Pregnancy Cannabis Exposure Linked to Worse Metabolic Health in Young Kids

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Pregnancy Cannabis Exposure Linked to Worse Metabolic Health in Young Kids

Young children whose mothers used cannabis while pregnant with them tended to have a higher body weight and higher blood glucose, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

How using cannabis (marijuana) might affect metabolic health — including body weight and glucose levels — is a question that may be more relevant now than ever before, as a growing number of U.S. states have legalized recreational use of the drug in recent years. To make matters more complicated, many past studies of cannabis use have included people who smoked the drug — and it’s clear that smoking, whether it’s tobacco or cannabis, carries unique health risks. But many people who use cannabis don’t smoke the drug. Other options include vaping — inhaling a smoke-free form of the drug — as well as ingesting extracted forms of cannabis in food items such as brownies or gummies.

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It’s worth noting that based on limited evidence, using cannabis in any form may carry certain risks when it comes to blood glucose control in people with diabetes. One study from 2019 found that using cannabis was linked to a higher rate of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA, a medical emergency marked by very high blood glucose levels) in adults with type 1 diabetes. Other studies have also found that cannabis use is linked to higher blood glucose levels in youth and young adults with type 1 diabetes.

For the latest study, researchers looked at health outcomes in young children who were members of 103 mother-child pairs. During each mother’s pregnancy at 27 weeks, her urine was tested for 12 different chemical markers of cannabis use. If any one of these markers was above the threshold for detection, the child was considered exposed to cannabis during pregnancy. About 15% of the mothers tested positive for cannabis use.

Cannabis use in pregnancy linked to metabolic changes in children

Years later — when the children were an average of 4.7 years old — the researchers found that cannabis use during pregnancy apparently had a lasting impact. Children whose mothers used cannabis during pregnancy had 1.0 kilograms (2.2 pounds) more body fat, on average, along with 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) more lean body mass, and a body-fat percentage that was 2.6% higher. This group of children also had fasting blood glucose that was 5.6 mg/dl higher, on average. No association was seen between pregnancy cannabis use and children’s fasting insulin levels or body-mass index (a measure of body weight that takes height into account).

The researchers noted that while these findings are new and notable, more research is needed to confirm that cannabis exposure in pregnancy is linked to children’s body fat or blood glucose levels.

Want to learn more about pregnancy with diabetes? Read “Pregnancy and Type 1 Diabetes” and “Treatment for Gestational Diabetes: Once You’re Diagnosed.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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