New Research Highlights Concerns About CBD Use During Pregnancy and Fetal Brain Development

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A recent study in Molecular Psychiatry suggests CBD use during pregnancy may harm fetal brain development, posing a cognitive risk.

Recently published in Molecular Psychiatry, a study revealed that cannabidiol (CBD) may pose adverse effects on fetal brain development. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (Aurora, Colorado) conducted the study (1,2). During pregnancy, women experience a variety of symptoms such as, nausea and anxiety. To help deal with the physical and mental symptoms some women deal with during pregnancy, expectant mothers have found relief through CBD.

The non-psychoactive compound has been considered safe to use but the University of Colorado’s study showed that consuming CBD could bring harm to the fetus because the cannabinoid is transmitted from the mother to child via the placenta and begins to accumulate in the fetal brain which could create a critical risk on fetal cognitive function (1). The study mentioned (2), “CBD diffuses through maternal-placental-fetal circulation. Lipophilic CBD accumulates in the fetal brain, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. CBD binds and activates receptors important for fetal brain development including the 5HT1A serotonin receptor, heat-activated transient potential vanilloid receptor one (TRPV1) calcium channels, and voltage-gated Kv7 receptor potassium channel, among others.


University of Colorado School of Medicine associate professor Dr. Emily Bates said (1), “We found oral consumption of a high dose of CBD during pregnancy impaired problem-solving in female mice.”

The data created from the experiment showcases the importance of medical professionals and patients communicating on CBD consumption and the effects that come with it. Researchers are hoping that this study will increase awareness regarding the risks CBD consumption may cause during pregnancy (1).

Researchers stated (2), “Excessive fetal serotonin signaling harms neuronal development. During fetal development, serotonin receptors are highly expressed in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region of the brain that mediates cognition. Overexpression of 5HT1A during mouse fetal and early postnatal development decreases adult anxiety-like behaviors and decreases spatial learning in mice. Excessive activation of 5HT1A during fetal development decreases neurogenesis, decreases neuron network complexity, alters neuron refinement, delays sensory-evoked potentials, decreases sensory evoked firing, and decreases amplitude of sensory evoked potentials. Depletion of tryptophan, the molecular precursor to serotonin, impairs cognition in humans and mice. 5HT receptors are expressed in the fetal hippocampus and cortex in humans and mice. CBD activates 5HT1A, which mediates several important neurodevelopmental processes. We hypothesized that fetal CBD exposure could disrupt similar processes to reduce problem-solving behaviors or alter memory and anxiety-like behaviors.”

Interestingly, the study found that male mice experienced pain sensitivity while female mice were prone to cognitive impairments (1). Utilizing the results from this study, researchers will begin to look into how timing and CBD dosage during each pregnancy trimester could affect development (1).


  1. Charron, K., Study Finds Association Between CBD Consumption During Pregnancy and Risks to Fetal Brain Development (accessed Sep 11, 2023).
  2. Swenson, K. S.; Gomez Wulschner, L. E.; Hoelscher, V. M.; Folts, L.; Korth, K. M.; Oh, W. C.; Bates, E. A. Fetal Cannabidiol (CBD) Exposure Alters Thermal Pain Sensitivity, Problem-solving, and Prefrontal Cortex Excitability (accessed Sep 11, 2023).