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Molecular and behavioural assessment of a potential fetal Cannabis spectrum disorder in the rat

Principal Investigator:
  • Robert Laprairie, University of Saskatchewan
  • The Azrieli Foundation

Project Overview

Canada recently became the first G7 nation to legalize Cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. There is a recent and growing false belief that Cannabis can reduce nausea during pregnancy without harmful side effects on the fetus. This belief is not based in scientific research, of which there is very little. The active ingredient in Cannabis – cannabinoids – affect the brain and are known to cross the placenta from the mother to the fetus.

The current unanswered question is: how does a mother’s use of Cannabis affect the developing fetus’ brain? Based on limited existing research, we hypothesize that exposure of pregnant rats to Cannabis smoke will lead to detection of cannabinoids in the fetal rat brain; that neuronal function will be altered in Cannabis-exposed rats; and Cannabis-exposed rats will be more anxious, less intelligent, and less social. We will test this hypothesis by repeatedly treating pregnant rats with 2 smoked Cannabis products (THC>CBD and CBD>THC). This research will allow for the first demonstration of a Fetal Cannabis Spectrum Disorder in an animal model.

Past studies have explored the effects of injected cannabinoids, or very recently purified and isolated vapourized cannabinoids, on rat behaviour and development. This study is innovative because we will determine the effects of smoked whole-plant Cannabis on rat pup development. I have prior research experience with Cannabis and cannabinoids, my lab is equipped with a custom-built system to treat rats with Cannabis smoke, and I possess a HealthCanada license to use Cannabis for research purposes. This research will improve understanding of the effects of cannabinoids on the brain during pregnancy and throughout the lifespan in health and disease.