Surgeon General Warns Marijuana Damages Developing Brains

By Ilene Eng

General Surgeon Jerome Adams and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar issued a national warning about the harmful effects of marijuana use among adolescents and pregnant women on Aug. 29.

After traveling to many states in the United States, Adams noticed that marijuana use has become increasingly normalized. He says using the drug in any amount during adolescence or pregnancy is not safe. Adams said that as current laws stand, 33 states have legalized marijuana in some way. This has led young people like high schoolers to perceive the drug as being less harmful.

Marijuana for sale during a stop at a dispensary on a cannabis tour organized by L.A.-based Green Tours, January 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

According to statistics from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “marijuana continues to be the most widely used illicit drug and that further frequent marijuana use in both youths (12-17 years old) and young adults, appears to be associated with risks for opioid use, heavy alcohol use, and major depressive episodes. In 2017 alone, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported using marijuana in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18 to 25 started using the substance.”

A survey found that pregnant women turn to marijuana more than any other illicit drug.

“In a study conducted in a large health system, marijuana use rose by 69% (4.2% to 7.1%) between 2009 and 2016 among pregnant women. Alarmingly, many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness.”

Marijuana contains delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), causing euphoria and intoxication, and cannabidiol (CBD). The higher the THC dosage, the greater the likelihood for anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis.

It is dangerous to those from before birth to their mid-20’s because the brain is still in a developing stage.

According to a report by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, THC is stored in body fat and can stay in the body loner, making its way into breast milk. The baby can be harmed if it is taking in THC this way or when it is still in the womb.

Using the drug frequently at a young age can lead to side effects affecting attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation.

“Marijuana can also impair learning in adolescents. Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction. Regular use of marijuana in adolescence is linked to increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts,” according to the report.

Over the years, the potency in THC in marijuana plants has also increased.

“The THC concentration in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased three-fold between 1995 and 2014 (4% and 12% respectively). Marijuana available in dispensaries in some states has average concentrations of THC between 17.7% and 23.2%. Concentrated products, commonly known as dabs or waxes, are far more widely available to recreational users today and may contain between 23.7% and 75.9% THC,” according to the report.

People are asked to be more informed about taking in marijuana by learning about the side effects it has on the brain, how to resist peer pressure, and how to pass the message along.

According to Adams, President Donald Trump donated a quarter of his annual salary—about $100,000—to support a digital campaign raising awareness about the risks of taking marijuana.

“The Trump Administration is committed to fighting substance abuse of all kinds, and that means continuing research, education, and prevention efforts around the risks of marijuana use,” he said.