“Worrisome” evidence, but “far too little” research on the effects of cannabis on pregnancy.
That’s how researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center describe the findings of their new medical cannabis review.
Published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology, the report scrutinizes the literature on marijuana and fetal development compiled between 1975 and 2015. While the authors rehash plenty of now-hackneyed marijuana facts (i.e. THC lingers in fat cells for up to a month, and today’s cannabis contains much more of it than our parents’ weed did forty years ago), they also present some sobering but less well-known information that’s been emerging from more recent rounds of research.
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Studies suggest that, in the mother, elevation of cannabinoids can interfere with both the transportation of a fertilized egg out of the fallopian tube and its implantation in the uterus. This increases the risk of spontaneous abortion and ectopic pregnancy.
There is also substantial evidence that cannabinoids can alter the placenta and even pass easily through it to act directly on the developing fetus. To use a medical term, this can potentially “screw up” every aspect of development: growth of brain and nerve cells, laying down of blood vessels, cellular development, tissue differentiation, and cognitive development.
Senior investigator G. Ian Gallicano sums it up simply: “THC and other chemicals alter molecular pathways that shouldn’t be disrupted during development of a fetus.”
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Ironically, one of marijuana’s most exciting possible medical qualities could be especially devastating to a gestating embryo.
Says Gallicano, “We also know that THC is a promising agent for treating cancer, because it negatively affects tumor growth and can cause the death of cancer cells.” Unfortunately, THC might have a hard time distinguishing a baby from a tumor.
Sorry to disrupt anyone’s sentimental vision of motherhood, but, from the perspective of ordinary cells, a growing baby can look a hell of a lot like cancer: It’s a rapidly proliferating body of cells that starts hijacking blood vessels (the technical term for this is “angiogenesis”) to support itself on nutrients syphoned off from the host (i.e. mommy). Impeding angiogenesis and inducing apoptosis, or cell death, is precisely how cannabinoids respond to certain forms of cancer; it’s not unreasonable to suspect it might respond similarly to an embryo.
This fear is purely hypothetical, but it does certainly point to the study’s overall conclusion—one which is echoed in nearly every medical marijuana report— “Far too little research has been conducted on the effects of cannabis.”