Background: This study investigated whether higher maternal choline levels mitigate effects of marijuana on fetal brain development. Choline transported into the amniotic fluid from the mother activates α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on fetal cerebro-cortical inhibitory neurons, whose development is impeded by cannabis blockade of their cannabinoid-1(CB1) receptors.
Methods: Marijuana use was assessed during pregnancy from women who later brought their newborns for study. Mothers were informed about choline and other nutrients, but not specifically for marijuana use. Maternal serum choline was measured at 16 weeks gestation.
Results: Marijuana use for the first 10 weeks gestation or more by 15% of mothers decreased newborns' inhibition of evoked potentials to repeated sounds (d' = 0.55, p < 0.05). This effect was ameliorated if women had higher gestational choline (rs = -0.50, p = 0.011). At 3 months of age, children whose mothers continued marijuana use through their 10th gestational week or more had poorer self-regulation (d' = -0.79, p < 0.05). This effect was also ameliorated if mothers had higher gestational choline (rs = 0.54, p = 0.013). Maternal choline levels correlated with the children's improved duration of attention, cuddliness, and bonding with parents.
Conclusions: Prenatal marijuana use adversely affects fetal brain development and subsequent behavioral self-regulation, a precursor to later, more serious problems in childhood. Stopping marijuana use before 10 weeks gestational age prevented these effects. Many mothers refuse to cease use because of familiarity with marijuana and belief in its safety. Higher maternal choline mitigates some of marijuana's adverse effects on the fetus.
Keywords: Cannabis; choline; fetal development; marijuana; pregnancy; receptors nicotinic.