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Maternal cannabis use in pregnancy and child neurodevelopmental outcomes

Corsi DJ, Donelle J, Sucha E, Hawken S, Hsu H, El-Chaar D, Bisnaire L, Fell D, Shi WW, Walker M. Nat Med. 2020; Aug 10 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1002-5


Cannabis use in pregnancy has increased, and many women continue to use it throughout pregnancy. With the legalization of recreational cannabis in many jurisdictions, there is concern about potentially adverse childhood outcomes related to prenatal exposure. Using the provincial birth registry containing information on cannabis use during pregnancy, we perform a retrospective analysis of all live births in Ontario, Canada, between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2012. We link pregnancy and birth data to provincial health administrative databases to ascertain child neurodevelopmental outcomes. We use matching techniques to control for confounding and Cox proportional hazards regression models to examine associations between prenatal cannabis use and child neurodevelopment. We find an association between maternal cannabis use in pregnancy and the incidence of autism spectrum disorder in the offspring. The incidence of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis was 4.00 per 1,000 person-years among children with exposure compared to 2.42 among unexposed children, and the fully adjusted hazard ratio was 1.51 (95% confidence interval: 1.17–1.96) in the matched cohort. The incidence of intellectual disability and learning disorders was higher among offspring of mothers who use cannabis in pregnancy, although less statistically robust. We emphasize a cautious interpretation of these findings given the likelihood of residual confounding.

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