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About Sickkids
About SickKids

April 11, 2007

Babies can be exposed to "crystal meth" while in the womb

A study led by Dr. Gideon Koren, director of the Motherisk Program and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children’s Research Institute, finds that analysis of hair samples can reveal exposure to methamphetamine before birth. This finding demonstrates that the drug is able to cross the placenta directly to the developing fetus. The study by the hospital’s Motherisk Laboratory will be published Monday October 30, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Fetal and Neonatal edition.

Because hair only starts to grow on a developing fetus at around 20 weeks, the findings indicate that the mother will have known about her pregnancy for several months. This points to a greater chance that the mother is addicted. And unlike users of other drugs, methamphetamine users seem more likely to use other illegal drugs, the findings show.

Methamphetamine is very easy to manufacture in home laboratories, and it is rapidly becoming the stimulant drug of choice in many parts of the world, particularly among young women.

The precise effects of methamphetamine use on a fetus are not fully known. Evidence to date points to restricted fetal growth, complications of pregnancy and medical problems among the babies born.

Blood and urine samples, the most commonly used detection methods, are not capable of registering cumulative effects because they reflect only very recent use and cannot always distinguish among different drugs. Hair is easy to obtain, and can be used to detect methamphetamine use even after several years.

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The Hospital for Sick Children