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Keywords:

  • marijuana;
  • synthetic cannabinoids;
  • Spice;
  • neural development;
  • animal model;
  • pregnancy;
  • legalization;
  • rescheduling

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug by pregnant women in the world. In utero exposure to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), a major psychoactive component of marijuana, is associated with an increased risk for anencephaly and neurobehavioural deficiencies in the offspring, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, and memory impairment. Recent studies demonstrate that the developing central nervous system (CNS) is susceptible to the effects of Δ9-THC and other cannabimimetics, including the psychoactive ingredients of the branded product 'Spice' branded products. These exocannabinoids interfere with the function of an endocannabinoid (eCB) system, present in the developing CNS from E12.5 (week 5 of gestation in humans), and required for proliferation, migration, and differentiation of neurons. Until recently, it was not known whether the eCB system is also present in the developing CNS during the initial stages of its ontogeny, i.e. from E7.0 onwards (week 2 of gestation in humans), and if so, whether this system is also susceptible to the action of exocannabinoids. Here, we review current data, in which the presence of an eCB system during the initial stage of development of the CNS is demonstrated. Furthermore, we focus on recent advances on the effect of canabimimetics on early gestation. The relevance of these findings and potential adverse developmental consequences of in utero exposure to ‘high potency’ marijuana, Spice branded products and/or cannabinoid research chemicals during this period is discussed. Finally, we address the implication of these findings in terms of the potential dangers of synthetic cannabinoid use during pregnancy, and the ongoing debate over legalization of marijuana. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.