University of Washington Marijuana Pregnancy Study Challenged on Ethical Questions

Jun 11, 2019 | Ethics, Institutional Review Board, IRB, Marijuana

Marijuana Pregnancy

The University of Washington is reevaluating the ethics of an upcoming study of the effects of marijuana on unborn babies. It is the first such study that looks at babies whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy, but no illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

KOUW’s Ann Dornfield reports that child health advocates, for example, are challenging the study by declaring that there is a lot of knowledge already about the effects of THC on fetal health.  One such advocate, Pamela McColl, is concerned that the women in the study are not being given informed consent options.

The Study: The Mom’s + Marijuana Study 

When the morning sickness starts to kick in, you might start to wonder: is using marijuana to alleviate nausea safe for your baby? Most studies of prenatal cannabis exposure have focused on addiction, with pregnant participants using alcohol and other substances in addition to marijuana. (Learn more about the existing evidence on marijuana in pregnancy here, and about the evidence on other drugs and anti-nausea medications in pregnancy here.) That’s why University of Washington researchers, led by Natalia Kleinhans, are recruiting participants for a new study designed to look at the effects of marijuana alone on prenatal development. If you participate, you will meet with researchers three times during pregnancy, then bring in your baby at six months old for behavioral assessments and an MRI scan. All study procedures are approved for confidentiality and safety by the National Institutes of Health and by the University of Washington Human Subjects Division.

Participants will earn up to $300. McColl is part of a citizens’ group that seeks to stop the clinical study. Karen Moe, head of UW’s human subjects division, declared the IRB takes such concerns seriously and is investigating. Moe reports a decision should be made within a week.

Lead Research/Investigator

Natalia Kleinhans 



    The review did make recommendations to see changes as to what the women being recruited to this study were being told. It did not go far enough and the complaint process continues. Compliant filed with Office of Human Rights over the MRI procedure. What happens to these moms and their babies when they test positive for THC at birth and their is substance use disorder – withdrawal or other damage ? Is this not a legal issue ?


      Here is what the women are being given – this came from the investigation results:

      Child Protective Services. Can children be removed from custody if a parent uses marijuana? The Washington State Children’s Administration (CA) includes marijuana in their definition of substances, and CA does not have separate policy on marijuana use. Child Protective Services (CPS) only accepts referrals on substance abuse after the child is born (not on prenatal substance abuse) and only if there is a report that the parent’s substance use allegedly caused injury to the child or impacts the parent’s ability to safely parent their child.

      CA screens for marijuana in reports of abuse or neglect, and decisions are based on whether the parent is able to safely care for the child while using substances. Substance abuse reports are usually screened as neglect, not abuse. Child welfare workers or others with a mandate to report child neglect or abuse may want to review the Guidelines for Testing and Reporting Drug-Exposed Newborns in Washington State.

  2. Mary Brett

    Whatever happened to ‘ First Do No Harm’?

    We already KNOW that THC badly damages developing brains.

    Is this ‘experiment’ in any way legal?

Pin It on Pinterest