There’s a lot we still don’t know about how cannabis use affects pregnancy. It’s a topic, however, researchers are beginning to grow more and more curious about as cannabis legalization ripples throughout the U.S. On the downside of prohibition, the world of science is making conclusions about cannabis—without using actual cannabis or humans. Instead, they used synthetic cannabinoids with known severe side effects to research cannabis use during pregnancy.
Despite this, an entire special issue of a research journal published Tuesday is making headlines for research concluding cannabis use may be just as bad during pregnancy for the fetus as alcohol.
Researchers Claim Alcohol and Cannabis Trigger Similar Responses
“It raises concerns regarding the safety to fetal health, as use of cannabis by pregnant women may be as detrimental as alcohol use in terms of long-term effects on health,” said Gregory Cole, a professor and chair of the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina Central University and author of one of the studies, in an email to Green Rush Daily.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders occur when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. These disorders can present themselves as physical deformities or in behavioral and learning disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The individual teams of researchers found alcohol and a CB1R antagonist or synthetic cannabinoid used in the place of cannabis triggered a similar response in the brain. Therefore, cannabis and alcohol use may result in similar effects in people who were exposed to them while in utero.
However, the CB1R antagonist they used has never been approved in the U.S. and was taken off of the market globally for it’s known severe side effects back in 2008.
Study Didn’t Use Human Subjects
It is worth noting that the study Cole helped work on, which made this conclusion, didn’t use humans to measure this. It used a zebrafish model, which is popular among health studies because they (surprisingly) share many genes with humans and operate under a similar organ structure, according to a blog post on the National Institutes of Health’s website. Plus, zebrafish are cheap and quick to breed. That’s always a plus.
The study would be much more definite if it involved human subjects, but this is a growing field of research with limitations from federal laws.
However, at least one previous study contradicts their findings. The research published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found no connection between adverse health impacts and cannabis. Instead, it points to the combination of marijuana and tobacco products as the culprit for adverse outcomes associated with cannabis.
Studies Claiming Harm Used Potent Synthetic Cannabinoids or Combined Cannabis with Alcohol
Both studies in this special issue focus on the adverse effects of cannabis exposure during pregnancy in animals. However, one study uses rats and a synthetic cannabinoid called CP55940 that is said to be 45 times more potent than the THC we know and love to make their conclusions.
The other study found that exposure to combined cannabis and alcohol during pregnancy could affect behavioral development. Researches claim the impacts appear bad when exposure to the synthetic cannabinoid happens alone and they’re even worse when combined with alcohol.
However, it is hard to say how much of a connection this research has to modern cannabis use among pregnant human women.
More Research Required
Despite this, the authors stressed the importance of their findings as many pregnant mothers believe that cannabis use is safe.
“What our study suggests is that early exposure to each drug may have unique effects on behavioral development and that the combination may have more severe effects on some behaviors,” said authors Jennifer Thomas and Kristen Breit, both of whom conduct research at San Diego State University’s Center for Behavioral Teratology, in an emailed statement to Green Rush Daily.
Still, the authors realize that more research is needed on this topic. And this special issue is only the beginning. As more and more states legalize cannabis in their own way, scientists will step up to the task. They need to—public health is depending on them providing the answers.