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There is limited knowledge pertaining to how cannabis use affects babies whose mothers consume cannabis, but many pregnant women claim to use pot to ease morning sickness. Fortunately, a new study seeks to understand how, or if, marijuana affects unborn babies.

Researchers from the University of Washington want to recruit 70 pregnant women in an effort to learn more about marijuana’s potential effects on brain development in infants. The “Moms + Marijuana” study announcement came earlier this month from the UW School of Medicine.

Co-led by radiologists Natalia Kleinhans and Stephen Dager, the study will track marijuana use during the first trimester of pregnancy to study whether prenatal marijuana use impacts cognitive and motor development, and social behavior in infants.

One key factor in the study is the absence of alcohol, tobacco, and any illicit drug consumption in test subjects. Often health statistics have been unclear in marijuana studies due to the presence of other substances. By controlling the subjects’ use of marijuana only, the research can find a much stronger depiction of the potential effects of cannabis.

“The very few investigations that have studied prenatal cannabis exposure and infant brain development have all involved women who are polysubstance drug users. No one has looked at marijuana use exclusively,” Kleinhans stated in a press release.

Researchers hope to recruit at least 70 pregnant women for the study. Two groups will be studied, both containing women at 13 weeks or less of pregnancy. The control group will be prohibited from using marijuana, alcohol or tobacco. The test group will use marijuana at least twice a week and will be required to provide information on the type of cannabis and percentages of THC/CBD content.

The study will follow the pregnancy from the first trimester until they perform a brain scan on the infant at six months. The MRI images and behavioral data will help to discern whether differences exist among infants exposed to cannabis and those not exposed. The U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse is responsible for funding the study.

As more states legalize medical marijuana, more women are seeking answers to whether or not marijuana is safe to use during pregnancy. Kleinhans said the aim of the “Moms + Marijuana” study is to target a very specific population of women who use marijuana to help manage symptoms of pregnancy, specifically morning sickness. According to the American Pregnancy Association, more than 50 percent of pregnant women experience morning sickness.

“There’s little research to back up the medical and public health advice they’re getting to stay away from pot to control nausea.,” she stated in a press release. “Pregnant women have minimal drug-safety information to rely on when deciding whether to take a pharmaceutical, but it’s marijuana that has the negative connotation.”

A recent study from Washington University found when used without tobacco or other drugs, cannabis use during pregnancy poses no significant risks on a newborn’s birth weight and preterm delivery. Reports from that study were consistent with reports from a 2010 study sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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