Prenatal marijuana exposure may cause FASD-like impairment

In a new journal issue of 13-studies published in Birth Defects Research, a team of researchers with the Teratology Society unveiled how prenatal marijuana exposure may cause morphological and behavioral impairments observed in cases of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The issue, released on July 23rd, covered a variety of research topics regarding the many challenges facing researchers including FASD. “It’s incredibly timely and relevant that we address the subject of prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol is likely the most common teratogenic exposure that occurs in pregnancy,” said Christina Chambers, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California.

Of the most significant findings, the new issue details an examination on the use of a zebrafish model by Boa-Amponsem et al. to study the effects of a cannabinoid agonist and alcohol on FASD phenotypes, and dysmorphic or behavioral changes. Researchers found that the effects of cannabinoids, whether in conjunction with minimal levels of alcohol, drastically impaired development.

“Acute or chronic exposure to high doses of the cannabinoid agonist produced FASD phenotypes. In addition, acute subthreshold doses of the cannabinoid antagonist and acute 1% ethanol produced similar phenotypes, and combined exposure induced risk‐taking behavior,” the findings indicate.

“These studies suggest that marijuana alone, as well as combined exposure to lower levels of alcohol and marijuana may be capable of inducing FASD‐like morphological and behavioral impairments.”

“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.”

The results from the study by Boa-Amponsem et al., along with prior studies, provide more evidence on how prenatal cannabis exposure may induce FASD-like impairments.

“FASD is one of the most complex developmental disabilities we face today. Together, this collection of manuscripts represents the broad range of topics such as biomarkers, mechanisms, interactions with other factors, and long term effects that require further investigation in order to prevent and ameliorate the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, and to improve the lives of individuals with FASD,” researchers concluded.