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Researchers at Washington State University have observed the effects of cannabis on the offspring of rats who were given marijuana while pregnant. The study is one of the few that is looking at the issue of cannabis use while pregnant, despite it being the most commonly used illicit substance among pregnant women. 

Ryan McLaughlin, an assistant professor of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, exposed pregnant rats to various concentrations of cannabis vapor and documented how the offspring had trouble adjusting their strategy to get sugar rewards. "Prenatal exposure to cannabis may cause meaningful changes in brain development that can negatively impact cognitive functioning into adulthood," McLaughlin and his colleagues wrote in a summary for a presentation Sunday at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting, Neuroscience 2018, in San Diego.

The researchers exposed the rats to various amounts of levels of cannabis vapor, while controls received none, and others received cannabis-free vapor. They were then trained to press one of two levers, learning that they got sugar when they pressed the lever near a light, and the next day they received the sugar reward when they pressed the left or right lever, regardless of the light.

The researchers observed that the rats exposed to cannabis in utero learned the first rule relatively easily. The rats exposed to a high concentration of cannabis, “showed marked deficits in their ability to shift strategies when the new rule was implemented.” The rats exposed to the high levels of cannabis often appeared to learn the new reward strategy, hitting the correct lever several times in a row, but they were not able to keep the strategy long enough to hit the right lever ten times, like the offspring of dams exposed to less or no cannabis. 

"The general take-home message is that we see deficits, particularly in the domain of cognitive flexibility, in rats prenatally exposed to high doses of cannabis vapor," McLaughlin said. "The impairment is not a general learning deficit, as they can learn the initial rule just fine. The deficit only emerges when the learned strategy is no longer resulting in reward delivery. They cannot seem to adapt properly and tend to commit more regressive errors as a result, which suggests impairment in maintaining the new optimal strategy."

Source: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20181105/Researchers-observe-cognitive-changes-in-offspring-of-rats-exposed-to-high-cannabis-doses.aspxv

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