A Calgary researcher warns that the use of cannabis containing THC may not be safe during pregnancy. PhD candidate, Samatha Baglot, presented her research findings on the topic of cannabis use during pregnancy at the University of Calgary’s recent Mathison Center 10th-anniversary symposium. 

The event highlighted breakthroughs in mental health and neuroscience. Topics ranged from advances in mental health to the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids.

Baglot’s research examines the effect of prenatal exposure to cannabis in lab rats.

Samantha Baglot. PHOTO: Courtesy of UBC Grad School

Alberta Health Services cautions women against cannabis use during pregnancy, stating there can be long-term effects on babies such as: “abnormal brain development, slower growth, learning disabilities, and behavior concerns.”

Additionally, a 2020 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia also drew links between cannabis use during pregnancy and lower birth weights. 

Baglot’s experiment exposed pregnant rats to a 10 per cent Tetrahydrocannabinol distillate — also known as THC —through inhalation. The rats were exposed once a day for 15 minutes. 

THC is the main active chemical in cannabis, however it is important to note that not all cannabis contains THC. Baglot’s research found that exposure to cannabis containing THC can have the ability to reach the fetus.

“THC accumulates in the fetal brain but the placenta seems to be its main reservoir, and about 30 per cent of what was circulating in mom’s blood reaches the fetal brain in our inhalation model,” said Baglot.

The pregnant rats exposed to cannabis in Balgot’s study gained weight, had smaller litters, and demonstrated signs of potential immune function problems. Intriguingly, the test rats did not exhibit heightened anxiety.  

Samantha Baglot presenting her research at the Mathison Center tenth-anniversary symposium. PHOTO: VALERIA BABIN

Baglot’s presentation at the symposium stressed that her study continues and there is need for more research. 

The next phase of her study will focus on the endocannabinoid and immune system development in the fetal brain, placenta and the mother’s spleen.

“It’s important to note that this model seems to generally replicate some of the core findings in humans and in previous animal models, which gives us some confidence in its translational developments,” said Baglot. 

The U of C’s Mathison Center is devoted to advancing research and education in early identification, treatment and prevention of mental illness. 

The recent symposium gave professors, researchers and doctors a chance to get together to talk about their findings and connections to mental health, like that of Baglot’s study.

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