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What to do in Edmonton this weekend (with kids) August 18-20


With plenty of activities to entertain the kids this weekend, you’ve got lots to choose from. Whether you want to get outside and enjoy a festival, watch a movie under the stars or you want to spend a morning at a local store crafting up something to take home, we’re sharing some of our top picks for things to do in Edmonton this weekend, with kids.

Catch the Fringe | All weekend
From a show where you can entertain the kids (and let’s face it, entertain yourself) to grabbing food from the vendors and checking out what’s going on as part of Kids Fringe, it’s one of our must-do festivals of the summer months – and it’s finally here. Head down after having a look through the schedule to see what’s on your must-see list as part of the celebration. Find the free things to do with the kids at Fringe, here.

Movie Under the Stars | Friday Night
Gather your family and friends and make your way to Legacy Park to watch a movie. The theme this year is “Canadian Talent”, with a Canadian actor in each movie choice. The movie starts when the sky is dark. come early to grab your spot and some popcorn and join in on the activities while you wait.

Farm and Heritage Carnival | Saturday, 12-4
Old fashioned carnival fun for the whole family. Pony rides, bouncy fun house, petting zoo, clowns and face painters, carnival games, Martin Deerline pedalcar tractors, food, and fun for the whole family. Carnival and ride tickets $1 each, most rides and attractions are 3-4 tickets each. Also musical performances courtesy of Cooper Studios on the ATCO stage.

Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival | All weekend
The Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival is held every third weekend in August at the beautiful Louise McKinney Riverfront Park. The park is adjacent to downtown Edmonton, immediately south of the Shaw Conference Centre, located along Grierson Hill Road NW. Admission is free and everyone is welcome to attend!

The Bison Festival | Saturday
Elk Island is the cornerstone of Canada’s bison conservation story; without this place and the dedication of its people, herds of plains and woods bison would not thrive in Canada today. Help us commemorate this success story through the themes of conservation, culture and cuisine. Discover the importance of bison to the heart of Canada.
Make and Take | Saturday, 10-2
There’s a fun (and free) make and take event coming up at Mastermind Toys where kids can take part in a putty lab event. Get there early, supplies are limited.

Fire Station Open House | Saturday
It’s been 50 years since Station 8 first opened, and we want to celebrate with you! We’ll have a BBQ, station tours, truck walk-throughs and fun for the kids. We’ll also have retired and current members to relive the history of this station. Come by with the family for some history, snacks and a lot of fun!

Michaels $2 Kids Workshop | Saturday, 10 am
They craft, you shop! Kids 3 and up can enjoy making embellished art using pom poms and gems. Sign up in store and take part in a fun, and quick, morning out while you browse the store.

South Cooking Lake Trail Days | Sunday, 9-4
Mark your calendar for South Cooking Lake’s biggest event of the year – TRAIL DAYS – on Saturday, August 19th! You won’t want to miss all of the free family fun, including a pancake breakfast, parade, car show, pony rides, kids’ games and races, bouncy house and waterslide, face painting, hot air balloon rides (weather permitting), horseshoe tournament, Country Market and much more. Everyone is welcome! Floats for the parade needed. Contact us if you have questions or would like to lend a hand. Volunteers greatly needed and appreciated!

Are you searching for more kid friendly things to do in Edmonton on the weekend? You’ll find even more things to do with kids in Edmonton on our events calendar.

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FASD: The often invisible brain injury suffered by kids whose mothers drank while pregnant


Before Isaiah Boylan emerged from his mother’s womb he was damaged for life. His mother drank a lot and didn’t think or know what the alcohol might do to the developing brain of the baby she was carrying.

Maybe she didn’t immediately realize she was pregnant — fifty per cent of Canadian pregnancies are unplanned — and had already inflicted brain damage on her unborn son during the critical first trimester.

Researchers know that a pregnant woman who drinks heavily can impose a life sentence of disability on her child. But they are also discovering that a woman who enjoys a few glasses of wine a week can do the same. It’s often more about timing than quantity.

