The Other Side of Cannabis

The Other Side of Cannabis, is a candid documentary film which comes  from a mother’s attempt to understand her son’s psychotic break.  It takes us behind the scenes to tell real-world stories the American press has missed. It’s a real eye opener.

The Other Side of Cannabis was selected to be part of the St. Tropez Film Festival in France, this week, May 10-16.  It has been nominated for awards in 5 categories.   Featured in the San Luis Obispo Film Festival earlier this year, it also won first place at the Sunset Los Angeles Film Festival 2015, in the documentary film category.

Copies of the DVD on the OSC website.

The  power of the film’s message comes from the way filmmaker Jody Belsher intersperses a variety of viewpoints: high school students in treatment, professional counselors, parents of all ages, medical professionals, people in recovery and even life-long addicts.  Also included in the mix is a 34-year old homeless man who started using at age 10, a man who lost his family and woman who feels she lost her life from the twenties to the forties.   Testimonies of young and old and from 4 regions of the country are covered: Boston, Chicago, Boulder, Colorado, and central California.

At this time — when the  possible medicinal properties of marijuana are being explored — usage of marijuana has “been normalized” and the risks “have been underplayed or ignored.”

“It’s a public health failure, that we have failed to inform people, as there is a risk of psychosis for teenagers who use marijuana,”  Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical Director for National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), explains as the film opens.   Like the others who provide testimony, he appears later in the movie, telling more of the story, including how psychosis can lead to schizophrenia.   “No one is good enough to predict who is safe and who is at risk.”

Psychosis is a break with reality.  Delusions and hallucinations are one way to describe a psychosis.  For some people, the delusions can include extreme irrational paranoia.  One person’s psychotic break, as described in the film, caused him to loose his peripheral vision.  Here’s an important point to take from the film: “When smoking marijuana activates a psychosis, it may or may not be reversible.”

In addition to psychosis, the professionals note that the risk for addiction is also higher for those who begin to use as children or teens.  However, Nikki, age 46 didn’t begin to using marijuana until her 20s.  She says she’s no different from her friends who became addicted to alcohol and heroin.  Marijuana “became a ritual.  After awhile the ritual became a habit and habit became a necessity.   I started to self-medicate.”   Another longtime user said, “The thought and idea of going every day without pot was unbearable.”

Some of the older addicts began using pot as children because their parents used, and even shared it with them in childhood.  However, the parents who are interviewed in the film were taken by surprise by their children’s marijuana usage.  These parents give insight to other parents and community groups on how to handle the unexpected, a reason to see the film.

The film explains how marijuana has become much more potent today.  THC , the cannabinoid responsible for bringing on the “high” of marijuana, has increased steadily since the 1990s.   With the strength of marijuana today, Annika, a therapist in Colorado, explains, “People develop a tolerance for THC very quickly. They keep chasing the more dramatic high and look for other drugs.”

“The behaviors are the same, the drug of choice doesn’t matter,” is how one addiction specialist describes marijuana addiction.  The number of teens in treatment is staggering.  Withdrawal from marijuana is most difficult to conquer because of the psychological and behavioral symptoms.  “Anger, throwing things and bullying younger siblings” are among the behaviors from those in the throes of addiction.

“This isn’t ‘just pot,'” a treatment director in Chicago explains.  “It changes your personality,”  he asserted.

One boy who is only 13 talked to the camera, explaining how he started at age 11 and began to steal for his habit.

Financial issues and family issues are part of the problems with cannabis.  A 37-year old man in California really regrets the money he spent, but also regrets the lost time with his daughter, a time he will never reclaim.

What about depression?  In the short-term, “it seems to help,” apparently a reason many teens began to use.  In the long-term, it makes depression worse and prevents many from moving forward.  “When I used, I didn’t develop or grow,”  someone in treatment said.

Two teen girls in Boulder give good insight into the social pressures surrounding teen pot usage.  This peer pressure is at least as strong as any mental health issue a teen may have when he or she begins to use.  A teen in Chicago who began at age 14 was using “dabs” as her drug of choice at age 18.   All the teens who spoke were very forthright and articulate.

These testimonies offer young people a chance to know what they’re choosing if they decide to use marijuana.   Diagrams of the brain and how THC effects the cannabinoid and GABA receptors helps to visualize the picture, too. The filmmaker, who is actually a music producer, selected the professionals, the kids and the everyday people to interview quite well.