The U.S. surgeon general issued a call to action warning adolescents and pregnant women about the dangers of marijuana.
The advisory comes as marijuana becomes more potent and more ubiquitous, and echoes AAP guidance that both groups avoid using it. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H, called on clinicians to ask patients in these groups about marijuana use and educate them about the risks.
“This advisory is intended to raise awareness of the known and potential harms to developing brains, posed by the increasing availability of highly potent marijuana in multiple, concentrated forms,” Dr. Adams wrote in the advisory. “These harms are costly to individuals and to our society, impacting mental health and educational achievement and raising the risks of addiction and misuse of other substances.”
Over the years, marijuana’s psychoactive chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has become more concentrated. From 1995 to 2014, the average THC concentrations in marijuana plants rose from 4% to 12%. In some states, marijuana available in dispensaries has average THC concentrations of up to 23%, according to the report. It also is used in a variety of forms including cannabis concentrates, which are cannabis plant extracts that can contain as much as 76% THC.
As THC concentrations rise, so too do the risks of addiction, anxiety, paranoia and psychosis, the report says.
About 9.2 million youths ages 12-25 years reported recent marijuana use in 2017, and fewer youths are viewing the drug as harmful, according to the report. But it can potentially impact the development of brain centers that control attention, memory and decision-making and lead to use of other substances.
Marijuana also may impact brain development in a fetus and should not be used by pregnant women, according to the advisory. It notes that exposure via breastmilk and secondhand smoke also can harm children.
“Further research is needed to understand all the impacts of THC on the developing brain, but we know enough now to warrant concern and action,” Dr. Adams wrote. “Everyone has a role in protecting our young people from the risks of marijuana.”