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the risks of cannabis consumption to brain development during pregnancy

By Hanju Park

October 14, 2023


[Photo credit :National Institute of Health]

Cannabis, a plant classified as a cannabinoid drug, mainly composes a psychoactive ingredient Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is highly addictive and makes people have difficulty quitting consuming drugs even after severe dosages. As the popularity of cannabis is currently skyrocketing in the United States, those addictive drugs have started to immerse within people’s lives and become a venom that can threaten one’s health someday. “According to a Yahoo News and Marist College survey of 1,122 Americans, 65% of people that have used cannabis are parents”, proving that a large portion of women use cannabis during their pregnancy. Thus, the impact of cannabis smoking on the fetus seems to be a serious issue, since more infants will contact those drugs before their birth in 2023.

Besides Delta-9, cannabis contains 500 or more toxic chemicals that cause serious health effects to both the woman and the fetus. Cannabis can increase the risk of dependency and mental health problems, and harm one’s memory, concentration, and ability to think and make logical decisions. The fetus can receive health risks like fetal growth restriction, low birth weight, and long-term brain development issues affecting memory, learning, and behavior. Drug’s long-term impact on the fetus’s neural system has been studied by several researchers through their THC exposure experiment with non-human primates.

Researchers compared a group of non-human primates, who received a daily edible THC dosage, with a group who received a placebo. From the investigation, they evaluated the epigenetic changes in prenatal development: the placenta. Daily consumption of THC alters the epigenome of the fetus — the process in which the information encoded in a gene is turned into a function or observable trait — that can easily contribute to different functions and development of the fetus’s brain. Therefore, the drug’s impact on epigenetic processes is concerning, especially during one’s stage of neural development.

[Photo credit : KTLA 5]

Furthermore, the researchers found out that those errors in epigenetic processes due to drug exposures are associated with well-known neurobehavioral disorders like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, showing that consumption of cannabis during pregnancy can hurt the fetus’s neural system’s development.

Moreover, the connection between children's behavior issues and parental cannabis is proved by a 2019 study. Those impacts on the fetus's neural system lead to serious concerns during the fetus’s youth, which might make the child find it difficult to adapt to the new environment within the large human community.

It is important to recognize that smoking cannabis while pregnant can hurt a child's ability to grow their brain. Several concerns, including altered brain development, possible cognitive and behavioral disorders in infants, low birth weight, and preterm birth, have been linked to prenatal cannabis exposure, according to research. There is an urgent need to lessen cannabis usage in the United States, particularly among expecting moms, through education, regulation, and public health programs, to put the welfare of future generations first.


  1. “Marijuana Use during Pregnancy May Harm Children’s Mental Health.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, 12 Sept. 2022,

  2. Rideout, Nicole. “THC Use during Pregnancy Linked to Changes in Fetal Development.” OHSU News, 6 July 2023,

  3. Jaoude, Tony Abou. “Parenting on Pot: The Rise of Marijuana Moms.” Medical Recreational Dispensary Boston, Medical Recreational Dispensary Boston, 18 July 2023,

  4. “Cannabis Use during Pregnancy Impacts the Placenta and May Affect Subsequent Child Development.” Mount Sinai Health System, Mount Sinai Health System, 15 Nov. 2021,

  5. “Marijuana and Pregnancy.” SAMHSA, Accessed 18 Sept. 2023.

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