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Cannabis Use During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Fat Levels in Children, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Apr 06, 2022   
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People who use cannabis during their pregnancy are more likely to have slightly fatter children, according to a new study.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study recorded the levels of fatty tissue of 15 children whose mothers were known to have used cannabis products during their pregnancy.

Compared to the children whose mothers didn’t use cannabis, the 15 “cannabis-exposed” children were more likely to be heavier by age 5.


To get their results, the Colorado School of Public Health researchers used data from the Healthy Start study, which has recorded the medical information of over 1,000 women and their children since 2009.

For this study, the researchers used data from 103 women who gave a urine sample during their pregnancy and then attended a follow-up assessment when their child was around 5 years old.

Fifteen of these women had cannabinoids present in their urine samples, indicating that they had consumed cannabis at some point during their pregnancy.

Later, when the women’s babies were born, the infants were more likely to have a low birth weight.

Yet at the follow-up assessment five years later, these children had, on average, 2.6 percent more fat mass than the children of the cannabis-sober mothers.

This light-to-heavy observation could be explained by a previous, unrelated study, which found that babies born underweight are more likely to ‘overcompensate’ and have higher levels of body fat later in life.

The Colorado School of Public Health researchers also observed that many of the “cannabis-exposed” children had significantly higher glucose levels than the other children.

“Our findings suggest that fetal exposure to cannabis is associated with increased adiposity and fasting glucose levels in early childhood,” the researchers concluded in their paper.

“This novel discovery may have important implications given the rise of legalization of cannabis and its use among pregnant women.”

Cannabis and pregnancy

Several other studies have linked prenatal cannabis consumption with less preferable birth outcomes.

A study published in 2020 in the Medical Journal of Australia found that those who continued to consume cannabis after 15 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to give birth to babies with a lower birthweight and a shorter head circumference.

Another recent study found that, when exposed to THC, bovine eggs were significantly less likely to result in a viable pregnancy.

Despite these findings, an increasing number of pregnant people across North America report consuming the drug, often to treat morning sickness.

Speaking to Analytical Cannabis in 2019, Kelly Young-Wolff, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, described her findings from an observational study of pregnant women in northern California.

“So, one of the main findings is that by 2017, among those women who said ‘yes, I've used cannabis during pregnancy,’ 21 percent of them said that they were using cannabis daily,” she said.

“Ninety-six percent of our women who said they used during pregnancy were also using in the year before pregnancy,” she added. “And I think that is actually a nice thing to know, because women’s health clinicians can provide education about the potential harms of prenatal cannabis to all women of reproductive age, particularly those who are trying to get pregnant prior to conception.”


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