Surgeon General Expresses Concern About High Levels of THC in Modern Cannabis

On HillTV’s “Rising,” US Surgeon General Jerome Adams compared vaping and dabs to drinking pints of grain alcohol.
Surgeon General Expresses Concern About High Levels of THC in Modern Cannabis

Trump-appointed Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams appeared on Hill TV’s morning show “Rising” Wednesday to share his concerns about the rising potency of cannabis products. Adams began the segment by explaining to viewers that THC is “the product which causes you to get high, which can cause addiction, which can cause problems.” Adams then went on to describe the potency levels of professionally grown marijuana strains, as well as the THC content of vapes and dabs. The surgeon general expressed concern about the risks of high-THC cannabis, especially for young people’s developing brains and pregnant mothers.

US Surgeon General Compares Dabs to Grain Alcohol

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams isn’t wrong. Over the past few decades, cannabis has become more potent. Studies have tracked the THC content of illicit marijuana seized by law enforcement, and they show that THC levels have increased while CBD levels have decreased. One study measured an increase from 4 percent THC in 1995 to 12 percent in 2014. And with the advent of legal commercial cannabis, it’s not uncommon to find many medical and retail strains breaking 20 percent THC today. Concentrates products like vape cartridges, wax and shatter easily top 50 percent THC, with some hitting 70, 80, even 90 percent. Edibles can also deliver large doses of THC.

But while it’s definitely possible to get too high for comfort, it’s still not possible to die from THC consumption, unlike, well, alcohol. Yet that didn’t stop the US Surgeon General from comparing high-potency cannabis concentrates to pints of grain alcohol, which could definitely kill you.

“I like to have a glass of wine every once in a while,” Adams told “Rising” host Saagar Enjeti. “But that doesn’t mean I endorse going out and drinking a pint of grain alcohol.”

Surgeon General Suggests Legalization Increases Risks of Marijuana Use

Adams’ analogy meant to compare the “marijuana of old” (glass of wine) to today’s cannabis products (pint of grain alcohol). But the Surgeon General should know that the analogy between marijuana and alcohol is a faulty one to begin with.

To cite just one example, University of Colorado, Boulder researchers conducted a review in 2018 of existing data about the effects of alcohol and cannabis on adolescent and adult brains—one of Adams’ primary concerns about high-potency marijuana. They found alcohol consumption was linked to many damaging, long-term changes to the structure of the white matter and grey matter in the brain. The use of marijuana, to the contrary, appeared to cause no similar or significant long-term effects on the brain. So, no, doing a dab is not the same as drinking a pint of moonshine.

On “Rising,” Adams proceeded to highlight his concerns about a recent survey finding one out of five pregnant people reported consuming cannabis during their pregnancy. Surgeon General warnings adorn alcoholic beverage labels and cigarette packages. But should cannabis products carry similar warnings? Adams said he finds the trend “very, very concerning.”

The HillTV segment ends when Enjeti mentions that “a lot of this is paired with the growing legalization effort,” to which Dr. Adams responds, “exactly.” Adams’ agreeing with Enjeti seems to suggest the Surgeon General views expanding cannabis legalization as a public health risk. It’s understandable that the Surgeon General has to play it safe and urge caution, especially concerning the use of a federally prohibited controlled substance. But bad analogies and insufficient evidence compromise Adams’ case for concern.

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