Maternal-fetal transmission of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its metabolites following inhalation and injection exposure during pregnancy in rats

Samantha L. Baglot, Jonathan W. VanRyzin, Ashley E. Marquardt, Robert J. Aukema, Gavin N. Petrie, Catherine Hume, Erin L. Reinl, John B. Bieber, Ryan J. McLaughlin, Margaret M. McCarthy, Matthew N. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Cannabis use during pregnancy has increased over the past few decades, with recent data indicating that, in youth and young adults especially, up to 22% of people report using cannabis during pregnancy. Animal models provide the ability to study prenatal cannabis exposure (PCE) with control over timing and dosage; however, these studies utilize both injection and inhalation approaches. While it is known that Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; primary psychoactive component of cannabis) can cross the placenta, examination of the transmission and concentration of THC and its metabolites from maternal blood into the placenta and fetal brain remains relatively unknown, and the influence of route of administration has never been examined. Pregnant female rats were exposed to either vaporized THC-dominant cannabis extract for pulmonary consumption or subcutaneous injection of THC repeatedly during the gestational period. Maternal blood, placenta, and fetal brains were collected following the final administration of THC for analysis of THC and its metabolites, as well as endocannabinoid concentrations, through mass spectrometry. Both routes of administration resulted in the transmission of THC and its metabolites in placenta and fetal brain. Repeated exposure to inhaled THC vapor resulted in fetal brain THC concentrations that were about 30% of those seen in maternal blood, whereas repeated injections resulted in roughly equivalent concentrations of THC in maternal blood and fetal brain. Neither inhalation nor injection of THC during pregnancy altered fetal brain endocannabinoid concentrations. Our data provide the first characterization of maternal-fetal transmission of THC and its metabolites following both vaporized delivery and injection routes of administration. These data are important to establish the maternal-fetal transmission in preclinical injection and inhalation models of PCE and may provide insight into predicting fetal exposure in human studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-730
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • cannabis
  • fetal
  • inhalation
  • injection
  • pharmacokinetics
  • pregnancy
  • rat
  • THC
  • vapor


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