Exposure to maternal cannabis use disorder and risk of autism spectrum disorder in offspring: A data linkage cohort study



The potential impact of cannabis use on a developing fetus has been a growing concern in recent years. A new study published in May 2024 sheds light on a possible association between cannabis use disorder (CUD) in mothers and the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their children. This blog post will delve into the details of this research and explore its implications for public health.


Investigating the Link: Study Design and Findings


Researchers from New South Wales, Australia, conducted a large-scale data linkage cohort study. They analyzed data from over 220,000 mother-child pairs residing in the state. The focus of the study was to determine if mothers diagnosed with CUD before, during, or around the time of childbirth (perinatal period) had children with a higher risk of developing ASD.

The findings of the study were quite striking. Children exposed to maternal CUD during pregnancy or the perinatal period were found to have a significantly increased risk of developing ASD compared to unexposed children. This risk was a staggering three times greater, highlighting a potential cause for concern.

Furthermore, the study revealed a possible gender disparity. The researchers observed a stronger association between maternal CUD and ASD in male children compared to females. This finding suggests that sex-specific factors might influence the way cannabis exposure impacts the developing brain.


The Importance of Further Research


While this study provides valuable insights, the researchers acknowledge the need for further investigations. They emphasize the importance of understanding the biological mechanisms that might explain the observed association between maternal CUD and ASD in children. Additionally, more research is warranted to confirm the potential gender-specific effects identified in the study.

Future research endeavors could involve:

  • In-depth analysis of the specific components of cannabis that might be contributing to the increased ASD risk.
  • Investigating the potential influence of other factors, such as maternal mental health or socioeconomic status, on the observed association.
  • Conducting controlled studies to establish a causal link, if any, between maternal CUD and ASD development.

Public Health Implications and Considerations


The findings of this study have significant public health implications. They highlight the potential risks associated with cannabis use during pregnancy and the childbearing period. This information can be valuable for healthcare professionals who advise women about cannabis use during pregnancy and parenthood. They can use this knowledge to provide informed guidance and encourage women to discuss their cannabis use habits with their doctors before and during pregnancy.


It is crucial to remember that this study establishes an association, not causation. More research is needed to definitively determine if there is a causal link between maternal CUD and ASD in children. Additionally, the study focused on diagnosed cases of CUD, and the potential effects of less severe cannabis use during pregnancy remain unclear.


Additional Considerations for Pregnant Women and Parents:

  • If you are pregnant and considering using cannabis, discuss the potential risks and benefits with your doctor.
  • There are many resources available to help women who are struggling with cannabis use disorder.
  • If you are concerned about your child’s development, talk to their pediatrician about any worries you might have regarding ASD or other developmental delays.




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