Surgeon General to teens and pregnant women: Weed is way too risky for developing brains
Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued an advisory Thursday warning against marijuana use by teens, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding because of its effects on the "developing brain."
It marked the federal government's strongest statements since states started allowing marijuana, which is legal for some use in 33 states. A public awareness campaign on social media will follow.
"No amount of marijuana use in pregnancy or adolescence is safe," said Adams, the father of three young children, who has spoken publicly about a brother's struggle with drug addiction.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar noted the amount of THC — the chemical that leads to psychological effects in marijuana — now is about three times higher than a few decades ago.
A third of teens who vape use their e-cigarette devices for marijuana oil, said Adams, and edibles, oils or waxes lead to another tripling of the effect of the THC.
"As I like to say, this ain't your mother's marijuana," he added.
The "rapid normalization" of marijuana use by young people is of particular concern, Adams said. It's now the third most common illegal substance used by high school students after alcohol and electronic cigarettes, he said, and one in five of teens who try it will become addicted. Teens are also more likely to miss or drop out of school, and significant drops in cognition have been reported in adults who started using as young teens.
"Just like the famous advisory on tobacco in 1964, the significance of today's marijuana advisory cannot be overstated," said Kevin Sabet, a former Obama Administration drug policy adviser who now heads the advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "Administration officials should be applauded for finally shining a light on the harms of today's high potent marijuana."
Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, a psychiatrist who heads HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said a "significant increase" in marijuana use starting at age 12 was particularly troubling. The brain, she said, is still developing from age 18 to 24. Marijuana use can't be definitively cited as the cause of higher rates of major depression and suicide, but she said increases are seen in studies among young people who use the drug.
Thursday's advisory and awareness campaign, paid for in part by President Trump's recent donation of his second-quarter salary, comes as state and federal health officials are investigating some 200 cases of severe lung illnesses among people using e-cigarettes.
Adams and regulators continued to warn against vaping overall. They did not flag the problem of THC oil or other contaminants as a potential cause of the recent spike in illnesses, as two leading academic researchers and the vaping industry contend may be the case.
The advisory also addressed the growing problem of cannabis-induced psychosis and schizophrenia linked to marijuana use. It was the highest level acknowledgement of the problem, and went further than the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conclusion in a 2017 report that schizophrenia and other psychoses "are correlated with, but not necessarily caused by, heavy marijuana use."
"Marijuana use is linked to risk for and early onset of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia," said the advisory. "The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases."
The National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws lashed out at the advisory, calling it "fear-mongering.”
“Our current model of federal prohibition represents the utter lack of control over any aspect of marijuana or the marijuana market," NORML said in a statement. "The Surgeon General’s time would be better spent advocating for a legally and tightly regulated cannabis market — one in which we educate Americans about the potential harms and benefits of cannabis through evidence-based public education campaigns...."
The Surgeon General's findings, however, were a relief to author and former New York Times investigative reporter Alex Berenson, who said he has struggled to get traditional media attention for his book, "Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence."
"The cannabis lobby is desperate to try to shout down any discussion of the links between cannabis and mental illness and will personally attack anyone who tries to raise the issue," said Berenson. "It will be far harder for them to do so in the future now that the Surgeon General — the nation's leading physician, a non-partisan authority on health — has confirmed these links."
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