Cannabis Use in Pregnancy Linked to Psychopathology in Children

A new study suggests that children who were exposed to cannabis in the womb have a higher risk of developing symptoms of psychopathology.

The study from Washington University in St. Louis Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences' BRAIN Lab found that children whose mothers were using cannabis during pregnancy continue to show elevated rates of symptoms of psychopathology — depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions — as they head toward adolescence at ages 11 and 12.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, is a follow-up to research from 2020, which found that children who had been prenatally exposed to cannabis were slightly more likely to have had sleep problems, lower birth weight, and lower cognitive performance, among other things.

In the new study, researchers looked at whether these associations persisted as the children aged. The research team used data from more than 10,500 children in the 2020 analysis. At that time, participants averaged ten years old.

Researchers say that change in participants' age — from 10 to 12 — is important because when children are edging up to adolescence, a large proportion of mental health diagnoses occur.

An analysis of the more recent data showed no significant changes in the rate of psychiatric conditions as the children aged; they remain at greater risk for clinical psychiatric disorders and problematic substance use as they enter the later adolescent years.

"Once they hit 14 or 15, we're expecting to see further increases in mental health disorders or other psychiatric conditions — increases that will continue into the kids' the early 20s," said Dr. David Baranged, a postdoctoral researcher in the BRAIN Lab, in a press release.

Marijuana linked to schizophrenia

After alcohol and nicotine, cannabis is the most commonly used drug globally. In 2021, 11% of young US adults reported the daily use of marijuana.

Recent research from the University of Bath in the UK looked at the relationship between the use of cannabis and addiction and mental health problems by analyzing 20 studies involving almost 120,000 people.

Researchers found that those using high potency cannabis — products with a higher concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — are more likely to experience a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia.

Another study examined 186 adults with chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety or depressive symptoms who wanted to obtain medical marijuana cards. One group received cards right away, while others had to wait for 12 weeks.

The research found that immediate acquisition of medical marijuana did not significantly improve pain, anxiety, or depressive symptoms but led to a 2.9-fold higher incidence and severity of cannabis use disorder, which makes people unable to stop using marijuana. However, participants reported improvement in insomnia symptoms.

In the US, medical marijuana is legal in 38 states and DC. It is prescribed to ease pain, control nausea and vomiting, and induce appetite. Some studies suggest that medical marijuana might relieve symptoms in people who have inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

And while depression does not qualify for the prescription of medical marijuana, some people claim that it helps with depressive symptoms. For example, in a 2016 online survey of 1,429 medical cannabis users, some of the most frequently reported conditions for which they used cannabis were anxiety (58.1%) and depression (50.3%).


Washington University in St. Louis. Problems persist for kids exposed to cannabis in the womb.

JAMA Network. Association of Mental Health Burden With Prenatal Cannabis Exposure From Childhood to Early Adolescence.

Washington University in St. Louis. Prenatal cannabis exposure associated with adverse outcomes during middle childhood.

National Institutes of Health. Marijuana and hallucinogen use among young adults reached all-time high in 2021.

University of Bath. High-strength cannabis linked to addiction and mental health problems.

JAMA Network Open. Effect of Medical Marijuana Card Ownership on Pain, Insomnia, and Affective Disorder Symptoms in Adults.

Medline Plus. Medical marijuana.

National Library of Medicine. A Cross-Sectional Survey of Medical Cannabis Users: Patterns of Use and Perceived Efficacy.

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