The consequences of prenatal cannabinoid exposure on reproductive health: Insights from an animal study
Prenatal cannabinoid exposure alters the ovarian reserve in adult offspring of rats
Female reproductive lifespan is closely related to the total number of egg cells one has, called ovarian reserve (OR), which is established during fetal life and doesn’t change after birth. Therefore, OR damage may shorten the reproductive lifespan and lead to poor reproductive outcomes. Research in animals during the past two decades has demonstrated an extensive involvement of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in numerous stages of the reproductive process, including ovarian development.
The ECS is a biological system composed of lipid-derived signalling molecules called endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors that they bind to, and enzymes that produce and degrade them. Most recently, researchers have found that when gestating female rats were exposed to activators of the cannabinoid receptors type 1 and 2 (CB1, CB2), the offspring female rats would suffer from delayed OR decrease during their young adult phase. In contrast, exposure of the mother to CB1 inhibitor would result in higher OR counts in young adult female offspring. In both cases, exposure to compounds that modulate the ECS of the mother during gestation altered the levels of ECS enzymes as well as genes regulating ovarian physiology in female offspring.
These findings reaffirm the role of the ECS in regulating the ovarian reserve of female rats. Moreover, they also have potential implications in humans: exposure to compounds that interact with the ECS system, such as cannabis, during pregnancy may lead to delayed, lasting consequences on the reproductive health of female babies.