July 31 (UPI) -- Pregnant women who smoke marijuana put their unborn child at serious risk for developmental impairment later in life. However, researchers may have uncovered a way to prevent intellectual and emotional dysfunctions in those children.
Researchers say the higher levels of a micronutrient known as choline a pregnant mother has, the lower the chances she will give birth to an infant who develops impulse and behavior problems. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Physicians have voiced concerns about expectant mothers who use marijuana, saying it is linked to development of psychosis in children later in life.
That contradicts the advice from many marijuana advocates. About 70 percent of dispensaries in Colorado recommend women use marijuana during early pregnancy to control feelings of morning sickness. However, groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have pushed back against the idea.
"In this study, we found that maternal marijuana use begins to negatively impact the fetal brain at an earlier stage in pregnancy than we expected," Camille Hoffman, a researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and study author, said in a press release. "However, we also found that eating choline-rich foods or taking choline as a supplement may protect the child from potential harm."
The study included 201 pregnant women, 15 percent of whom used marijuana both before and after the 10-week point in their pregnancies. The researchers measured the mother's serum choline levels after 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Those who used passed the 10-week mark gave birth to babies with reduced cerebral nervous system inhibition once they reach one-month-old.
Children with this condition often have difficulty paying attention and controlling impulses. As children get older, these problems can develop into depression, psychosis and substance abuse.
A mother's prenatal exposure to marijuana past 10 weeks can also lead to giving birth to children with lower reading readiness by age 4 and poor organization skills by age 9.
Children born to mothers with high levels of choline are more likely to have higher attention spans and bond better with their parents.
"We already know that prenatal vitamins improve fetal and child development, but currently most prenatal vitamins do not include adequate amounts of the nutrient choline despite the overwhelming evidence of its benefits in protecting a baby's brain health," Hoffman said. "We hope that this research is a step towards more OB-GYNs, midwives and other prenatal care providers encouraging pregnant women to include choline in their prenatal supplement regimen."