Introduction: Cannabis is increasingly being consumed by pregnant women for recreational purposes as well as for its antiemetic and anxiolytic effects despite limited studies on its safety during pregnancy. Importantly, phytocannabinoids found in cannabis can pass through the placenta and enter the fetal circulation. Recent reports suggest gestational cannabis use is associated with negative fetal outcomes, including fetal growth restriction and perinatal intensive care, however, the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on fetal heart development remains to be elucidated. Materials and Methods: We aimed to determine the outcomes of maternal THC exposure on fetal heart development in mice by administering 0, 5, or 10 mg/kg/day of THC orally to C57BL/6 dams starting at embryonic day (E)3.5. Offspring were collected at E12.5 for molecular analysis, at E17.5 to analyze cardiac morphology or at postnatal day (PND)21 to assess heart function. Results: Maternal THC exposure in E17.5 fetuses resulted in an array of cardiac abnormalities with an incidence of 44% and 55% in the 5 and 10 mg/kg treatment groups, respectively. Maternal THC exposure in offspring resulted in ventricular septal defect, higher semilunar valve volume relative to orifice ratio, and higher myocardial wall thickness. Notably, cell proliferation within the ventricular myocardium was increased, and expression of multiple cardiac transcription factors was downregulated in THC-exposed E12.5 fetuses. Furthermore, heart function was compromised with lower left ventricular ejection fraction, fractional shortening, and cardiac output in PND21 pups exposed to THC compared to controls. Discussion: The results show that maternal THC exposure during gestation induces myocardial hyperplasia and semilunar valve thickening in the fetal heart and postnatal cardiac dysfunction. Our study suggests that maternal cannabis consumption may induce abnormalities in the developing heart and cardiac dysfunction in postnatal life.
Keywords: cannabis; congenital heart defects; fetal heart development; teratogen; tetrahydrocannabinol.