A handful of cannabis bud is shown in Fenwick, Ont., on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Researchers find cannabis use in pregnancy linked to greater risk of autism

Researchers caution findings only show association — not cause and effect

A new study links cannabis use in pregnancy to a greater risk of autism.

Researchers including experts from the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa reviewed data from every birth in Ontario between 2007 and 2012, before recreational cannabis was legalized.

They found 1.4 per cent of 18-month-olds were diagnosed with autism but that rate was higher among children exposed to cannabis in the womb, at 2.2 per cent.

RELATED: New study suggests autism overdiagnosed: Canadian expert

RELATED: Surf’s Up Tofino offers wave of positivity for families living with autism

Of roughly 500,000 women in the study, 3,000 reported cannabis use during pregnancy. The analysis focused on 2,200 women who said they only used cannabis during pregnancy, and no other substances.

Researchers don’t know how much cannabis was used, how often, at what stage of their pregnancy, or how it was consumed. They also caution the findings only show association — not cause and effect.

The findings were published today in the medical journal Nature Medicine.

Even though recreational cannabis is now legal and more socially acceptable, study co-author Dr. Darine El-Chaar says that doesn’t mean it’s safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

El-Chaar says cannabis use seems to be more prevalent, with her patients much more open about telling her it helps ease their morning sickness or pain.

“Our answer is still that we don’t have correct, properly made studies that are designed to look at this question,” says El-Chaar, a maternal-fetal medicine physician and clinician investigator at the Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

Researchers had previously found that cannabis use in pregnancy was linked to an increased risk of preterm birth. That study also found pregnant women who used cannabis often used other substances including tobacco, alcohol and opioids.

Funding came from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

— By Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BCHL hockey is back with announcement of Okanagan Cup

The BCHL four-team tournament starts Friday, Sept. 25

Okanagan Beach Club fined for not complying to COVID-19 rules, tiki bar closed

Interior Health order the tiki bar closed due to non-compliance with Provincial Health Officer orders

Men’s volleyball’s 2020 incoming class spikes talent at UBCO

UBCO has recruited six new players for the 2020-21 season

Drugs, weapons seized from downtown Kelowna residence

Search warrant was in relation to an active criminal investigation into suspected drug trafficking

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Straight from DeHart

New bar bistro opens at Airport Village

Transgender B.C. brothers debut fantasy novel as author duo Vincent Hunter

‘Transgender people are being misrepresented in popular fiction and media, and we aim to change that’

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kiera Bourque’s sentence ‘an embarrassment’: family of deceased Penticton teen

Bourque was sentenced to one year in prison for her role in the 2017 death of Devon Blackmore

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving:’ Trudeau says COVID-19 2nd wave underway

In all, COVID-19 has killed about 9,250 people in Canada

COLUMN: COVID-19 statistics are the stories of people

This pandemic is ultimately about people, not just about numbers

EDITORIAL: Clearing the smoke

Wildfires have resulted in heavy smoke and poor air quality

Most Read