April 15, 2009
Prenatal Methamphetamine Alters Fetal Brain Development

Pregnant women using meth are messing up their babies. How about locking them up until the babies are born?

ST. PAUL, Minn. A first of its kind study examining the effects of methamphetamine use during pregnancy has found the drug appears to cause abnormal brain development in children. The research is published in the April 15, 2009, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Methamphetamine use is an increasing problem among women of childbearing age, leading to an increasing number of children with prenatal meth exposure," said study author Linda Chang, MD, with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. "But until now, the effects of prenatal meth exposure on the developing brain of a child were little known."

For the study, brain scans were performed on 29 three and four-year-old children whose mothers used meth while pregnant and 37 unexposed children of the same ages. The MRI scans used diffusion tensor imaging to help measure the diffusion of molecules in a child's brain, which can indicate abnormal microscopic brain structures that might reflect abnormal brain development.

The scans showed that children with prenatal meth exposure had differences in the white matter structure and maturation of their brains compared to unexposed children. The children with prenatal meth exposure had up to four percent lower diffusion of molecules in the white matter of their brains.

The brain damage probably lasts for life. We shouldn't let women do this to their babies. We all pay for it for decades to come.

The antiepilepsy drug valproate also messes up prenatal brain development.

Three-year-olds whose mothers took the antiepileptic drug valproate during pregnancy had average IQs six to nine points lower than children exposed to three other antiepileptic drugs, a landmark multi-center study has found.

The study's authors say that women of childbearing age should avoid valproate as a first choice drug for the treatment of epilepsy. The results are published in the April 16, 2009, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 April 15 09:55 PM  Brain Development

David Friedman said at April 15, 2009 10:35 PM:

"which can indicate" ... "might reflect" ... "up to four percent lower"

Pretty weak evidence for such strong conclusions about brain damage.

Randall Parker said at April 15, 2009 10:59 PM:

David, But I do not see this study in isolation. It is just an excuse for me to take a position I've already decided is wise from previous evidence.

doctorb said at April 16, 2009 4:26 AM:

Yeah because prison is a really hard place to get meth...

Brian said at April 16, 2009 11:48 AM:

This would need a lot more context before I could form an opinion. What is the impact compared to other detrimental factors especially diet? What kind of mitigation is viable? What is the cost relative to other benefits that could be purchased at the same cost?

Some portion of the population will be born with defects, is this the best way to minimize that percentage? Most parents try pretty hard to take care of their children, doing a better job than the parent is not something the state is good at. Add to that the cost of involuntary programs and especially incarceration and your facing a real challenge. It might be a better use of funds to improve voluntary medical, or voluntary education, or even food stamps and government cheese.

I don't claim to have an answer, but until there is a dispassionate debate about cost, including any lost opportunity costs I am quite apprehensive about any involuntary program.

obrien said at April 16, 2009 12:33 PM:

what is really needed is to abolish pregnancy altogether--unfortunately i think that tech is far from being fully developed. the more women can act like men and get away with it (as well as avoiding harming the rest of society), the better the world will be. females are certainly not inferior, but the traditional female role certainly is; it directly harms women and indirectly messes up men too. look at the muslim world: men are ridiculously sexist, and ridiculously violent.

Pace said at April 19, 2009 10:00 AM:

Obrien - what are you talking about?

Engineer-Poet said at April 20, 2009 6:16 PM:

Maybe any woman of child-bearing age picked up for anything related to meth should be offered a bonus for immediate sterilization.  It is very hard to bear a meth-affected child if you can't get pregnant, and the mental discount rate of meth users is probably so high that a great many would jump at the offer.  They might even line up for the chance without any intervention from law enforcement.

I would also offer an additional bonus for the pregnant users to have abortions, but RTL is bound to object strongly.

Fetal Brain Damage said at October 10, 2009 12:40 AM:

An awareness program on the adverse effect of meth will surely help to solve the problem.

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