There has been extensive research regarding drug use by pregnant women and the effects on their children before and after birth. However, very little research has been conducted into possible links between a father’s drug use and the effects on the children. Recently, a research team at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania decided to take on the task of determining if there are any health repercussions for babies who were fathered by someone using cocaine at the time of conception.
It turns out that the researchers did find some interesting data regarding the possibility of negatively effecting the health of their children. Although initial research involved rats, the results implicated similar behavior in humans. The study authors found that male babies whose biological fathers used extensive amounts of cocaine were more likely to develop learning disabilities than those whose biological fathers did not consume drugs. Also, it appears that male babies and not female babies are effected by paternal cocaine use, the researchers are not clear as to why this is the case.
In order to come to these conclusions, the researchers studied baby rats that were born to fathers who had been administered cocaine for a substantial length of time and compared the babies behavior to those born to fathers who were not given cocaine. The scientists observed that babies in the first group had more difficulty locating objects or remembering locations of items. They also discovered that these rats had impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning.
In this case, the researchers have concluded that the excessive cocaine use causes changes to the genes of the father, which he eventually passes to his son. So, even though the sons were never actually exposed to cocaine, they still felt the negative, and long lasting, effects of the drug. This study is telling in multiple ways, as little research has been done as to how genetics are affected from the start by the introduction of foreign substances such as illegal drugs or prescription drugs. In a time where our society is more drugged than ever with pharmaceuticals, we should continue to investigate the long-term effects.