Pot Use Negative Impacts Development of Babies’ Brains and Adolescent Brains
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
March 23, 2023
While North Carolina lawmakers consider whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, evidence of the serious harms caused by the drug continues to mount. Among the latest is research showing how pot use among pregnant women harms babies’ brains and how the adolescent brain is also particularly susceptible to the effects of cannabis.
“People often assume there’s no risk when using cannabis or cannabinoids during vulnerable periods of life, but they’re basing that on little to no data,” wrote Hilary A. Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University in the March 22 edition of The Conversation, a nonprofit, academic news website. “Our research and that of others suggests that cannabis use during pregnancy and adolescence can present myriad health risks the public should be aware of.”
A developmental neuroscientist who specializes in studying the endocannabinoid system, Marusak says a growing number of studies link prenatal cannabis exposure to greater risk of preterm birth, lower birth weight and psychiatric and behavioral problems in children, including difficulties with attention, social problems, anxiety and depression.
Using data from the National Institutes of Health Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, Marusak and a medical student researcher found that prenatal cannabis exposure is linked to alterations in functional brain networks in 9- and 10-year-olds. The drug, which passes easily from the mother into the baby’s bloodstream, appears to disrupt the communication between parts of the brain involved in attentional control, which may explain why children who were exposed to cannabis while in the womb may develop difficulties with attention or other behavioral issues or mental disorders.
Furthermore, researchers found that compared to people who did not use cannabis during their youth, those who started doing so as adolescents are more likely to develop depression, suicidal ideation and psychosis and have reductions in IQ during adolescence and adulthood.
“Cannabis may be harmful to the developing brain because it disrupts the developing endocannabinoid system, which plays a critical role in shaping brain development from conception and into adulthood,” Marusak says. “This includes neural circuits involved in learning, memory, decision-making and emotion regulation.”
What makes the research even more concerning is that marijuana use is on the rise across the United States. While alcohol abuse among adolescents has trended downward since 2000, cannabis use has increased by 245% during the same period.
Marusak is not alone in her quest to warn the public about the dangers of marijuana. In 2019, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory against the use of cannabis during pregnancy and adolescence, stating that “no amount … is known to be safe.”
“It is hard to believe how anyone who follows the findings of these studies could still believe that marijuana should be considered medicine,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Furthermore, the U.S. DEA tells us the reason marijuana use is growing is because as states legalize marijuana the perception of its risk is lowered for users and potential users.”
“We can only hope that members of the North Carolina House are fully informed about the dangers of the drug and its negative import and will vote down Senate Bill 3, or better yet, kill it in committee or don’t even take it up so it doesn’t come to a vote,” added Rev. Creech.
The Senate approved the so-called “Compassionate Care Act” earlier this month. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.