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The Surgeon General's Warning on Marijuana

The Surgeon General of the Public Health Service has issued the following warning on marijuana:

Marijuana use is a major public health problem in the United States. In the past 20 years, its' use has increased 30-fold; it is estimated that more than a quarter of the American population has used it. The age at which persons first use marijuana has decreased gradually to the junior high school years. Until recently, nearly 11% of high school seniors used it, and although that figure has declined to 7%, its daily use still exceeds that of alcohol; more high school seniors use marijuana than smoke cigarettes. In a recent study, 32% of those surveyed had used marijuana during the previous 30 days, while 25% had smoked tobacco.

On March 24, 1982, the Department of Health and Human Services submitted to Congress a report reviewing the consequences of marijuana use. Marijuana and Health, 1982, ninth in a series, is primarily based on two recently conducted, comprehensive, scientific reviews by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Addiction Research Foundation, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both independent reviews corroborate the Public Health Service's findings of health hazards associated with marijuana use: Acute intoxication with marijuana interferes with many aspects of mental functioning and has serious, acute effects on perception and skilled performance, such as driving and other complex tasks involving judgement or fine motor skills.

Among the known or suspected chronic effects of marijuana are:

  1. short-term memory impairment and slowness of learning.

  2. impaired lung function similar to that found in cigarette smokers. Indications are that more serious effects, such as cancer and other lung disease, follow extended use.

  3. decreased sperm count and sperm motility.

  4. interference with ovulation and pre-natal development.

  5. impaired immune response.

  6. possible adverse effects on heart function.

  7. by-products of marijuana remaining in body fat for several weeks, with unknown consequences. The storage of these by-products increases the possiblilties for chronic, as well as residual, effects on performance, even after the acute reaction to the drug has worn off. Of special concern are the long-term developmental effects in

children and adolescents, who are particularly vulnerable to the drug's behavioral and psychological effects. The "amotivational syndrome," characterized by a pattern of energy loss, diminished school performance, harmed parental relationships, and other behavorial disruptions, has been associated with prolonged marijuana use by young persons. Although more research is required, recent national surveys report that 40% of heavy users experience some or all of those symptoms.

The Public Health Service concludes that marijuana has a broad range of psychological and biological effects, many of which are dangerous and harmful to health, and it supports the major conclusion of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine.

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