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Surgeon General Sounds Alarm On Risk Of Marijuana Addiction And Harm

Marijuana use is risky for teens and pregnant women and can be habit-forming, says the U.S. surgeon general.
Jane Khomi
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Marijuana use is risky for teens and pregnant women and can be habit-forming, says the U.S. surgeon general.

At a time when more than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational use, the U.S. surgeon general says no amount of the drug is safe for teens, young adults and pregnant women.

"While the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the scary truth is that the actual potential for harm is increasing," Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday during a press conference to announce the new advisory.

Surveys show that an increasing number of adolescents and pregnant women use the drug, which can be eaten, smoked or vaped.

But the surgeon general told NPR in an interview that many people are not aware of just how potent the drug can be.

"This ain't your mother's marijuana," he said. The THC concentration in marijuana plants has increased threefold between 1995 and 2014, according to the report, and concentrated products can contain up to 75% THC.

"The higher the THC delivery, the higher the risk," Adams said.

Young people who regularly use marijuana are "more likely to show a decline in IQ and school performance [and] are more apt to miss classes," Adams said. And frequent use of the drug can also impair a child's attention, memory and decision-making.

In addition, it can be habit-forming.

"Nearly 1 in 5 people who begin marijuana use during adolescence become addicted," Adams said. "That's scary to me as the dad of a 15-, a 13- and a 9-year-old."

Symptoms of marijuana dependency include "irritability, mood and sleep difficulties, decreased appetite, cravings, restlessness, and/or various forms of physical discomfort that peak within the first week after quitting and last up to 2 weeks," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And marijuana becomes addictive "when the person cannot stop using the drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life," according to NIDA.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that President Trump is donating part of his salary this quarter — about $100,000 — to fund a digital media campaign to bring attention to the risks of marijuana use.

There's still a lot that's unknown about the risks of marijuana, and federal officials say they support more local and federal research. Just this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would start to process pending applications for permission to cultivate the plant for research, as NPR reported.

The Trump administration is not the first to sound the alarm about the rising use of marijuana. At a time when surveys point to a significant increase in the number of pregnant women using the drug, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists iseducating women about the risks. "Marijuana and pregnancy don't mix," the group urges.

The organization published an infographic that points to the range of risks for women and their fetuses, including disruption of brain development, smaller birth weight, higher risk of premature birth, and behavioral problems in childhood.

Bottom line, the surgeon general wants to remind people that despite what's happening in states, federal law hasn't changed. And there is good reason for caution.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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