Use of marijuana during pregnancy is fairly commonplace and can be expected increase in frequency as more states legalize its recreational use. The cannabinoids present in marijuana have been shown to be immunosuppressive, yet the effect of prenatal exposure to cannabinoids on the immune system of the developing fetus, its long term consequences during adult stage of life, and transgenerational effects have not been well characterized. Confounding factors such as coexisting drug use make the impact of cannabis use on progeny inherently difficult to study in a human population. Data from various animal models suggests that in utero exposure to cannabinoids results in profound T cell dysfunction and a greatly reduced immune response to viral antigens. Furthermore, evidence from animal studies indicates that the immunosuppressive effects of cannabinoids can be mediated through epigenetic mechanisms such as altered microRNA, DNA methylation and histone modification profiles. Such studies support the hypothesis that that parental or prenatal exposure to cannabis can trigger epigenetic changes that could have significant immunological consequences for offspring as well as long term transgenerational effects.
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