MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Marijuana is a dangerous drug - that is how Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, described it today in a press conference announcing a campaign to raise awareness of the risks of dependency and addiction. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports the new advisory focuses on risks to adolescents and pregnant women.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: At a time when more than 30 states have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, more young people are smoking it. One survey found about 9 million teenagers and young adults report using marijuana within the last month. But the U.S. surgeon general, Jerome Adams, says no amount of marijuana is safe for adolescents.
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JEROME ADAMS: And while the perceived harm of marijuana is decreasing, the scary truth is that the actual potential for harm is increasing.
AUBREY: The drug is a lot more potent than it used to be. Since the mid-1990s, there's been at least a threefold increase in the concentration of THC in marijuana plants - that's the psychoactive component that leads to feelings of euphoria. But Adams says many people may not be aware.
ADAMS: This ain't your mother's marijuana.
AUBREY: The drug can be smoked, vaped or eaten, and the surgeon general's report finds some concentrated products can contain up to 75% THC. Adams says this is concerning.
ADAMS: Well, the science tells us the higher the THC delivery, the higher the risk.
AUBREY: Young people who regularly use marijuana are more likely to show a decline in IQ and school performance, Adams says, and frequent use of the drug can also impair a child's attention, memory and decision-making. There's also a risk of dependency and addiction.
ADAMS: Nearly 1 in 5 people who begin marijuana use during adolescence become addicted. That's scary to me as a dad of a 15-, a 13- and a 9-year-old.
AUBREY: Symptoms of dependency include irritability, mood and sleep difficulties that peak within the first week after trying to quit or not using the drug. And when a person can't stop using, even though it interferes or impairs with their performance at work or school, it's considered addiction. Elinore McCance-Katz is assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS. She says marijuana use in adolescence is also linked to an increased risk of depression.
ELINORE MCCANCE-KATZ: When you look at the increasing trend for marijuana use and you see the association of increases in serious mental illness and major depression, it's quite concerning.
AUBREY: There is still a lot that is unknown about the effects of marijuana use in adolescents and adults, and federal officials say they support more local and federal research. Just this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would start to process applications for permission to cultivate cannabis for research. Meanwhile, the CDC is investigating nearly 200 reported cases of severe lung damage among people who vape. Many of the young people who've been hospitalized with the condition acknowledged using THC. The surgeon general says he's concerned.
ADAMS: Reports are that many of these cases are correlated with THC or marijuana vaping. And so the best way to avoid lung injury is to avoid vaping because you don't know what you're getting. You don't know what's in these products.
AUBREY: To raise awareness of the risks of marijuana, Secretary Azar said today that President Trump has donated $100,000, a quarter of his annual government salary, to fund a digital campaign.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
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