Prenatal Cannabis Use Associated With Psychopathology in Middle Childhood

Pregnant woman lighting up a cannabis cigarette
A study suggests prenatal cannabis exposure and its correlated factors are associated with greater risk for psychopathology during middle childhood.

Prenatal cannabis exposure and its correlated factors are associated with greater risk for psychopathology during middle childhood, according to results of a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

As cannabis use becomes more common in the general public, cannabis use among pregnant mothers is also rising. Though the psychoactive component of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been shown to cross the placenta and interface with the endocannabinoid system, which is associated with prenatal neural development, the impact of cannabis use by pregnant mothers on child outcomes has not yet been determined.

To establish whether cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes among children, data from 11,489 children (47.8% girls) who were exposed to cannabis prenatally were analyzed. Children born between 2005 and 2009 were included. The average age of included participants was 9.9±0.6 years of age. A total of 5.7% of included individuals were prenatally exposed to cannabis.

When including covariates, exposure to cannabis after maternal knowledge was associated with higher psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) as well as externalizing, attention, thought, and social problems compared with children who were not prenatally exposed (P <.02). No significant differences were found in children who were exposed to cannabis before maternal knowledge and children who were not exposed.

The results of this study indicated that prenatal cannabis exposure after maternal knowledge may place children at an increased risk for psychopathology in middle childhood. Despite increasing societal and legal permissiveness in the use of cannabis, pregnant mothers and those who wish to become pregnant should refrain from using any cannabis.

Limitations to this study include its retrospective self-reporting design, which is inherently subject to participant bias and misremembering. Data on frequency of cannabis use were collected, but was often incomplete or reported in such a manner as to render it meaningless.

Future studies with a larger number of individuals who had been prenatally exposed to cannabis and studies of longitudinal design are warranted.


Paul SE, Hatoum AS, Fine JD, et al. Associations between prenatal cannabis exposure and childhood outcomes: Results from the ABCD Study. [published online September 23, 2020]. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2902

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor