Mom’s marijuana use may impair baby’s memory into adolescence

Neuroscience News Neuroscience News

Summary: Many pregnant women are turning to marijuana to help curb morning sickness during early pregnancy. A new study reports maternal marijuana use may be detrimental to the brain development of children. Exposure to THC in utero can cause learning and memory problems in children that may continue through adolescence.

Source: Auburn University

Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy researchers have found more and more expectant mothers are turning to marijuana and subsequently putting their baby’s memory at risk.

With a recent report claiming the number of women using marijuana during pregnancy had doubled in the last 15 years, Auburn doctoral student Priyanka Pinky sought to examine what effect it would have on the developing baby.

A medical doctor from Bangladesh, Pinky studied tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the active ingredient in marijuana—on rodent models to see what effect there was on the offspring’s memory. Pinky served as the lead graduate student on the project, under the direction of Drs. Vishnu Suppiramaniam and Miranda Reed, and assisted by fellow graduate students Jenna Bloemer, Yifeng Du, Sharay Setti, Ryan Heslin and Warren Smith.

The research team administered THC to pregnant rodent mothers and found that THC could cross the blood placental barrier—meaning it could transfer from the mother’s blood to the baby—and subsequently impact the growing fetus.

“Research in our lab has shown that using marijuana during pregnancy has long-lasting effects on learning and memory and it can continue throughout adolescences,” said Pinky.

The team conducted several behavioral experiments and observed the young offspring to be forgetful.

“They could not perform the given task as efficiently as normal offspring of the same age,” Pinky explained. “This made us to think ‘what is the reason behind this?’ We investigated further in the molecular level and we identified the culprit.”

The Neural Cell Adhesion Molecule—a protein in the brain—works like an adhesive, maintaining the connection between neurons in the brain’s hippocampus, where memories are formed. The adhesive connection facilitates the formation of memory and keeps memory intact.

“We found that this protein is significantly reduced in the brain of the THC-exposed animals,” said Pinky. “Since there is reduced adhesion between neurons, memory is impaired.”

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