Cannabis is the most commonly used psychoactive substance among pregnant women. With more states legalizing cannabis use, the use rate is expected to increase. While many perceive marijuana usage during pregnancy as ?safe?, very little is understood about the neurobiological effects of cannabis exposure on mothers. Existing studies suggest mothers who use substances including cannabis exhibit mood dysregulation, impaired parenting ability and dampened neural responses to their children. However, most studies group together mothers using multiple substances and use a cross-sectional design. Thus, there is a critical gap in knowledge about the neural mechanisms by which cannabis use influences parenting ability and the critical period when the brains of women are particularly vulnerable to cannabis exposure. The proposed study is innovative because it recruits pregnant women who use only cannabis during pregnancy and employs a prospective design to identify the role of cannabis use during pregnancy in maternal brain functioning and behavioral sensitivity toward infants. A total of 70 pregnant women (35 cannabis-using and 35 control) will be recruited during pregnancy. The two groups will be matched for socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Cannabis use will be assessed prenatally and postnatally by a urine toxicology test and in-depth interview. Shortly after the infant?s birth, neuroimaging of the mother will be performed using fMRI. The overall objective of the proposed study is to identify potential interrelations among cannabis use during pregnancy and neural processes of parental motivation and emotion regulation among new mothers. To achieve this objective, we will pursue two Aims.
Aim#1 - To identify the prospective relationship between cannabis use and neural functions for parental motivation in new mothers. We propose that cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with new mothers? altered functioning in the neural correlates of parental motivation in response to their own infants? cry sounds.
Aim#2 - To identify the prospective relationship between cannabis use and neural functions for emotion regulation in new mothers. We propose that cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with altered activity in the neural correlates of emotion regulation during effortful emotion regulation and in response to both prototypical negative emotional cues and infant cues. Altered neural responses to infants and emotional cues are linked to less sensitive parental behaviors. The proposed research is significant because it can offer scientific evidence to inform regulation and guidelines for reducing cannabis use during pregnancy. It will also offer guidance for more refined interventions to address both emotion regulation and parental motivation processes in order to improve cannabis-using mothers? parenting quality. Furthermore, the current project will lay the groundwork for a subsequent R01 application to support a longitudinal project, investigating the role of prenatal and postnatal exposure to cannabis on the neural and neuroendocrine systems in both mothers and infants.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of the proposed study is to determine whether and how cannabis exposure during pregnancy could influence a new mother?s adaptation to parenthood. This study is relevant to public health because it aims to understand the specific neural pathways by which cannabis use negatively influences mother-infant relationships, which may further increase the child?s vulnerability to drug use. Moreover, the study is relevant to NIDA?s mission because such understanding can offer scientific evidence for prenatal interventions and policy aimed at reducing cannabis exposure in pregnancy in order to mitigate the harmful effects of cannabis on the mother-infant dyad.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Kautz, Mary A
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University of Denver
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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