Surgeon General: "This Ain't Your Mother's Marijuana"

By Kelly Burch 08/30/19

"While the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the scary truth is that the actual potential for harm is increasing,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams says.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar issued a warning Thursday (Aug. 28) about the dangers of marijuana, particularly for young people and pregnant women.

During the conference, Adams warned that new marijuana strains are more powerful, and thus more dangerous: “This ain't your mother's marijuana,” he said, according to ABC News

The press conference was held to announce a new advisory and public outreach campaign to raise awareness about the risks of marijuana on brain health. Research shows that marijuana is particularly dangerous for developing brains, Adams said, including in fetuses.

Normalizing Marijuana

At the event, Adams and Azar pushed back on the idea that marijuana is safe. Adams said that the "rapid normalization" of cannabis use is concerning, and that many users might be misinformed about the health risks of using pot.

"While the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the scary truth is that the actual potential for harm is increasing,” he said. "Not enough people know that today's marijuana is far more potent than in days past. The higher the THC delivery, the higher the risk.”

Azar pointed out that in addition to being harmful, marijuana is still fully illegal under federal law. 

“State laws on marijuana has changed, but the science has not. And federal law has not," he said.

It’s true that cannabis today is more potent than plants smoked in the past. According to the surgeon general, there was a three-fold increase in the potency of pot between 1995 and 2014. In addition, the proliferation of highly concentrated cannabis products, which are popular for vaping and in edibles, is concerning. 

Concentrated Marijuana

Using concentrated marijuana products—which about a quarter of teens admit doing—can increase risk for future drug use, a recent study found

This is especially concerning because concentrated marijuana doesn’t share the same potent smell as raw cannabis products, and it can be difficult for parents to identify. 

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger, chief of the behavioral science division at UPMC's Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, told NBC News that parents need to be aware of cannabis concentrates, and that they can have long-term effects for teens.

“Parents need to know about the risks,” Schlesinger said. “This is not your grandparents’ cannabis. It’s more concentrated. And there’s a lot of reason to believe that in the adolescent years, it alters brain development.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.