Ayesha Sujan, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. Before joining Stanford University, she completed a year-long postdoctoral fellowship in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, her doctoral training in the Department of Psychological and Brian Sciences at Indiana University – Bloomington, her clinical internship at the Medical University of South Carolina, her master’s degree in Human Development from Cornell University, and her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University. Though her training has focused on psychological science, her training spans multiple disciplines, including epidemiology and pharmacology.

Broadly speaking, she conducts translational research focused on preventing early exposure to risk factors from having adverse consequences on child development. Her research initially focused on early-life adversities, particularly abuse and neglect, and then expanded to include the prenatal period. Though she studies the consequences of a number of pregnancy-related risk factors, her work mainly focuses on prenatal exposure to psychoactive substances (e.g., opioids and antidepressants) and risk for adverse birth outcomes (e.g., preterm birth) and neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). She uses real-world health care data because women cannot be randomly assigned to use psychoactive substances during pregnancy due to ethical concerns about exposing developing offspring to potentially harmful substances. Given that people who use psychoactive substances during pregnancy differ from those who do not, she uses innovative methods that help account for these differences and seeks converging evidence across multiple methods. For example, one method she uses compares children who were exposed during pregnancy to their own siblings who were not exposed. This method accounts for all genetic and environmental factors shared by the siblings and, thus, provides a strong test of the consequences of substance exposure during pregnancy. Her research has important clinical implications. For example, a paper she published in JAMA suggests that adverse outcomes associated with prenatal exposure to antidepressants are largely due to background factors rather than medication exposure itself. This finding could provide reassurance to people considering antidepressant use during pregnancy. Her hope is that her research will inform policies and practices and will, thereby, help improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and their children.

Honors & Awards

  • Presidential Scholar Award, Tulane University (2008 to 2012)
  • Dean's List, Tulane University (2008-2012)
  • Mortar Board, Tulane University (2012)
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Tulane University (2012)
  • Anne M. McPherson Undergraduate Research Award, Tulane University (2012)
  • Travel award, Marce of North America Perinatal Mental Health Conference (2019)
  • J.R. Kantor Graduate Award for distinction in research, Indiana University – Bloomington (2020)

Professional Education

  • Master of Arts, Cornell University (2014)
  • Bachelor of Science, Tulane University of Louisiana (2012)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, Indiana University (2021)
  • BS, Tulane University, Psychology and Studio Art (double major) (2012)
  • MA, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Human Development (2014)
  • PhD, Indiana University - Bloomington, Bloomington, IN, Clinical Psychology (2021)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Patterns of Substance Use During Early Pregnancy and Associations With Behavioral Health Characteristics. Journal of addiction medicine Sujan, A. C., Alexeeff, S. E., Slama, N., Avalos, L. A., Adams, S. R., Conway, A., Ansley, D., Young-Wolff, K. C. 2022


    OBJECTIVES: The aims of the study are to identify patterns of early pregnancy substance use and to examine how these patterns relate to behavioral health conditions measured in early pregnancy.METHODS: We conducted a retrospective observational study (N= 265,274 pregnancies) screened for alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, pharmaceutical opioids, and stimulants during the first trimester via self-report and urine toxicology tests in Kaiser Permanente Northern California from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2019. To identify patterns of prenatal substance use, we conducted latent class analysis. We then calculated the prevalence of depression, anxiety, intimate partner violence, and family drug use history for each prenatal substance use group and compared the prevalences by estimating prevalence ratios using modified Poisson regression, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics.RESULTS: We identified the following 4 latent groups with different patterns of substance use: (a) predominantly alcohol and no other substances (9.30%), (b) predominantly cannabis and no other substances (4.88%), (c) predominantly nicotine and some pharmaceutical opioids (1.09%), and (d) high-polysubstance (alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, and stimulants; 0.36%); these pregnancies were compared with (e) no prenatal substance use (84.37%). The prevalence of all behavioral health conditions was elevated in all prenatal substance use groups compared with the no substance use group. Furthermore, the prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders, intimate partner violence and family drug use history were greater in the high-polysubstance cluster than the alcohol and cannabis clusters.CONCLUSIONS: Results highlight the importance of screening and interventions for all types of substance use during early pregnancy and suggest a particularly high need to prioritize targeting early interventions to pregnant and reproductive age individuals with polysubstance use.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/ADM.0000000000001090

    View details for PubMedID 36255108

  • In-utero cannabis exposure and long-term psychiatric and neurodevelopmental outcomes: The limitations of existing literature and recommendations for future research BIRTH DEFECTS RESEARCH Sujan, A. C., Young-Wolff, K. C., Avalos, L. A. 2022; 114 (13): 689-713


    Given increases in cannabis use in pregnancy and animal model research showing effects of in-utero cannabis exposure, high-quality information on long-term consequences of in-utero cannabis exposure in humans is needed. While reviews have summarized findings from observational studies with humans, reviews have not focused on limitations of these studies and recommendations for future research. Therefore, we critically reviewed observational research on in-utero cannabis exposure and psychiatric and neurodevelopmental outcomes measured at or after age 3 and provided recommendations for future research. We used Web of Science, Google Scholar, and work cited from relevant identified publications to identify 46 papers to include in our review. Our review includes two main sections. The first section highlights the extensive limitations of the existing research, which include small and nongeneralizable samples, reliance on self-reported data, lack of detail on timing and amount of exposure, inclusion of older exposure data only, not accounting for important confounders, inclusion of potential mediators as covariates, not including outcome severity measures, and not assessing for offspring sex differences. The second section provides recommendations for future research regarding exposure and outcome measures, sample selection, confounder adjustment, and other methodological considerations. For example, with regard to exposure definition, we recommend that studies quantify the amount of cannabis exposure, evaluate the influence of timing of exposure, and incorporate biological measures (e.g., urine toxicology measures). Given that high-quality information on long-term consequences of in-utero cannabis exposure in humans does not yet exit, it is crucial for future research to address the limitations we have identified.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/bdr2.2060

    View details for Web of Science ID 000811526600001

    View details for PubMedID 35708102

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9357094