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Tobacco and Cannabis: Effects on Fetal Development in Rats

Institution: San Diego State University Research Foundation
Investigator(s): Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 28) Grant #: 28IP-0026 Award: $602,000
Subject Area: Neuroscience of Nicotine Addiction and Treatment
Award Type: High Impact Pilot Award

Initial Award Abstract

Tobacco and marijuana are the most commonly used licit and illicit drugs consumed by pregnant women. Although we know that smoking tobacco is damaging to the fetus, little is known of the effects of prenatal exposure to cannabis. Moreover, even less is known about how the fetus is affected when a pregnant woman consumes both tobacco and cannabis, even though pregnant women report using these drugs in combination more often than cannabis use alone. Given the legalization of cannabis in California and around the country, rates of co-use are rising. In addition, the way tobacco and cannabis are consumed and the types of tobacco and cannabis products available have also changed dramatically. For example, potency levels of the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have increased dramatically over the last decade, so it is important that we understand how high levels of THC affect the fetus. In addition, young women are more likely to use electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to consume THC and nicotine because they are perceived as safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. Importantly, e-cigarettes also give consumers the ability to more easily combine nicotine and THC. With the changes in consumption, the risk to children who were exposed prenatally will not be known for years. Thus, we will use an animal model to help us determine the effects of prenatal exposure to the combination of nicotine and THC on the fetus so that we can better understand the potential risks of such exposure on brain and behavioral development. Pregnant rats will be exposed to varying levels of nicotine and/or THC via e-cigarette technology. Physical and behavioral development of the offspring of the pregnant rats exposed to nicotine and/or THC will be examined for long-lasting changes, including changes in motor function, activity levels, learning and memory, and emotion. This study will help us understand how co-use of tobacco and cannabis products via e-cigarettes may affect fetal brain and behavioral development, which will have important implications for establishing public policy and informing pregnant women of risks associated with use of these drugs.