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Smoking Weed During Pregnancy Linked to Abnormal Fetal Brains

Update Date: Jan 27, 2014 03:08 PM EST

Mothers who smoke weed during pregnancy are destroying the brains of their unborn children, a new study suggests.

A study on mice and human brain tissue reveals that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, harms fetal brain development by impairing the development of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. Researchers said this is worrying because the cerebral cortex is largely responsible for higher cognitive functions and memory formation.

The findings revealed that THC disrupts the development and function of the structural platform and conduit for communication between the synapses and axons of nerve cells.

The latest study also discovered that Stathmin-2 is a key protein target for THC action. Researchers explained that its loss is characterized by erroneous nerve growth.

Researchers believe the exposure to marijuana in the womb can increase the risk of developmental deficits and lifelong alterations of brain function.

While children may not suffer immediate and obvious deficits, researchers said that marijuana exposure could lead to subtle damage that could significantly increase the risk of delayed neuropsychiatric diseases.

"Even if THC only would cause small changes its effect may well be sufficient to sensitize the brain to later stressors or diseases to provoke neuropsychiatric illnesses in those affected in the future," Professor Tibor Harkany of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden said in a news release. "This concerns also the medical use of Cannabis, which should be avoided during pregnancy."

The findings are published in the EMBO Journal.

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