Prenatal cannabis exposure associated with mental disorders in children that persist into early adolescence

Prenatal cannabis exposure associated with mental disorders in children that persist into early adolescence

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Monday September 12, 2022

NIH-funded results add to growing scientific evidence of negative health effects of cannabis use during pregnancy


Prenatal exposure to cannabis after the middle of the first trimester – generally after five to six weeks of fetal development – is associated with attention, social and behavioral problems that persist as affected children progress into early adolescence (11 and 12 years) , according to new research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health. These conditions can put these children at greater risk for mental disorders and substance use in late adolescence, when young people are typically most vulnerable to these disorders and behaviors.

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Published today in JAMA Pediatrics, this study analyzed data from the ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and health in children and teens in the United States, which is supported by NIDA and nine other institutes, centers and offices of the NIH. The study was conducted by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis.

These findings add to a growing body of research on the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy. A previous analysis using baseline data from the ABCD study found an association between prenatal cannabis exposure and behavioral problems in these 9 to 10 year olds. Preclinical studies have shown that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, can cross the placenta and potentially affect brain development.

Cannabis use among pregnant women increased from 3% in 2002 to 7% in 2017. In 2018, 4.7% of pregnant women reported cannabis use and 5.4% in 2019, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The results of this new analysis further support caution against cannabis use during pregnancy, the authors say.

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The ABCD study follows nearly 12,000 youth as they grow up to be young adults. Researchers regularly measure participants’ brain structure and activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), collecting psychological, environmental and cognitive information, as well as biological samples. The ABCD study seeks to understand the factors that influence brain, cognitive, and social-emotional development, with the ultimate goal of providing actionable information to help educators, health professionals and policy makers improve the lives of all children, today and for future generations. .

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study and ABCD Study are registered trademarks and service marks of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, respectively.


DAA Baranger, et al. Association of mental health burden with prenatal cannabis exposure from childhood to early adolescence: longitudinal findings from the Adolescent Cognitive Development Brain (ABCD) Study. JAMA Pediatrics. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.3191


  • Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director, NIDA
  • Gaya Dowling, Ph.D., Director of ABCD Study, NIDA

To learn more about substance and mental health treatment programs in your area, call the toll-free and confidentialNational helpline1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit

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About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the worldwide research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute runs a wide variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice and advance addiction science. For more information about NIDA and its programs, visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):NIH, the national medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency that conducts and supports basic, clinical, and translational medical research, investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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