New studies suggest prenatal marijuana may be capable of causing FASD-like impairment

RESTON, VIRGINIA–Whether alone or combined with alcohol, new studies included in Birth Defects Research just published by the Teratology Society with John Wiley & Sons, suggest marijuana exposure may be capable of triggering morphological and behavioral impairments similar to those seen with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The groundbreaking insight is part of a special journal issue of 13-studies looking closer at the biomarkers, mechanisms, and interactions of prenatal alcohol exposure. (See the OverviewDOI:10.1002/bdr2.1545).

“It’s incredibly timely and relevant that we address the subject of prenatal alcohol exposure,” said Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego and co-editor of the special Birth Defects Research issue. Dr. Chambers, a Teratology Society Past President and pioneer in the field of prenatal alcohol research, recently made headlines with her groundbreaking study which suggests FASD may affect up to 5% of children in the U.S., and is far more common than previously thought. “Alcohol is likely the most common teratogenic exposure that occurs in pregnancy.”

Some of the significant findings unveiled in the new issue include those by Boa-Amponsem et al. The authors use a zebrafish model to examine the effects of a cannabinoid agonist as well as alcohol on FASD phenotypes, changes to physical features, and behavior and showed that cannabinoids alone, as well as if combined with lower levels of alcohol, significantly impaired development. “This study, in combination with previous work in mice, suggests that prenatal cannabis exposure might induce FASD-like impairments,” said Scott E. Parnell, PhD, assistant professor in the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and co-editor of the special Birth Defects Research issue. In addition, a study by Buckley et al. provides the first known report of hindbrain-associated heterotopias (brain tissue located in the wrong part of the brain) resulting from developmental alcohol exposure. This novel finding further details evidence that the effects of exposure are timing- and dose-dependent.

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