Prenatal Cannabis Use Disorder Increases Neurodevelopmental Disorder Risk

(HealthDay News) — Prenatal cannabis use disorder (CUD) is associated with a higher risk for subsequent neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring, according to a study presented at the annual congress of the European Psychiatric Association, held from April 6 to 9 in Budapest, Hungary.

Abay Woday Tadesse, from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, and colleagues examined the association between prenatal CUD and neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring. The analysis included administrative health data from 222,569 mother-offspring pairs (live births from January 2003 to December 2005).

The researchers found that offspring from mothers with prenatal CUD had an increased risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; adjusted risk ratio [aRR], 1.98), autism spectrum disorder (ASD; aRR, 1.94), and intellectual disability (ID; aRR, 1.46) compared with nonexposed offspring. There was also a significant interaction effect observed for CUD during pregnancy and maternal smoking with the risk for childhood neurodevelopmental disorders (ADHD: RR, 5.62; ASD: RR, 2.72; and ID: RR, 2.84). Lastly, there were significant associations between CUD and ADHD, ASD, and ID when interacting with low birth weight and premature birth.

“The increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children of mothers diagnosed with prenatal cannabis use that we have observed in this study underscores the critical needs for preventive measures, including preconception counseling, to mitigate the potential adverse outcomes,” Tadesse said in a statement.

What is prenatal cannabis use disorder?

Prenatal cannabis use disorder is the problematic use of cannabis during pregnancy. Research on the long-term effects is limited, but potential risks to the developing baby have been cited. This issue disproportionately affects the Black community in the United States.

Cannabis use during pregnancy is not uncommon. However, not all cannabis use during pregnancy is considered prenatal cannabis use disorder. This diagnosis requires a pattern of problematic cannabis use that negatively impacts the mother’s health or ability to function, potentially leading to increased use despite known risks to the fetus.

Potential risks associated with prenatal cannabis use disorder include:

  • Low birth weight: Studies suggest an association between PCUD and babies born smaller than expected.
  • Neurodevelopmental issues: Concerns exist regarding potential effects on brain development and cognitive function in children prenatally exposed to cannabis.
  • Mental health problems: Some studies suggest a possible link between PCUD and an increased risk of mental health issues in offspring later in life.

It’s important to note that these are potential risks, and the specific effects can vary depending on factors like the amount and frequency of cannabis use, as well as the mother’s overall health.

Who is affected by prenatal cannabis use disorder?

Prenatal cannabis use disorder disproportionately impacts Black women in the United States. Studies show higher rates of reported cannabis use during pregnancy among Black women compared to white women. Black communities often face higher rates of poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare, and chronic stress, which can contribute to substance use as a coping mechanism.  Black women are also more likely to experience negative stereotypes and judgment from healthcare providers regarding substance use during pregnancy, leading to underdiagnosis and inadequate support. The stigma surrounding cannabis use can also deter Black women from seeking help or disclosing cannabis use to healthcare providers for fear of judgment or child welfare involvement.

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