JUL 12, 2023 6:00 AM PDT

THC Use During Pregnancy Impacts Fetal Development at Epigenetic Level

WRITTEN BY: Sarah Hoffman

Labroots recently reported the growing trend of cannabis use to combat pregnancy symptoms like nausea and vomiting. The previous study showed that, among other factors, things like misinformation on the internet, a lack of restrictions and labeling on cannabis products, and a need for symptom relief played a role in an individual’s choice to use cannabis while pregnant. While this review mentioned the potential fetal health impacts of cannabis use while pregnant, a new preclinical study in Clinical Epigenetics shows how exactly THC can impact fetal development in a non-human primate model.

Lyndsey Shorey-Kendrick, Ph.D., lead author and computational biologist at OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center in the Division of Neurosciences, noted that the widespread use and popularity of cannabis leads to the belief that it is entirely safe in all situations; however, this is not true. Shorey-Kendrick said, “The reality is that cannabis still carries many health risks for certain populations, including those who are pregnant. If we’re able to better understand the impacts, we can more effectively communicate the risks to patients and support safer habits during the vulnerable prenatal period.”

This study, out of Oregon Health & Science University, aimed to fill a noticeable gap in the research surrounding cannabis use in pregnancy – that human studies are near impossible due to safety factors. Therefore, to study the impacts, the team used a non-human primate model to observe the effects of THC on fetal development.

Doses of edible THC and placebo were administered to two groups daily during the early stages of prenatal development. Epigenetic changes in the placenta, fetal lung, brain, and heart were tracked and evaluated over the trial period - areas of development commonly observed to determine fetal health and development.

The study resulted in two significant findings:

  • THC altered the epigenome – i.e., how the information in a gene becomes an observable trait or function.


  • The significant changes were to genes affiliated with neurobehavioral disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

As previously reported, patients may avoid informing their doctor of cannabis use during pregnancy for several reasons, including fear of legal reprisals. The new study authors also note that it’s not currently common practice for doctors to discuss cannabis use with pregnant patients and those trying to conceive. However, they note the importance of this as the trend in cannabis use during pregnancy grows. Jamie Lo, MD, MCR, corresponding author and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at OHSU School of Medicine and Division of Reproductive and Developmental Sciences at the ONPRC, states that they “hope our work can help open up a broader dialogue about the risks of cannabis use in the preconception and prenatal period, so we can improve children’s health in the long run.”



Sources: EurekAlert!Clinical EpigeneticsLabroots


About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Sarah (She/Her) is the Scientific Editor at Labroots. She has a background in science publishing, bioarchaeology & paleopathology, and has worked at archaeological sites throughout the North Atlantic. She received her Ph.D. & M.A. from the University at Buffalo and her MSc. from Durham University.
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