As we see more and more states legalizing marijuana (Cannabis) use and a growing consensus among Americans that marijuana use is not a bad or dangerous practice, it is important to note that regardless of the fact that the drug may not be as toxic as alcohol, marijuana is not a benign drug. It is common knowledge that alcohol use during pregnancy can cause serious adverse effects on the fetus. The science is not as definitive on the effects on the fetus of marijuana use by a pregnant woman. But there is some evidence that THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, has a less than benign effect on the brain development of the fetus.

ScienceDailyfor 01/27/2014, provides a summary of a study on mice (ethics prevent studies on humans; but results of mice studies are scientifically relevant) that suggests that marijuana use during pregnancy can have serious enduring adverse effects on brain development of the fetus, especially in the cerebral cortex which is the seat of judgment, thinking, and memory. Using language from ScienceDaily:

"The study highlights that consuming Cannabis during pregnancy clearly results in defective development of nerve cells of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that orchestrates higher cognitive functions and drives memory formation. In particular, THC negatively impacts if and how the structural platform and conduit for communication between nerve cells, the synapses and axons, will develop and function. ***… these developmental deficits may evoke life-long modifications to the brain function of those affected."

The lead author of the study stated: "Even though not all children who have been exposed to Cannabis will suffer immediate and obvious deficits, … relatively subtle damage can significantly increase the risk of delayed neuropsychiatric diseases. Even if THC only would cause small changes its effect may well be sufficient to sensitize the brain to later stressors or diseases to provoke neuropsychiatric illnesses in those affected in the future."

Thus, regardless of legality and the widely accepted myth that marijuana use is “no big deal”, the drug does have negative effects that will become more widespread as its use increases (and I have not even mentioned its addiction potential).

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams,, 01/30/2014.


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