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Imperative Research




There seems to be an endless sea of advice, books and research on pregnancy for expecting parents to wade through. From medical advice to parenting practices, soon-to-be parents have an infinite amount of information to guide them through the process.

Despite so much information, how cannabis may or may not affect unborn babies and newborns remains widely uncertain. A new study taking place at the University of Washington (UW) will attempt to shed light on the relationship between cannabis consumption and pregnancy. Studies similar to this evaluation have been few and far between in the past due to the taboo that has long-loomed over cannabis consumption.

A research team at the university will study how cannabis consumption during pregnancy can impact unborn babies with the help of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has allocated $190,000 to the UW for its research project. Headquartered in Maryland, the NIDA focuses on what the organization calls “addiction science.”

“Our mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health,” reads the institute’s site.

The NIDA upholds its mission statement by funding studies, supporting research training, public education and more. NIDA-funded studies often examine the effects of drug use and how it interacts with neurobiological, behavioral and social factors.

“Our mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.”


The project at UW, officially titled Olfactory Activation and Brain Development in Infants with Prenatal Cannabis Exposure, acknowledges the lack of information on the subject and the fact that cannabis has nearly tripled in potency over the last three decades.

The research team will ask expecting mothers to consume cannabis during all three trimesters of their gestation period. For their participation in the project that will last over a year, each woman will receive monetary compensation. Out of the 70 women who will be observed during their pregnancies, half will be asked to consume cannabis twice a week while the other 35 will not. Those consuming cannabis will do so to offset morning sickness.

When it comes to pregnant women, research project leader Natalia Kleinhans explained, “There’s little research to back up the medical and public health advice they’re getting to stay away from pot to control nausea.”

Kleinhans’ study hopes to find more clarity on how cannabis may or may not support such advice. The researchers at the UW will also be taking note of the percentages of THC and CBD the women consume each week. As a reminder, THC is the psychoactive component within cannabis, while CBD is not. Once the children are six months old, they will receive brain scans to determine if the early exposure to cannabis reveals itself in the brain’s development. “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,” Kleinhans said regarding the six month follow-up.

Along with detecting any changes in infant development, those who are involved with the project will also look to see if sense of smell has developed normally for the babies. “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 shared.

Although research in the past on cannabis has been limited, the University of Denver and Duke University have been involved in similar studies relating to cannabis and child development. As curiosity grows among the community, medical discoveries relating to cannabis consumption will be sure to follow.