Health Canada estimates that about nine in 1,000 Canadian babies are born alcohol affected. But it’s often an invisible brain injury, difficult to diagnose and masked by articulate speech and regular appearance.

“I wish, at times, I could draw a wheelchair on my forehead so people would understand I have a disability,” says Isaiah.

Isaiah is 17 and smart as a whip, but probably wouldn’t understand how a whip can be smart. A teacher once told him to hold his tongue, so he did. He was obeying but the teacher didn’t see it that way. He was also told to grow a thicker skin, but that just made him concerned that his existing layer was too thin.

Isaiah’s 12-year-old sister Ireland, a math whiz diagnosed last year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), is similarly literal.

FASD is the umbrella term for a range of symptoms of which Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most serious.  Symptoms vary, but kids diagnosed with FASD are typically hyperactive and obsessive about getting their needs and wants met. They can have learning disorders or suffer from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. They have difficulty paying attention and making friends and are often plagued by  distracting sensory issues. Isaiah, for example, deliberately wears all clothing next to his skin inside out because he can’t abide the feel of seams.


Like many FASD-affected people, Isaiah’s damaged “executive functions” means he has poor memory and an inability to understand the repercussions of his actions. He has no filters to stop him saying hurtful or insulting things.

FASD is a tough, widely misunderstood and all-consuming taskmaster for both the children who live with it and the parents who raise them.

Brenda and Chris Boylan fostered – and would later adopt — Isaiah when he was four months old and Ireland when she was barely two days. They didn’t know Isaiah was alcohol affected and he wasn’t diagnosed until he was eight.

At daycare, Isaiah was hyperactive and impulsive and unable to function in a relatively unstructured environment. He remains the only child ever asked to leave that daycare.

It got no better in kindergarten, but it wasn’t until Brenda spotted a notice in the newspaper about a local FASD support group that the reality began to emerge. “We are all ignorant of these children and their deficits,” she says. “It’s taken me 17 years of reading up on it to finally understand my son.”

Mothers plagued by guilt and shame

Research into FASD is incomplete partly because it’s usually done with adopted children without the benefit of access to biological mothers, says Queen’s University professor James Reynolds, who has worked with Isaiah Boylan and his family.

And birth mothers who raise their alcohol-affected children are usually overwhelmed with guilt, shame and denial, he says. Many probably accept more stigma-free diagnoses, such as autism or attention deficit disorder. “We suspect that there are kids being raised in biological families whose FASD is not being reported because of stigma.”

“We have made some significant progress in the past decade but nothing about FASD is simple,” says Reynolds.  He is part of a national, multi-discipline research group studying FASD, focusing on early detection of pre-natal alcohol exposure and interventions to improve the quality of life. His  research network, NeuroDevNet, holds its annual Brain Development Conference in Ottawa from Sept. 19-21, preceded Thursday by a one-day FASD specific event.

The bottom line is no drinking at all

The human nervous system begins developing soon after conception, and fetuses are especially susceptible to the effects of alcohol in the first trimester of pregnancy. The timing and quantity of the mother’s drinking can have a range of impacts on her baby,  says Kim Hellemans, professor in Carleton University’s neurosciences department.

“It will always have an impact, but you can’t predict because it depends on individual differences –nutrition, stress levels, exercise and other unknowns.”

Common conditions among alcohol-affected children are anxiety and  “conduct disorder,” which can lead to drug use and trouble with the law.

“That’s why the bottom line is zero. Pregnant women shouldn’t be drinking alcohol at all.”

More eduction needed

Many advocates say the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) could be doing more sustained education of women – especially young women, who are the most likely to have unplanned pregnancies and are also the marketing target for  myriad of “girlie” drinks.

The LCBO says it supports Best Start and numerous other initiatives aimed at pregnant women, but because of its role as a “government enterprise” is unable to independently make donations – or fund research.

In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the LCBO handed the Ontario government an after-tax profit of $1.805 billion. LCBO has no control over how that money is spent.

Brenda Boylan says women should be targeted in a more sustained and innovative way.

