The Weed-Altered Brains of Pretty Little Killers: Conclusion

As parents, we’re trying to distinguish between normal teenage behaviors and warning signs of real danger. As a society, we are trying to figure out the triggers for abhorrent behaviors in order to prevent tragedies such as Skylar Neese’s murder.

A family friend of Rachel Shoaf, who had known her since she was an infant, was shocked that the teen with ‘potential, morals’ turned into a murderer.  Marijuana is the single influence that — if taken out of the picture — could have prevented this tragedy.

A similar incident happened again last year when, two 12-year-old girls tried to kill a third friend. That time the victim survived. The apparent motive had been to appease an Internet character, Slender Man. The influence of the Internet can be blamed for that stabbing; marijuana and the changes it causes to youth’s brains can be blamed for the stabbing and killing of Skylar Neese.

To test or prove a theory of pot’s influence on teen violence, it would be unethical to give marijuana to 14-16-year-old subjects and track the changes going on in teens’ undeveloped brains. Marijuana has a strong connection to — if not an influence on — teen violence. In Mesa County, Colorado, last November, a 15-year old shot and killed his best friend.  He was a heavy marijuana user.  Jaylen Fryberg who shot 5 students at a high school in Washington was a 15-year old marijuana user.  Marijuana use was also a factor in the life of a 14-year-old boy who recently stabbed his teacher.

Any changes to a brain assaulted by marijuana at that age are faster and more dramatic than at age 25 and older.   From a  Feinberg Northwestern School of Medicine study of 18-25-year olds, the evidence is clear: “The younger the individuals were when they started chronically using marijuana, the more abnormally their brain regions were shaped.”

Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, photo: Daily Mail
Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, photo: Daily Mail

Weed is known to negatively affect IQ and memory, leading to an 8-point drop in IQ for those who begin smoking at age 13 and continue for 25 years. Skeptics may note that the killers, Shelia Eddy and Rachel Shoaf, remained excellent students after they began smoking weed freshman year. However, the loss of intellectual ability is likely to pose a bigger problem for students who struggle in school. The consequences of Eddy’s and Shoaf’s marijuana use was moral degeneration. It took less than two years.

Today we’re learning more about the brain and have sophisticated imagery tools to understand how drugs change the brain. Columbia University announced a new study on marijuana and the brain just a few weeks ago.  A study from Harvard and Northwestern Universities published last year showed that moderate use by 18-25-year-olds brings about organic brain changes.  We can infer that the young brains of Shelia and Rachel had been manipulated a great deal by 21 months of marijuana use.

The connection to psychotic breaks and marijuana is established. The connection to marijuana, psychosis and murder is frequent. Eddie Routh, Stephanie Faye-Hamman who stabbed her husband and the Clackamas Town Center shooter appear to have been suffering from marijuana-induced psychosis when they became violent. There isn’t any evidence that Eddy and Shoaf were psychotic or suffering from delusions when they killed Skylar Neese.

Conclusion: To ignore the connection between weed users and violent behaviors is a horrible mistake, especially in young teens whose brains change the fastest from using marijuana.

Conclusion: To prevent incidents of teen aggression, suicide and murder, we need in-school drug education showing how THC affects youthful brains. The education should begin very young and follow students into the preteen years. (Read Part 1, for background, Part 2, to understand the friendship triangle, Part 3, the trial’s unfolding.)