Neuronal substrates and functional consequences of prenatal cannabis exposure

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;23(10):931-41. doi: 10.1007/s00787-014-0550-y. Epub 2014 May 3.


Cannabis remains one of the world's most widely used substance of abuse amongst pregnant women. Trends of the last 50 years show an increase in popularity in child-bearing women together with a constant increase in cannabis potency. In addition, potent herbal "legal" highs containing synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of cannabis with unknown pharmacological and toxicological effects have gained rapid popularity amongst young adults. Despite the surge in cannabis use during pregnancy, little is known about the neurobiological and psychological consequences in the exposed offspring. In this review, we emphasize the importance of maternal programming, defined as the intrauterine presentation of maternal stimuli to the foetus, in neurodevelopment. In particular, we focus on cannabis-mediated maternal adverse effects, resulting in direct central nervous system alteration or sensitization to late-onset chronic and neuropsychiatric disorders. We compare clinical and preclinical experimental studies on the effects of foetal cannabis exposure until early adulthood, to stress the importance of animal models that permit the fine control of environmental variables and allow the dissection of cannabis-mediated molecular cascades in the developing central nervous system. In sum, we conclude that preclinical experimental models confirm clinical studies and that cannabis exposure evokes significant molecular modifications to neurodevelopmental programs leading to neurophysiological and behavioural abnormalities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cannabis / toxicity*
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced
  • Developmental Disabilities / metabolism
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Endocannabinoids / physiology
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications*
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Mental Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Endocannabinoids