Today, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General and a team of medical experts issued a strong warning to pregnant women and adolescents: stop using marijuana. Despite claims in popular culture that the substance is safe, medical experts say that isn’t true. 

“This ain’t your mother’s marijuana,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said during today’s press conference. It’s a catchy phrase and one that he’s hoping grabs people’s attention.

According to the research, marijuana legally available for recreational use in some states is much stronger than what was accessible, illegally, just 20 years ago. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a lipid found in marijuana that causes euphoria and intoxication. Its potency has increased from about 3% in 1990s to 12% in 2014, which makes the drug more dangerous, especially to young minds. 

Physicians have connected the increase in marijuana use and THC with an increase in severe mental illness, depression and suicide, especially for young people. 

“You look at the increasing trend in marijuana use and you see the association of increases in serious mental illness and major depression and suicidality in people who are marijuana users versus those who are not, it is quite concerning,” Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services for Mental Health and Substance Use Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz said

Marijuana use is especially troubling for young people, who’s minds have not yet matured. A recent survey revealed that 9 million young Americans between the ages of 12-25 used marijuana in the last month. 

“Worryingly, marijuana use is also linked to risk for and early onset of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, and the association strengthens with more frequent use, stronger THC and earlier first use of marijuana,” Surgeon General Adams said

It doesn’t bode well for the future mental health of the country, especially for the growing crisis of homelessness and opioid epidemic. In 2017, teens ages 12-17 are 130% more likely to abuse opioids if they frequently use marijuana, and there are some studies that also connect the increasing homelessness population with marijuana legalization. 

Not only that, there is a new condition that’s been diagnosed because of marijuana abuse. Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a condition that results in a patient with severe bouts of vomiting. It is considered, at this point, fairly rare, but only occurs in those long-term daily users of marijuana, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

The drug is also being used by some women to help combat morning sickness. In a WebMD article published in August 2018, it shows that pregnant women in California have started to turn to marijuana to help combat morning sickness. Between 2009-2016, a study found that 5.3% of women used the drug during the first trimester of pregnancy, and that percentage jumped to 11.3% for women with severe nausea and vomiting. Dispensaries have apparently encouraged women to try this unapproved and dangerous drug without physician consent. 

Studies have revealed that the use of marijuana during pregnancy and right after birth can have a detrimental impact on a baby’s developing brain. This early exposure can result in “hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and other long-term consequences.” The use of the drug during pregnancy can also result in a 50% higher risk for a low birth weight, which could result in premature death or a child with a disability.

This announcement and warning could not be timelier. As more states have legalized marijuana, the notion that the drug is somehow “safe” has spread. Places like Colorado and California have had an increase in marijuana tourism, with the altitude in Colorado advertised as giving users a “greater high.” But there is nothing safe about marijuana, and studies show it could be having a debilitating impact on the mental health of American citizens.