Academics & Research News

 Simultaneous alcohol, cannabinoid leads to brain defects in fetuses, UH professor finds

Juana Garcia/The Cougar.

Simultaneous alcohol and cannabinoid use, or the co-ingestion of alcohol and marijuana, can lead to neurovascular deficits in fetuses, a UH biomedical engineering professor found.

As SAC becomes more common amongst childbearing-aged people, the results are reflected in children, as 22 percent of assessed umbilical cords tested positive for marijuana, according to the University.

Professor Kirill Larin felt inclined to research marijuana’s impact on fetus brains as many states move to legalize the substance.

We have been interested in embryonic development for a long time now as we have studies several aspects of congenital birth defects such as heart abnormalities, ocular pathologies and overall brain development,” Larin said in an email.

“As alcohol and cannabinoid(s) are frequently co-abused, it is natural to study their impact on fetus development,” Larin added in the email

SAC can cause vasoconstriction, which is constriction of blood vessels. In his research, Larin looks for the results SAC has on child birth and how effective pharmacological interventions are when trying to prevent or reverse prenatal alcohol exposure.

We have demonstrated that alcohol and cannabinoids induce severe vasoconstriction of the fetuses brain vessels, thus limiting blood supply to the rapidly developing tissues,” Larin said.

“This results in overall brain developmental delays. This could lead to a well-known spectrum of disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,” Larin added.

Larin hypothesizes that the combined ingestion of ethanol, also known as drinking alcohol, with cannabinoids can result in increased neurological defects in newborn children.

While conducting research, Larin will use optical imaging ultrasound imaging to observe how SAC is impacting the brain. 

Larin believes that this study is relevant to college students because while students may know that drinking, smoking and drug abuse can cause brain damage and growth problems to a baby, students may be unaware that they are pregnant.

While unintentionally continuing drug and alcohol intake during  pregnancy, the unborn child is still at risk for the future health problems.

“This is when the most damage to the developing tissues might occur,” Larin said. “Our research is focused on understanding this process and, if possible, to find a way to reverse or mitigate the potential side-effects on baby health.”

SAC can take place while people engage in “cross-fading,” a term used for smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol during the same time period. The combined use of both substances amplify the psychological effects, according to Larin.

Cross-fading also appears to contribute to increased craving for both alcohol and marijuana and may contribute to the emergence of poly-substance use,” Larin said. 

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