Higher fat mass, fasting blood sugar for offspring with fetal cannabis exposure

March 31, 2022

2 minute read


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According to the study results, children of mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy had higher fat mass and adiposity and higher fasting blood sugar levels than those who had not been exposed to cannabis.

“We know that cannabis laws are relaxing and there is a misconception that cannabis is ‘safe’ to use during pregnancy,” Brianna F. Moore, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the Lifecourse Epidemiology of Adiposity & Diabetes Center at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, told Healio. “However, cannabis use during pregnancy has been associated with lower birth weight and adverse neurocognitive effects in offspring. Our study builds on these previous studies by providing new evidence that fetal cannabis exposure is associated with higher blood sugar and adiposity in 5-year-old children.

Brianna F. Moore, Ph.D.

Moore is a Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the Lifecourse Epidemiology of Adiposity & Diabetes Center at the University of Colorado School of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed data from 103 pregnant women who attended outpatient obstetrics clinics at the University of Colorado Hospital between 2010 and 2014. Mothers who had urine samples collected to measure cannabinoids and metabolites at 27 weeks’ gestation were included in the analysis. A follow-up visit was made with each participant’s child at an average age of 4.7 years. The children’s fat mass, fat-free mass, childhood adiposity, fasting blood sugar and insulin concentrations were measured at follow-up.

The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Of the mothers, approximately 15% had a detectable level of cannabis at 27 weeks gestation. THC and its metabolites were detected more than other cannabinoids, and the most commonly detected cannabinoid was THC-9-carboxylic acid glucuronide.

Children whose fetuses were exposed to cannabis had 0.7 kg more fat mass at follow-up compared to unexposed children (95% CI, 0.2-1.2; P = .01). The result remained significant after adjusting for the duration of breastfeeding and exposure to tobacco. Children whose fetuses were exposed to cannabis had a 2.6% higher body fat percentage at follow-up compared to unexposed children (95% CI, 0.1-5.2; P = 0.04). No significant difference was found with childhood BMI or BMI z Goal.

Children exposed to cannabis in utero had fasting blood glucose 8 mg/dL higher than those not exposed (95% CI, 0.1-15.8; P = 0.04). The mean difference was smaller after adjusting for breastfeeding and childhood tobacco exposure, but still significant.

“We were surprised how strongly fetal cannabis exposure was associated with adiposity and glucose levels in children,” Moore said. “This was robust even after controlling for many important confounders, including smoking during pregnancy.”

Fetal cannabis exposure was also associated with a 4 uU/mL increase in fasting insulin compared to unexposed offspring (95% CI, 0.7-7.3; P = 0.02), but the difference was not significant after adjusting for postnatal factors.

Moore said pregnant women should follow recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and avoid using cannabis to limit risks to children. With more states in the United States now legalizing cannabis, Moore added, more research needs to be done on the fetal effects of cannabis use.

“We need to understand how higher doses may impact offspring and whether CBD, in the absence of THC, is associated with adverse health effects in offspring,” Moore said.

For more information:

Brianna F. Moore, Ph.D.can be contacted at [email protected].

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