The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can cause birth defects by interfering with a gene called Nmnat1.

New research on genetically susceptible mice shows THC/Cannabis causes birth defects. The research was done by the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in partnership with the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and published in Nature Neuroscience.



Hundreds of millions of people consume cannabis, commonly known as weed or marijuana, throughout the globe. Despite being illegal in most nations, cannabis usage is on the rise as more countries legalize it for recreational and medical use. Cannabis is also the most often used illegal substance among pregnant women, although its effects on embryonic development remain unknown. It’s also crucial to comprehend the effects of cannabis on people who have a genetic predisposition, which means they have genetic mutations that make them more susceptible to environmental factors causing a malfunction or illness.

THC, the molecule in cannabis that gives the experience of being ‘high,’ has now been shown to cause birth abnormalities in genetically predisposed mice, according to a new research by experts at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States. In this instance, the researchers wanted to see whether THC might worsen a mutation that impairs Hedgehog signaling, a process that allows cells to interact with one another. The study’s main author, Robert Krauss, PhD, Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, stated, “Several years ago, it was discovered that THC may block Hedgehog signaling in cells cultured in a dish.” “We reasoned that THC might be an environmental risk factor for birth abnormalities, but that inducing these problems in mice would need other risk factors, such as particular mutations in Hedgehog signaling genes.”

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Krauss and colleagues gave pregnant mice a single dose of THC about a week after conception, which was equivalent to the exposures obtained when humans smoke cannabis. They next looked at the embryonic growth of their pups, some of them had a mutation that prevented Hedgehog signaling from working properly. Even when exposed to THC, pups without the mutation grew properly, as did pups that had the mutation but were not exposed to the drug, according to the researchers. Puppies exposed to THC and carrying the mutation, on the other hand, acquired holoprosencephaly, a brain and facial abnormality caused by the inability of the forebrain to split into two separate segments that affects 1 in 250 human pregnancies.

The impairment is caused by THC interfering with Hedgehog signaling in the embryo, according to the researchers. THC alone is insufficient to disrupt Hedgehog signaling and induce abnormalities, but it has substantial impacts on animals when Hedgehog signaling is already impaired due to genetic mutation. Dr. Krauss said, “THC directly suppresses Hedgehog signaling in mice, but it is not a very strong inhibitor; this is probably why it requires a genetic predisposition to induce holoprosencephaly in mice.”

These preliminary mouse findings have significant implications for human health, emphasizing the need for further human study into the consequences of cannabis usage during pregnancy. “Because the THC content in cannabis is now extremely high, it’s critical to do epidemiological research to see whether cannabis use is linked to developmental problems. Women are routinely warned not to use cannabis while pregnant, but our findings indicate that embryos are sensitive at an early stage, even before many women are aware they are expecting. Dr. Krauss cautioned that cannabis use may be harmful to women who are attempting to conceive.

Although this study focused on a single component in cannabis and a single genetic mutation, future research may uncover additional combinations that have comparable effects. Dr. Krauss said, “Many of the mutations identified in human holoprosencephaly patients may potentially synergize with THC.” “We’d also want to investigate the chemical CBD, which is linked to it, in genetically predisposed mice.” CBD suppresses Hedgehog signaling in cells cultured in a dish in the same way as THC does, but CBD seems to act differently. CBD is readily accessible and generally regarded as helpful – or at the very least harmless – so it’s worth looking into,” he said.

The research on schizophrenia is a paper that shows how THC/cannabis causes birth defects in mice.

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