”There isn’t enough information out there for women to understand that alcohol can cause damage to their unborn child,” she says. “The only way to get rid of stigma is to have people admit it,’ she adds. “It’s the child we want to help, not to judge the mother. So my message to mothers is this: ‘if you suspect there’s a problem, think back. Did you drink? If you did, get the child a diagnosis.’ ”

Difficult to diagnose

There are two fundamental myths surrounding FASD: That it is exclusively a problem for aboriginal populations and that everyone affected has specific features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip.  There is some truth in both:  FASD is a problem for aboriginal populations, exacerbated by a lack of services, and the condition does show, however subtly, in about 20 per cent of faces.

But for most it is invisible and difficult to diagnose. And a lack of knowledge among medical professionals about FASD remains a significant obstacle, said Elspeth Ross, facilitator of the FASD Group of Ottawa and a parent of two adopted fetal alcohol children now in their 30s.

There is no simple medical marker, like a blood test, that reveals FASD, and other disorders such as ADHD have some of the same symptoms. Neuro-psychologists diagnose FASD using hours of testing to rate cognitive abilities. The earlier it’s diagnosed the better chance intervention can help.

Medications sometimes given children with ADHD, such as Ritalin, don’t tend to help kids with FASD, but school programs run by teachers with knowledge of the disability do.

“We have to look at this with hope,’  says Ross. “People with FASD can do well with tailored programs and some understanding.”

What the future holds for Isaiah

Like all parents of children with FASD, the Boylans worry about what the future holds for their children when they become adults. “The way Isaiah can explain things will knock your socks off,” she says, “but some things haven’t changed since he was four years old. You still have to tell him what to do.

“These kids don’t learn behaviours. You have to get in their face and even then they will do the same thing over and over again. They are also dealing with teachers who don’t understand them – and they’re getting frustrated too.”

Isaiah, who is unusually frank and willing to publicly discuss his disability, is fully aware of his drawbacks. “I even get pissed at myself sometimes. I don’t have that sense of cause and effect. I know if I put my hand on a hot stove it will hurt, but if I say something that can have repercussions I don‘t think about that. I don’t think ahead that far.

“I can’t imagine things. Some people can envision stuff. I can’t. I don’t have the mental capacity to drive a motorized vehicle. I would get distracted quite easily.”

Isaiah  loves fishing – he changes lures every five minutes – and is keen on welding, which he would like to take up as a career.

And for all life has thrown at him, the teenager is philosophical. “In some respects I’m very adult but in other respects I’m like a child.

“But I don’t blame my (birth) mother for what I have,” he adds. “It’s all circumstance.”

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Study show increase in alcohol abuse in US is a costly problem

5942e8a02a08e.imageA recently published study reports a 49 percent increase in alcohol abuse in the U.S. that is costing society an estimated $250 billion per year.

Nearly 13 percent of adults now meet the criteria for alcohol abuse disorder, according to the study published Aug. 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study examined data collected from about 80,000 adults 18 years and older who participated in two separate surveys: one from 2001-02 and the other from 2012-13.

It found incidences of heavy or problematic drinking increased the most among women (an 84 percent increase over 11 years), blacks (a 93 percent increase), people aged 45 years to 64 years (82 percent increase) and those 65 years or older (107 percent increase).

Those identified with alcohol use disorders were reported likely to carry health care costs linked to disorders associated with histories of heavy drinking, according to the study, which defined high-risk drinking as five drinks per occasion weekly for men and four for women.

Breaking up the family
In Lancaster County, the rise in the number of Medicaid patients receiving treatment for alcohol abuse disorder more than tripled from 2002 to 2016, according to Rick Kastner, the executive director of the county’s drug and alcohol commission.

“In 2002, Medicaid funded the alcohol treatment for 294 patients,” Kastner said. “By 2016, there were 1,033 Medicaid clients seeking treatment for alcohol abuse disorder.

