DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy has declined in recent years, but the use of cannabis by expecting mothers has increased.
A new study by Duke Health found prenatal cannabis use was associated with an increase of tumors of the central nervous system (such as medulloblastomas and supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETS), and retinoblastoma).
"The psychoactive compounds of cannabis are capable of crossing the placental barrier and may interfere with normal neuronal development in the fetal brain," Kyle Walsh said. "We examined fifteen different types of childhood cancer and identified an association that was quite specific to cancers of the central nervous system."
Walsh is an associate professor in the departments of Neurosurgery, Pathology, Pediatrics and Population Health Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. He and his colleagues surveyed parents of children diagnosed with cancer before the age of 18. Their results pointed to a correlation of cancer and prenatal use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs like marijuana.
"We hope that our findings can promote increased provider-patient dialogs about the potential effects of prenatal substance use, and cannabis use in particular," Walsh said. "This has implications for public health messaging. We also stress the need for further research into the risk-benefit profile of cannabis use among expectant mothers."
The use of cannabis by expecting mothers has increased as the drug has become more socially accepted across the nation. The drug has often been used as a way to treat nausea, which is a common symptom experienced by pregnant women.
The Duke study also found moderate to heavy alcohol consumption was strongly associated with the elevated prevalence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Maternal tobacco smoking during pregnancy was associated with reduced newborn birthweight, but not with an elevated risk of specific cancers.