Cannabis remains the most widely used illegal drug in the world, with some 200 million users, whose use has increased, up to four times in some parts of the world. In contrast to this reality, the percentage of adolescents who perceive the drug as harmful has decreased to 40% in the United States and 25% in Europe.
In Argentina- According to a survey carried out in 2017 by the Secretariat for Comprehensive Drug Policies of Argentina (SEDRONAR), 8.3% of people between the ages of 12 and 65 used cannabis in that year, and 1.4% used it. did daily. According to a study carried out between 2018 and 2019, in three general hospitals in Bariloche, Concordia and La Matanza, 14% of the pregnant and postpartum women interviewed reported having used cannabis at some point in their lives, and 6% did so. during pregnancy or lactation.
In this context, there is a complex health future to address, given the current social sympathy for cannabis (marijuana) and the consequences for future generations: Is a new population being born with congenital deformities of children born under the effects of the consumption of this substance? Given the massive number of pregnancies in these circumstances. What would the trajectory of those lives be like? What would its inclusion be like? How would it impact society?
There are studies that affirm that the use of marijuana can affect the development of the brain and the nervous system of children who are in the womb of their mothers or who are born to mothers who used marijuana before or during pregnancy. These children may have physical, behavioral, and learning problems that can last a lifetime.
In this article we will describe what neurological conditions are, how marijuana affects the brain and nervous system of children, what consequences it has for their health and development, and what can be done to prevent and treat these problems.
What are neurological conditions?
Neurological conditions are disorders that affect the functioning of the brain and nervous system. The brain is the organ that controls all the functions of the body and that allows us to think, feel, remember, communicate and learn. The nervous system is the set of nerves that connect the brain with the rest of the body and that transmit the electrical signals that allow us to move the muscles, perceive the senses and react to stimuli.
Some neurological conditions are congenital, that is, they present from birth or before. Others are acquired, that is, they develop after birth due to causes such as infections, trauma, tumors or poisoning.
How does marijuana affect the brain and nervous system of children?
Marijuana contains chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to receptors on cells in the brain and nervous system. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which is a system that regulates functions such as mood, appetite, pain, memory, and learning.
These effects usually last a few hours after using marijuana. However, cannabinoids can remain in the body for days or weeks after consumption.
When a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the cannabinoids cross the placenta and reach the fetus. This means that the fetus is exposed to the same chemicals as the mother and may suffer the same alterations in its endocannabinoid system..
The problem is that the endocannabinoid system plays a very important role in the development of the fetal brain and nervous system. Cannabinoids can interfere with the formation and connection of neurons (nerve cells) and with the expression of genes (the genetic information) that regulate this process.
This can cause the brain and nervous system of the fetus to not develop properly and have structural or functional defects. These defects can affect the size and shape of the brain, the number and distribution of neurons, the formation of synapses (the connections between neurons), and the production of neurotransmitters (the chemicals that transmit signals between neurons). ).
What consequences does it have for the health and development of children?
Children born under the influence of their mothers’ problematic use of marijuana during pregnancy or problematic use prior to becoming pregnant can have various consequences for their health and development.
Some consequences may be apparent from birth or soon after. For example:
– Neonatal abstinence syndrome: It is a set of symptoms that appear when the child stops receiving cannabinoids through the placenta or breast milk. These symptoms may include irritability, excessive crying, tremors, muscle spasms, hypertonia (muscle stiffness), difficulty sleeping or eating, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, mottled skin, fever, seizures, breathing problems, infections, or dehydration. This syndrome usually appears between 24 hours and 10 days after birth and can last from a few days to several weeks.
– Congenital malformations: are defects in the structure or function of any organ or part of the body that are present from birth. Some congenital malformations associated with maternal marijuana use are: anencephaly (partial or total absence of the brain), spina bifida (defect in the closure of the neural tube), hydrocephalus (excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain), microcephaly (abnormally small size of the skull), ventriculomegaly-colpocephaly syndrome (abnormal dilation of the cerebral ventricles), VACTERL syndrome (association of vertebral, anal, cardiac, tracheal, esophageal, renal and/or extremity defects), cleft lip (cleft upper lip ), cleft palate (crack in the roof of the mouth), abnormal.
According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2022, around 284 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020, an increase of 26% over the previous decade. Cannabis remains the most widely used drug, with some 200 million users. Cannabis use among young people is of particular concern, as it can affect brain development and increase the risk of mental health problems. In Latin America, cannabis use has increased in recent years, especially in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
These data show the need to implement prevention, education and care measures to reduce the damage associated with cannabis use in the general population and in pregnant women in particular.
In this context, I consider active participation and dialogue among the different actors involved in the cannabis issue as necessary, such as the State, the private sector, academia, social organizations, the media, and users, to contain this problem that is increasing.
“There is nothing more tragic than knowing what is right and ignoring it.” -Albert Einstein-
- F, Amendolaro R, Barla JC, Muñiz A, Arrúa L. Between invisibility and stigma: consumption of psychoactive substances in pregnant and postpartum women in three general hospitals in Argentina. Collective Health. 2020;16:e2509. doi: 10.18294/sc.2020.2509. Between invisibility and stigma: consumption of psychoactive substances in pregnant and postpartum women from three general hospitals in Argentina.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome – RSI – Revista Sanitaria de Invegación
- SOLÍS SÁNCHEZ, G., SOLÍS SÁNCHEZ, JL and DÍAZ GONZÁLEZ, T. Pediatric Service of the Cabueñes Hospital (INSALUD), Gijón. Gynecology and Obstetrics Service of the Cabueñes Hospital (INSALUD), Gijón. Oviedo Drug Addiction Treatment Unit, Mental Health Services, Principality of Asturias. Prenatal drug exposure and effects on the neonate. Prenatal drug exposure and neonatal outcome.
- UNODC’s World Drug Report 2022 highlights post-legalization trends in cannabis, the environmental impact of illicit drugs, and drug use among women and young people.
- World Drug Report 2021 – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
- OAS Publishes Report on Drug Use in the Americas 2019
Psychologist. CIMACUP President. UAI University Professor.
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