“Alcoholism and and drugs can be blamed for the breakup of the family, an increase in the caseload to the children and youth system, an increase in the prison system and an increase in domestic violence,” Kastner said.
Alcohol use disorders also on the rise
While the nation is consumed with what to do about the opioid epidemic, with so many overdos…

According to the study, the annual cost to society for alcohol-related problems was estimated at $250 billion. The study’s authors noted, however, that it may be too early to identify future costs related to high rates of problematic drinking and alcohol use disorders because most do not become apparent for years after heavier drinking begins.

The authors did point to studies that have shown it is possible to decrease the risk for future alcohol-related problems in 18-year-old students by focusing on risk factors for heavy drinking. They also mentioned studies that identified programs that helped diminish drinking during pregnancy and others that have shown significant reductions in alcohol consumption after treatment.

More people seeking treatment
Alcohol used to be the most abused substance in Lancaster County, Kastner said, but at some point it was surpassed by opioids as the No. 1 drug of choice.

“In 2002, there were 206 Medicaid clients being treated for opioid use disorder,” Kastner said. “By 2016 there were 2,316.”

Kastner said Medicaid clients treated for alcohol abuse increased from 294 in 2002 to 1,033 in 2016.

But the increase in the number of people being treated can’t be strictly interpreted as all due to the rise of alcoholism, Kastner said.

“You kind of peel away the onion on the data and you find that more people are covered by Medicaid in the last four years, and now there’s less stigma, so more people are seeking treatment,” Kastner said. “There are many factors involved in the final result.”

Costs for all drug and alcohol treatment grew dramatically in Lancaster County in the past four years, according to Kastner. He said Medicaid paid for $8 million in all drug and alcohol Medicaid treatments in 2012 and $15.5 million in 2016.

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7 Free kids activities at the Fringe Festival in Edmonton


The Fringe Festival is here (August 17-27) and if you’ve got children who might be a bit too young, or short attention spanned, to take in a show, that doesn’t mean you have to skip it. The Fringe Festival is actually a great way to take in some budget friendly fun before summer comes to an end – here are some of the free activities for kids you can do while you visit the Fringe.

You are never too young to fringe!  KidsFringe inspires creativity and play for families with toddlers to tweens. Learn new circus skills, help create a play, and discover your inner artist with the many fun activities at KidsFringe.

Pick up your KidsFringe Passport
The passport has activities to help you explore the site. Lil’ Fringers collect a stamp for each adventure they complete. When they complete the passport they’ll receive a special treat.

Check out a Theatre Show for Young Audiences
In between the outdoor activities, consider exploring the magic of our TYA shows. The following shows are written, directed, and performed for kids! Check back soon to search our family friendly shows.

Explore the Craft Corner
Each day is an opportunity to get creatively crafty. Kids can complete crafts and projects, after they’ve caught a show at the Fringe.

Watch the KidsFringe Stage
At the kids stage, you’ll find daily interactive performances to entertain your family.

Visit the Book Nook
At the book nook, stories and imaginations are brought to life in a magical theatrical way. When you’re finished, run off some of that energy at Centre Square, where there are games and activities to keep you on your toes.

Friday Fire Show
Stay up late! On Friday Night at 10:15 variety of outdoor performers showcase their daring fire tricks in an epic show. These performers will not only ignite the stage with flames, but they are generously donating all the proceeds collected during pass the hat back to the Fringe Festival – to ensure artists and audiences can fringe forever!

Parents with younger children (0-5) can visit the tot tent, a great place to cool off that includes activities geared for the tiniest of Fringers, newborns to five year-old’s. Kids Fringe hours of operation are August 18-23rd, 10-6, August 24th and 25th, 10-7:30 and August 26 and 27th, 10-6.

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Major Breakthrough on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has huge Implications for Child Welfare System


One or two decades from now, we might look back at a Northwestern University study completed this month as a major turning point in the history of child welfare, foster care and adoption.

Researchers announced this month that two substances have shown to be effective in rolling back some of the effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), a slate of conditions conferred to babies born to mothers who drink during pregnancy.

