The Unraveling of Ryan, Part 1: First Episode

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(Here’s the first of a 5-part series. Names are changed, but details are true. Permission required for reprinting)  No family should lose a child because of this ubiquitous falsehood that pot is benign. It’s not a level playing field for us, because of the marijuana financiers and the pot “evangelists” who try to silence us.

I’m no longer intimidated by anyone who dares to tell me marijuana is a “soft” drug. Kids today comment that it’s not even a “drug.” Recently a pot user told my younger son, “Your brother must have had a weak brain if pot made him go crazy.” When talking of drug policy, we need to consider that this drug has irreversible, insidious mental health challenges and changes for some young people.

On a single night our first-born son went from his normal self — a gregarious, accomplished young man with a healthy mind, so loved by friends and family—to someone me and my husband of 30 years couldn’t comprehend. Ryan had just turned 23, and had been married for two months. I blame the strong strains of marijuana around in 2009 and 2011 when he suffered two psychotic ”episodes,” 18 months apart. He tested positive for THC – the part which produces the high of marijuana — on his toxicology reports.

“That young man in there is an alien. Please find my Ryan, the real Ryan, not that imposter,” I told the psych hospital we finally got our son to, early in the morning. I have worked in health care for more than 30 years, but to see my own flesh and blood sounding and thinking like someone whose brain is unraveling, is way too much pain. The consequences for a young man whose mind spins out of orbit only gets worse inside locked walls of a hospital.

Truly, someone should be following a young person in his/her first episode of psychosis. I swear it would scare some kids into never touching weed again. Despite me, his mom, waving the science research about the “cannabis-psychosis” link to the staff at the locked psych unit, they denied the association. Heavy doses of psychiatric drugs were administered to my bright star–a 6’4″ handsome kid.

The First Episode: a Long Night

“I know you don’t think I use drugs but I’ve been using marijuana but it’s harmless, just an herb,” Ryan said to me and his dad from the back of our car, as he was losing reality.  Ed and I were so frightened, so overwhelmed, so helpless and clueless about how and where to get help.

To backtrack, the police took our son to another hospital in the middle of the night, as his bride called 911 and was so frightened at his strange, bizarre behavior.  But my son was a law-abiding citizen, had never been in trouble with the law and went peacefully with the police. The police took him to a central processing center in Ventura, CA, only to find there were no psychiatric doctors on duty. The young psych technician didn’t feel he was a danger to self or others and so was calling a taxi when we, Ryan’s parents, appeared in the middle of the night to find our son.

Ryan agreed to go with us, but he was hallucinating and tried to jump out of our car as we traveled on the 101 freeway at 2:00 a.m. Our son kept asking us if we saw the same bombed out buildings (in the middle of the night).  He said that he had to save Obama. I swear it was like my son was having a nervous breakdown, a more accurate description than the psychiatric label he was assigned once we found a psychiatric hospital several hours later to “help” our son.  We hadn’t even had our son two minutes inside the door when this woman already had diagnosed our son with a severe mental illness. She didn’t know a thing about him or our family lineage, which has no history of any severe mental illness.

I assumed she was just an obnoxious hospital aide, but sadly this locked psychiatric unit was close to the old movie, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ryan was instantly labeled, warehoused with massive anti-psychotics (powerful drugs, supposedly to clear up disordered thinking) for 10 days. He got so much worse the longer he was kept locked away. The side effects of the drugs included muscle rigidity, drooling and slurred speech with a cotton mouth.

My son had his “band of brothers,” the five groomsmen who stood beside him just two months earlier. They came to visit along with countless friends and family. The toughest one of them, walked outside after seeing Ryan, kicked a trash can with such force that it flew in the air, and broke down crying.

On the 10th day he went home to his wife, who was overwhelmed, understandably. I would like to say this story has a happy ending, but it does not. One of the pastors who presided over Ryan’s memorial 33 months ago recently said he was proud of my “missionary work.” But, really, any parent who loses their adult “child” to the consequences of cannabis “skunk” would vow to end the cover-up of marijuana’s true harm.  Read Part 2. Part 3 explores temporary psychosis vs. bipolar 1.  Part 4.  For information on skunk and today’s stronger marijuana, read Antonio Maria Costa’s article.

Visit our Join page to learn more about how you can be a part of the Parents Movement to #stoppot!