder using it lost an average of eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. Impaired movement, difficulty with problem-solving and thinking, impaired memory, hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis are among some of the other negative side effects cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, noted that studies done on animals have linked major marijuana use in early pregnancy with the development of fetal brain disorders.

“Because we don’t know exactly how harmful [marijuana] is, it’s better to err on the side of caution,” Volkow said, according to AP. She continued to say that marijuana use during pregnancy “is not worth the risk.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, agreed. In a statement to Campus Reform, Hawkins said, “a civil society does not experiment on preborn infants. This is not even a hard issue to understand as a child’s long-term health and well being are at stake.”

Campus Reform reached out to Kleinhans for comment on the original study but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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