Researchers found that two medications (the hormone thyroxine and the drug metformin) removed learning and memory problems usually associated with FASDs when provided to alcohol-exposed baby rats after birth.

When the rats in the Northwestern study reached adulthood, they were compared with other alcohol-exposed rats that had not been given either drug. The rats that had been treated with the thyroxine and metformin demonstrated no memory issues or learning problems.

We are probably years away from potentially proving the efficacy and safety of this on human babies. But if that happens, it is not hyperbole to say that this will immediately become one of the most significant advances in child welfare history.

“We’ve shown you can interfere after the damage from alcohol is done. That’s huge,” said lead investigator Eva Redei in a press release. “We have identified a potential treatment for alcohol spectrum disorder. Currently, there is none.”

FASDs are a set of conditions that tend to occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during her pregnancy. These conditions include physical deformities, low weight and height, poor coordination, learning disabilities and behavioral issues. FASD is also the leading known cause of mental retardation in America today.

But these mental and physical challenges are often not traced to FASD, especially in children who end up in foster care and/or become available for adoption. This can leave foster and adoptive parents to wonder in terror what is causing their children’s pain.

The following was shared by Alison Caliendo, an adoptive mom and executive director of Foster Kinship, in an e-mail to Youth Services Insider:

“We were our son’s foster parents and we adopted him when he was 18 months old. We know his biological mother drank alcohol and used a range of illicit substances, including meth.

We started noticing around 12 months that he was easily frustrated and would scream in a high pitched wail. Once he was triggered, it would be very hard for him to come back to us. Once he was calm, which could take several hours, he would not seem to recall what had happened.

He would hit his head against the wall. He was often inconsolable and his level of rage became more and more alarming to us. As he got older, he became more aggressive toward children at daycare. He was asked to leave many day care centers due to his violent behavior toward other children. He began trying to hurt us when he would melt down.

We have done everything we can to get the support we need. He had early intervention services and now is in a special program with the school district. He has occupational therapy, in-home basic skills training, and a pediatric neuropsychologist. We know the next step will be to see a psychiatrist. We anticipate that we will have to home school him so that he is able to keep himself and others safe.

As parents, we often feel we are failing him and it is easy to become depressed and discouraged. We seek out support from other foster/adoptive parents who understand, and we make time for ourselves so that we can continue to have the energy to care for him.”
There are more unknowns than knowns when it comes to FASD. In a series of columns for The Chronicle back in 2013, Helen Ramaglia, the adoptive mother of a child with an FASD diagnosis, called it “a silent crisis.”

A recent study of 7- to 9-year-olds, conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found FASD in .3 of every 1,000 children. But the CDC notes that “studies using in-person assessment of school-aged children in several U.S. communities report higher estimates of FAS: 6 to 9 out of 1,000 children.”

Data from California showed that 40.6 percent of infants referred to child protective services have a positive diagnosis for substance exposure, meaning either drugs, alcohol or both.

There also isn’t much available in the way of hard data when it comes to the social cost of FASD, but the estimates are high. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) uses the number $5.4 billion as an annual cost for just Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s review put the majority of estimates between $2.3 billion and $4.7 billion.

Consider how much of a game changer it would be for foster and adoptive parents if some of the most vicious effects of alcohol exposure could be rolled back at birth with medication. The value of effective interventions against FASD is hard to quantify, in either dollars or tears shed by these families.

Further, factor in the even larger potential benefit on maltreatment prevention, because the effects of FASD can be the stressors that cause a foster care removal. The aforementioned California study found that nearly 54 percent of children who test positive for substance exposure are not referred to CPS. Could a mom’s chances of addiction recovery be enhanced if some of the significant stress from raising an FASD-diagnosed child is removed?

Jodee Kulp, an adoptive mom who wouldn’t find out for years that her daughter had FAS, expressed couched optimism about the new research.

“It may be a brilliant opportunity,” Kulp said, in an email conversation with YSI. “If it becomes, ‘Now I can drink because my child can have this after birth and be just fine,’ it could be a slippery slope.”

