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Surgeon General's Remarks from Press Conference on Advisory on Marijuana's Damaging Effects on the Developing Brain

Media
August 29, 2019
Washington, D.C.

I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of its safety, endanger our most precious resource, our nation's youth.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you Secretary Azar! As the Nation's Doctor, I'm proud to stand with you in sounding a national alarm about the harmful effects of marijuana use on the developing brain.

I, Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of its safety, endanger our most precious resource, our nation's youth.

This Surgeon General's Advisory is in response to high rates of marijuana use among pregnant women and young people, widespread and growing access to increasingly potent marijuana through legalization at the state level, and a mounting body of evidence of harms.

As Surgeon General my job is to communicate the science about health to the American people. In my travels around the country, I also get to listen. And I've heard from communities and clinicians in places like California, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oklahoma. Over and over again, I hear great and rising concern about the rapid normalization of marijuana use, and the impact that a false perception of its safety is having on our young people and pregnant women.

As of today 33 states have legalized marijuana in some way, and in those states - even the ones that have approved marijuana only for purported medicinal use- high school students report a decline in perceived harmfulness of the drug.

Marijuana is now the third most commonly used illicit substance in adolescents, behind alcohol and e-cigarettes.

In 2017, new marijuana users between age 18 and 25 rose by almost 30% and more than 9 million 12-25 year olds reported marijuana use in the prior month.

In pregnant women marijuana is actually THE most commonly used illicit drug.

Between 2002 and 2017, marijuana use among pregnant women doubled.

And while the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the truth is that the potential for harm is actually increasing.

Not enough people know that today's marijuana is far more potent than in days past. The amount of THC, the component responsible for getting high and also for many of marijuana's documented harms, has increased 3-5 fold over the last few decades.

Concentrated forms such as edibles, oils, and waxes, can increase THC delivery even further, by as much as an additional three fold.

As I like to say, this isn't your mother's marijuana.

So why does that matter? The science tells us the higher the THC concentration, the higher the risk. We've seen an increase in emergency department visits for psychosis, overdose, and accidental ingestions. And nearly one in five people who begin marijuana use during adolescence become addicted. The earlier and more often a person uses marijuana- especially at higher THC levels- the higher the risk.

As Secretary Azar highlighted: frequent marijuana use during adolescence can impair a child's attention, memory, and decision-making.

Science tell us young people who regularly use marijuana are more likely to show a decline in IQ and school performance, are more apt to miss classes and drop out, and are even more likely to attempt suicide.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the baby's brain, and also result in lower birth weight, a marker for early death and disability. THC is transmitted via breast milk, which is why ACOG recommends against marijuana even after delivery. And marijuana and tobacco smoke share harmful components; so no one should smoke either product around a baby.

In summary, we must take action now to protect our young people during a particularly vulnerable time of life. Resources are available in the advisory to help parents, teachers, clinicians, and others safeguard our youth from harm due to marijuana use.

Now I'm asking you to help me spread this simple message across America: No amount of marijuana use during pregnancy or adolescence is known to be safe.

Many agencies across HHS are providing guidance on the effects of and trends in marijuana use. We're also working to get more data about the impact that marijuana use has across various populations, particularly in regards to long-term health effects.

Now I'd like to introduce some HHS leaders who are taking action to address this critical public health issue: Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr. Elinore McKance-Katz, and Director of NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow.

My colleagues and I will take your questions now.

Content created by Office of the Surgeon General
Content last reviewed on August 30, 2019