Expectant mothers pass CBD through placenta, posing risk to fetal brains

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Colorado researchers have found that CBD passes through the placenta of pregnant women and accumulates in the fetal brain, risking harm to preborns. The finding, by a team at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, lends credence to warnings from health officials about potential dangers of the widely available compound.

“This study is important to help clinicians and pregnant patients know that consuming CBD during pregnancy may have some effect on the brain development of offspring,” said Emily Bates, Associate Professor at the university’s Anschutz Medical Campus. “We need clinicians to start asking about CBD consumption at prenatal visits and educate the public about potential risks during pregnancy.”

The paper was published last week in Molecular Psychiatry, a scientific journal of Berlin-based Springer Nature.

‘Important now’

“It’s important now more than ever because CBD recently became federally legal and is available at grocery stores and gas stations,” Bates said.

“Thousands of people suffer from nausea with pregnancy each year. Nausea can be alleviated with cannabidiol (CBD),” the paper observes. “However, it is unknown how fetal CBD exposure affects embryonic development and postnatal outcomes.”

The team found that oral consumption of high doses of CBD during pregnancy impaired problem-solving in female mice and reduced activity in the pre-frontal cortex, a part of the brain important for learning.

‘Cognitive impairment’

“We show that fetal CBD exposure decreases problem-solving behaviors in female CBD-exposed offspring,” according to the research paper’s abstract. 

While cognitive impairments happened only in females, increased pain sensitivity occurred only in male mice, the study showed. Bates said more research is needed to understand why the effects of CBD are sex-specific.

The researchers said the next step will be to determine if the timing and doses of CBD during different trimesters of pregnancy impact the frequency and severity of the impairments. Further research is needed to determine sensitive periods of CBD exposure, the interaction of CBD with other cannabinoids such as THC, and different effects based on how the compounds are administered, according to the paper.

Warnings back FDA

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly raised concerns regarding CBD’s potentially harmful effects on pregnant women and fetuses, young children, the elderly, and the liver and male reproductive system. In a paper released in March that was based on existing clinical studies, the FDA concluded long-term consumption of CBD needs further research.

FDA currently recognizes CBD as a drug, technically barring it from use in foods or being marketed as a dietary supplement. The agency said in January that not enough is known about CBD products to regulate them as foods or supplements and has urged lawmakers to step in to resolve issues surrounding the compound.

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