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Endocannabinoid System Plays Significant Role In Embryonic Development, Study Says

NORML, 4th August 2006

The endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in the development of healthy embryos and their implantation in the womb, according to preclinical data published this month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee reported that experimentally inducing elevated amounts of the endogenous cannabinoid anadamide and/or THC in newly mated mice "deferred on-time [embryo] implantation" and was associated with "poor pregnancy outcome."

Previous preclinical studies investigating the role of endogenous cannabinoids in prenatal development have shown that the body temporarily reduces the localized production of anadamide during embryonal implantation. Though some researchers speculate that smoking large quantities of cannabis during this period could negatively impact this biological process, there is - to date - a lack of clinical or epidemiological data supporting the theory.

"Nevertheless, it is apparent that a properly functioning endocannabinoid system is essential for both a healthy pregnancy and child," NORML Senior Policy Analyst Paul Armentano said.

Previous studies indicate that the endogenous cannabinoid system plays a primary role in the development of memory and oral motor skills in newborns. Some researchers theorize that a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system (such as one that under produces anandamide) may be responsible for the development of certain abnormalities in infants - particularly so-called 'failure-to-thrive' syndrome, a condition in which newborns fail to properly grow and gain weight. In preclinical trials, infant mice fail to feed from their mothers when their cannabinoid receptors are blocked by the presence of a synthetic antagonist.

In recent years, scientists have determined that the endocannabinoid receptor system is involved in the regulation of several primary biological functions including appetite, body temperature, mood elevation, blood pressure, bone density, reproductive activity, learning capacity, and motor coordination.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the study, "Fatty acid amide hydrolase deficiency limits early pregnancy events," appears in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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