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New report supports link between prenatal and early-life cannabis exposure and some psychiatric illnesses

A new report from UC Berkeley researchers suggests that exposure to cannabis before birth or during adolescence can cause long-lasting epigenetic alterations that are linked to the development of some psychiatric diseases, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and addiction.

“The main importance of this is that we found evidence that exposure to cannabis for adolescents and prenatally seems to cause molecular impairments in the brain that can be passed down to offspring and these molecular impairments have been linked to psychiatric disease,” Anna Smith, a PhD student in Environmental Health Sciences, said.

“The period of fetal development is sensitive,” said Berkeley Public Health professor and report co-author Dr. Andres Cardenas. “In terms of thinking about risks we should consider exposures during the sensitive period of fetal development.”

Cannabis use has increased in adolescents and those who are pregnant since the legalization of marijuana in the state of California. According to Cardenas, the report helped legislators in California update policy requiring that the cannabis industry inform the public that cannabis smoke and THC are reproductive toxicants.

The initial report was written in collaboration with the California Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Farla Kaufman, and Dr. Martha Sandy last summer and published on the website of California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in October 2019, the report was subsequently published in the journal Environmental Epigenetics in May 2020.