Endocannabinoids regulate brain development via modulating neural proliferation, migration, and the differentiation of lineage-committed cells. In the fetal nervous system, (endo)cannabinoid-sensing receptors and the enzymatic machinery of endocannabinoid metabolism exhibit a cellular distribution map different from that in the adult, implying distinct functions. Notably, cannabinoid receptors serve as molecular targets for the psychotropic plant-derived cannabis constituent Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannainol, as well as synthetic derivatives (designer drugs). Over 180 million people use cannabis for recreational or medical purposes globally. Recreational cannabis is recognized as a niche drug for adolescents and young adults. This review combines data from human and experimental studies to show that long-term and heavy cannabis use during pregnancy can impair brain maturation and predispose the offspring to neurodevelopmental disorders. By discussing the mechanisms of cannabinoid receptor-mediated signaling events at critical stages of fetal brain development, we organize histopathologic, biochemical, molecular, and behavioral findings into a logical hypothesis predicting neuronal vulnerability to and attenuated adaptation toward environmental challenges (stress, drug exposure, medication) in children affected by in utero cannabinoid exposure.
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