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Scientists are recruiting women for marijuana in pregnancy study

Researchers are recruiting 70 pregnant women who use cannabis to examine the effects of the drug on infants' brains.

The 'Moms + Marijuana' project at the University of Washington School of Medicine is the latest in a string of studies racing to deliver some concrete information as cannabis use increases in every group, including expectant mothers.

They are offering $300 to women aged 21 to 34 years old, who are less than 13 weeks pregnant, to be monitored through their pregnancy.

Signing up, they agree that their newborn will undergo MRI brain scans at six months old to be compared with brains of babies whose moms did not use cannabis, alcohol or cigarettes. 

The news of the study sparked some inflammatory responses, with staunch anti-marijuana journalist Alex Berenson comparing the study to Tuskegee, when African American men with syphilis were duped by scientists, who gave them a placebo, knowing it would harm them. 

But most in the medical community agree that, though there may be risks, it's important to conduct a study to work out what those risks are, since many cannabis dispensaries already promote their products to treat morning sickness.  

The 'Moms + Marijuana' project at the University of Washington School of Medicine is the latest in a string of studies racing to deliver some concrete information as cannabis use increases all over

The Tuskegee comparison from Berenson - who wrote a book about his view that cannabis creates murderers - falls short in a few ways. 

Primarily, the team seeks women who are already cannabis users, rather than asking them to start using it. 

And studies suggest that won't be hard. 

Most women in the US, where cannabis is increasingly legal, believe marijuana does little to no harm to a pregnancy. And most dispensaries in Colorado, one of the first places to legalize recreational marijuana in the US, sell the drug for morning sickness. 

There is very little research on the topic to give expectant mothers guidance. 

There is some evidence that the drug could be harmful, but it is not weighty enough to draw a strong conclusion. 

There is a handful of other studies currently investigating the topic - one in Colorado funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study marijuana's impact on breast milk, another in Colorado funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) looking at fetal brains, and one at UNC also looking at fetuses.

But they are still in their early stages. 

For that reason, for now, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend using the drug in pregnancy, to err on the side of caution. 

The medical community is still reeling from the thalidomide scandal, when a drug tested on and given to pregnant women turned out to cause birth defects.

The UW researchers say that is exactly why they are conducting this research. 

'This study is targeting a very specific population of women who are using marijuana to manage their symptoms while they're pregnant,' joint lead author Natalia Kleinhans, a professor of radiology, said in a news release. 

'There's little research to back up the medical and public health advice they're getting to stay away from pot to control nausea.

'Most medications prescribed for morning sickness have not been rigorously tested in pregnant women and appear to have side effects that are not minor. 

'Remember that thalidomide, a particularly extreme case, was given to women to reduce nausea during pregnancy. 

'Pregnant women have minimal drug-safety information to rely on when deciding whether to take a pharmaceutical, but it's marijuana that has the negative connotation.'

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