An ongoing study at Western University is researching the effects of being exposed to THC while pregnant.
It looks specifically at how Delta 9-THC exposure during pregnancy impacts long-term metabolic health in offspring.
Thus far, the study has conducted their research using lab rats to discover the effects that perinatal THC has over a period of time.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Daniel Hardy says that there is an issue now with the legalization of recreational cannabis where a lot of women think that because it legal — it must be safe.
“The worldwide use of cannabis in pregnant mothers is quite alarming. It is almost as high as 1 in 5 pregnant mothers. This shows that we are close to 20 per cent of pregnant mothers using this drug,” commented Dr. Daniel Hardy, Associate Professor in the Departments of Ob/Gyn and Physiology & Pharmacology at Western University and Scientist with the Children’s Health Research Institute.
The ongoing study, which began early last year, gives pregnant rats three milligrams/kilogram of THC everyday during pregnancy. According to Dr. Hardy, this dose of THC is low in comparison to the amount of THC one would find in today’s Cannabis.
“Our lab is interested in understanding how certain insults in pregnancy can not only affect the mother, but more importantly affect the offspring. In the past, our lab has looked at… how exposure to nicotine or antidepressants affects an offspring long term. So we decided to see if exposure to Delta 9-THC [The active component of cannabis], affects short and long term outcomes in pregnancy. The big reason for looking at Delta 9-THC is because the concentrations of THC in cannabis has drastically increased over the last 30 years,” said Dr. Hardy.
— Dan Hardy (@DBHardyLab) October 18, 2018
Dr. Hardy stresses that their goal in this study is to mimic a mother who would use a low dose THC, regardless of its source, to treat something like anxiety. The goal is not to study an amount that can cause fetal demise.
“The dose of THC that we used [on the lab rats] did not affect the mother in terms of food intake, weight gain, or number of pups conceived during pregnancy…What we did observe with this dose was that the weight of the pups were smaller by about 8 per cent. You might say to yourself, ‘that is not a big decrease’…but when we looked at the ratio of the individual organs, with respect to the pups total body weight, there was significant change,” commented Dr. Hardy.
The preliminary results have revealed that on postnatal day one, animals exposed to this level of THC had a 20 per cent decrease in the brain to body ratio and heart to body ratio. Other effected areas, but not limited to, were the liver by about 25 per cent and a smaller pancreas.
“These animals are entering the world with less heart, less liver, less pancreas, and less brain — and it is all due to this low dose of THC in pregnancy,” said Dr. Hardy.
According to Dr. Hardy, some of the most shocking results thus far are that these Delta 9-THC offspring exhibit deficits in their ability to produce insulin. He said that due to their lack of pancreatic beta cells, these animals can develop a glucose-intolerance or even Type 2 Diabetes.
What differentiates Western University’s study from similar studies of the past, is that the Prenatal THC study focuses on the effects of metabolic health in offspring, rather than just looking at brain function like others do.
Moving forward, Dr. Hardy says a potential route that their lab may go is further researching the effects of not only THC, but also CBD which is another component commonly found in cannabis.
“One of the exciting things that our lab is going to look at in the future, is that if we raise the ratio of Cannabidiole [CBD] in cannabis, can we possibly ameliorate the negative effects of Delta 9-THC.”