Kulp said she is also wary about the potential long-term effects of treatment on mothers, which might not become evident from a short-term trial.

“I am the child of a mother who took prescribed medication while pregnant to maintain a viable pregnancy,” Kulp said. “This medication created untold havoc in the lives of women who are now in their 50s to 70s.”

“On the other hand,” Kulp said, “if it removes the stigma and guilt from mothers who drank alcohol and exposed the reality for the child earlier, there is much that can be done in early development to help a child.”

Kulp’s point there is key, because another huge problem with FASD is the diagnosis process itself. A 2009 report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information noted several “fundamental challenges” to diagnosing these disorders:

“Birth mothers may no longer be in their children’s life at the time of assessment, precipitating a reliance on indirect reports of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy. Even when alcohol exposure can be obtained, maternal self-report is often fraught with unreliability and under-reporting. This can be due to simple forgetfulness or from societal stigmas related to drinking during pregnancy, which may create maternal denial arising from awareness of the potential harm caused.”
Another problem, the report notes, is that some doctors appear to be influenced by the fear of stigmatizing moms:

“Even more worrisome is the admission by many physicians that they have suspected but not diagnosed FASD due to concerns of stigmatization and worries that the parents would resist referral for assessment and treatment (58). Societal stigmas must be addressed and improvements must be made in educational guidelines before primary care physicians can effectively assess and refer patients for the diagnosis of FASD.”

Without early detection or direct treatment for FASD, it is often too late to medically correct the damage done by these disorders. From adoptive mother Jodee Kulp, in her emails with YSI:

“Our daughter, Liz Kulp, was adopted as a toddler and not diagnosed with FAS until she was 12.5 years. An earlier diagnosis would have allowed us to understand we were working with brain damage and that her behaviors were symptoms of the central nervous system damage done before she was born.

Today, Liz is 31 years old and just as the central nervous system damage was missed in her childhood, the subtle physical internal anomalies have accumulated over time as she has grown older. Liz still struggles with memory and sensory issues. She is still challenged with limited executive function abilities.

The choice made to drink alcohol during the time she was growing in the womb has taken its toll on a vibrant and lovely human being. While friend’s children graduate from college and pursue careers and raise families, Liz struggles with medical issues that hinder her from moving forward. As her parents, we have dedicated our lives to creating a micro-world for her to live independently with the help of government supports and services. Sadly, all of this was preventable.”

The researchers published their findings in a July issue of Molecular Psychiatry, and are in the process of fundraising for clinical trials. Redei said a small clinical trial is in the planning stages to take place in South Africa, which has a high rate of FASD and “also because the system there is more in place to follow pregnant women who drink.” That study is expected to cost about $350,000.

“Ideally, we would love to carry out studies in the U.S.,” Redei told YSI,
“but so far we have not found partners in clinics or hospitals.”

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Will smoking marijuana during pregnancy harm the child?


The question

My daughter is pregnant and she has been smoking some marijuana to reduce nausea and vomiting from morning sickness. She says marijuana is a natural product and it won’t hurt her unborn child. Is she right?

The answer

There is no evidence that marijuana causes obvious birth defects. And this fact may be contributing to the impression that it’s safe to use during pregnancy.

But “it is not a benign substance,” warns Dr. Erin Lurie, a fellow in addictions medicine at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

A growing body of research suggests that exposure to marijuana in the womb has other, more subtle, effects – especially on the developing brain. In a nutshell, it may increase the baby’s risk of learning difficulties, impulsiveness and inattention, as well as other behavioural and mental-health problems later in life.

Separate research teams in Ottawa and Pittsburgh have carried out the longest-running studies on the children of women who smoked pot during pregnancy.

The Ottawa study began in 1978, with the recruitment of about 600 pregnant women mostly from middle-class backgrounds. Some of the women had smoked marijuana; others smoked tobacco; still others used marijuana and tobacco; the rest abstained from both substances. The amount of marijuana consumed, and the duration of their use, varied from woman to woman. Their offspring have undergone extensive testing at regular intervals into adulthood. A select sample from the offspring continues to be followed up.

