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CANNABIS

Pregnant pot smokers can damage kids’ brains

An expectant mother's use of cannabis during pregnancy can prevent a child from forming certain connections in the brain while growing in the womb, a Sweden-based researcher has revealed.

Pregnant pot smokers can damage kids' brains
A close-up of a cannabis plant. File photo: Mista Stagga Lee/Flickr

"Despite the present climate regarding cannabis use, our research shows that women should avoid cannabis exposure during pregnancy," Professor Tibor Harkany of Karolinska Institute near Stockholm told The Local. "Using cannabis is directly detrimental to the foetus."

The Institute's Professor Tibor Harkany was part of a global team of scientists looking into what effects consuming cannabis during pregnancy had on the unborn child. They found that the drug is "particularly powerful" in altering how nerve cells form connections, "potentially limiting the amount of information the affected brain can process".

An increasing number of children suffer from the consequences of maternal drug exposure during pregnancy, and cannabis is one of the most frequently used substances, Karolinska researchers explained. 

Using mice and human brain tissue, the study's aim was to "decipher the molecular basis of how the major psychoactive component from cannabis called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC affects brain development of the unborn foetus."

The results were clear: consuming cannabis during pregnancy results in defective development of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that orchestrates higher cognitive functions and helps people form memories.

Harkany warned that even casual, recreational use can result in subtle damage that can significantly increase the risk of delayed neuropsychiatric diseases.

"While heavy cannabis use can bring about actual physical changes in the brain, even lower doses have an effect by intruding into the brain's normal growth processes," he said.

He stressed that it was irrelevant whether the cannabis consumption was a lifestyle choice or for medicinal purposes, cautioning that expectant mothers who use medical marijuana should undergo a "very clear medical risk assessment" about whether to continue using the drug.

Second-hand pot smoke should also be avoided, Harkany said, adding that he hopes the research can help "change how we look at cannabis", a drug he agreed was more dangerous than many people think.

In addition to researchers from Sweden and Austria, researchers from the US, Germany, Finland and the UK took part in the study. 

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KAROLINSKA

These are Sweden’s 13 best universities according to a new ranking

Three Swedish universities have made the top 100 in a prestigious global ranking – with 13 Swedish universities in the top 1000s.

These are Sweden's 13 best universities according to a new ranking
The Karolinska Institute was Sweden's top university in the ranking. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Harvard University in the US again placed first in the table of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU – also often referred to as the Shanghai Ranking).

But Sweden's performance was not too shabby, with the Karolinska Institute, Uppsala University and Stockholm University in the top 100s, and 13 universities in the top 1000s.

Sweden's medical school Karolinska Institute climbed to 38th place in the ranking, up from 44th last year.

It was followed by Uppsala in 62nd place and Stockholm as number 73, who both also improved their performance on last year.

Its Danish neighbours got the highest spot out of the Nordic countries, with University of Copenhagen in 26th place. But Sweden had the most universities listed compared to Denmark's and Norway's six each, Finland's eight and Iceland's one nod in the ranking.

The rest of the Swedish seats were Lund University (in a shared 101-150th spot), University of Gothenburg (151-200), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (201-300), Chalmers University of Technology (301-400), Linköping University (301-400), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (301-400), Stockholm School of Economics (401-500), Umeå University (401-500), Örebro University (801-900) and Luleå University of Technology (901-1000).

Among the six indicators used to rank the universities were the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, the number of highly cited researchers, and the number of articles cited in journals of nature and science

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