Cannabinoid exposure during pregnancy and its impact on immune function

Catherine Dong, Jingwen Chen, Amy Harrington, K. Yaragudri Vinod, Muralidhar L. Hegde, Venkatesh L. Hegde

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Cannabinoids are the most commonly abused illicit drugs worldwide. While cannabis can be beneficial for certain heath conditions, abuse of potent synthetic cannabinoids has been on the rise. Exposure to cannabinoids is also prevalent in women of child-bearing age and pregnant women. These compounds can cross the placental barrier and directly affect the fetus. They mediate their effects primarily through G-protein coupled cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. In addition to significant neurological effects, cannabinoids can trigger robust immunomodulation by altering cytokine levels, causing apoptosis of lymphoid cells and inducing suppressor cells of the immune system. Profound effects of cannabinoids on the immune system as discussed in this review, suggest that maternal exposure during pregnancy could lead to dysregulation of innate and adaptive immune system of developing fetus and offspring potentially leading to weakening of immune defenses against infections and cancer later in life. Emerging evidence also indicates the underlying role of epigenetic mechanisms causing long-lasting impact following cannabinoid exposure in utero.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-743
Number of pages15
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 28 2019


  • Fetus
  • Immune system
  • Marijuana
  • Metabolites
  • Neurological
  • Perinatal
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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