The Pittsburgh study started in 1982, and also included about 600 mothers, although most were from low-income backgrounds.

Both these studies, plus other research, point to the same conclusions. “I think the similar results lend a lot of credence to our findings,” says the lead researcher of the Ottawa study, Peter Fried, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at Carleton University.

In particular, the studies indicate that marijuana affects certain aspects of executive functioning, which primarily take place in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

Executive functioning “enables you to make decisions and anticipate the consequences of your actions,” explains Fried.

Marijuana also impairs attention and visual problem solving – for example, doing something as ordinary as a jigsaw puzzle.

As well, “the lack of sustained attention usually means they can’t inhibit themselves from doing other things.” This can translate into impulsive behaviour.

Fried says some of the effects of marijuana exposure are not immediately apparent in newborns. It wasn’t until the children were four years old that cognitive testing revealed significant differences in the executive functioning of offspring of mothers who smoked dope, compared to kids of abstaining moms.

Researchers have a limited ability to measure executive functioning in very young children, he explains. “If there were better tests, the differences might have been spotted sooner.”

In recent years, the Ottawa researchers started doing functional MRI brain scans on the study participants. These high-tech fMRI tests reveal that offspring exposed to marijuana prenatally seem to “utilize different parts of the brain” for performing certain tasks in comparison to unexposed offspring.

“It’s almost like the brain corrected itself” for the changes brought about by marijuana exposure, says Fried. “But interestingly, the length of time it took the subjects to respond [to a task] was somewhat longer.”

One thing is clear from the research: “The more the woman smokes up, the greater the likelihood there will be some effect on the offspring,” says Fried.

He emphasizes that his study was launched in the late 1970s when marijuana was far less potent than it is today. The concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the ingredient that makes people feel high – is much greater now. So, it’s possible that studies based on exposure decades ago “may represent a somewhat conservative picture of the impact of marijuana use on a developing fetus,” says Fried.

The effects may also vary depending on how the marijuana is consumed – whether it is smoked or consumed as an oil or edible. Smoke from a marijuana cigarette contains five times more carbon monoxide than the smoke from a tobacco cigarette, which can affect the amount of oxygen reaching the fetus.

Many public-health experts are concerned that more pregnant women will use marijuana once Canada legalizes recreational pot next year.

There are no reliable statistics on how many Canadians currently smoke marijuana during pregnancy. U.S. studies have found that four to six per cent of pregnant women acknowledge using it, although that figure is likely an underestimate, says Lurie.

The move to legalization seems to be reducing the stigma associated with marijuana consumption. “People just don’t even consider it to be a drug,” says Lurie.

Some health-care providers have noticed that more and more women are willing to discuss their use of cannabis during pregnancy.

“They are letting their guard down and feel safer disclosing its use,” says Kelly Polci, a social worker in the Women and Babies Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

In some cases, women struggling with morning sickness are turning to marijuana – a remedy that is promoted on some websites.

“There is a lot of messaging on the Internet saying that marijuana is safe to use during pregnancy, while it is actually not,” says Dr. Maya Nader, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“Women need to know that health-care providers can recommend other morning-sickness treatments that don’t carry the risks of marijuana.”

What’s more, women should also be aware that breastfeeding and marijuana are a bad combination. THC is stored in fat tissue and can remain there for up to two months, gradually being released into breast milk. That means some children can get a dose of THC from breastfeeding – even after their mothers have stopped smoking marijuana, says Nader.

Abstinence is the best approach. But if a pregnant woman or new mom is having trouble quitting, she should talk to her doctor in order to reduce the potential harm to her offspring, advises Lurie.

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Back to School


It’s that time of year again – as kids get ready to hit the books, moms and dads face not only a new routine but a growing To Do list. For parents, it can get overwhelming.

From packing lunches to buying school supplies, it’s hard to know where to start. Check out the Back to School Survival Guide for tips on how to prepare your kids for the first day of class and keep your sanity.

Nutrition & Food Safety


Younger Children

Older Children


Growth & Development

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