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Hair Testing Study Links Maternal Recreational Drug Use to Birth Defects
An article published on the online science news site, ScienceDaily, reports on the results of a study that suggests a link between birth defects in the brain and recreational drug use by pregnant women. The study was led by a team of researchers from the University College London (Drug tests on mothers’ hair links recreational drug use to birth defects). 
 
In the study, researchers analyzed hair samples from a total of 517 women who had recently given birth. Among this group of women, 213 had infants with birth defects potentially linked to recreational substance use, 143 had infants with birth defects not presumably linked to substance use, and 161 had infants with no birth defects. The study found evidence of drug use in a substantially higher proportion of mothers whose babies were born with birth defects of the brain (35%), compared to mothers whose babies had no such birth defects (13%). The article reports that spina bifida, brain cysts and under-development of the brain were among the brain anomalies found. 
 
The article notes that birth defects affecting an infant’s brain can have severe life-long outcomes such as the development of cerebral palsy and other conditions. The study, however, did not identify any significant links to brain defects in the affected infants and the use of any particular drug. 
 
According to the article, obtaining evidence for assessing the links between birth defects and substance use relies on pregnant women self-reporting their drug use at the time of conception and the first trimester. The study’s authors suggest that hair testing for substance abuse can provide an approximate timeline of drug use over the duration of pregnancy, thus eliminating self-reporting bias. 
 
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