Consuming cannabis or marijuana during pregnancy has been linked to complications such as fetal growth restriction, preterm birth, low birth weight, and long-term issues with brain development in children. A new study has found a connection between cannabis use during pregnancy and the risk of certain childhood cancers.
Researchers at Duke Health found that children exposed to illegal drugs, particularly cannabis, were at an increased risk for central nervous system tumors such as medulloblastomas and supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETS), as well as retinoblastomas.
The findings were based on a survey of parents of children diagnosed with cancer before the age of 18. The study was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
The researchers hope that the results will have significant implications, especially in light of the recent increase in cannabis use, which is often used as a remedy for severe morning sickness and nausea.
„Alcohol and tobacco consumption during pregnancy has declined, but cannabis use during pregnancy has increased in the past decade,“ said lead author Kyle Walsh in a press release.
„The psychoactive compounds in cannabis are able to cross the placental barrier and can impact normal neuronal development in the fetal brain. We looked at 15 different types of childhood cancers and found a specific association with cancer of the central nervous system,“ Walsh explained.
The survey was conducted with 3,145 families, 92% of whom identified the child’s biological mother. Participants were asked about their consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs during pregnancy.
„Approximately 14% of families reported consuming tobacco products during pregnancy, 4% reported using illegal drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, and 2% reported consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol,“ the researchers wrote.
In addition to the observations related to illegal substances, the researchers found a significant association between moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and an increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Newborns of mothers who smoked tobacco during pregnancy had a higher risk of low birth weight, but there was no increased risk for specific cancers associated with smoking.
„We hope that our findings can promote increased dialogue between providers and patients about the potential impacts of prenatal substance use, especially cannabis use, on public health messaging. We also emphasize the need for further research on the risk-benefit profile of cannabis use among expectant mothers,“ said Walsh.