My name is Tiffany Barnard Davidson. I moved to Washington DC six weeks ago. Prior to that, I was a resident of the state of Connecticut for 19 years. I sit before you today to speak about the impact that vaping high-nicotine content JUUL pods and high-potency THC oil has had on my family. I would like to begin by expressing my condolences to those families who have been much less fortunate than mine as a result of this escalating vaping crisis. True to what I have learned this past year, stories endlessly more tragic than mine often go untold because families are often too traumatized.
On December 9, 2018, my eyes were forever opened to marijuana addiction and its deleterious consequences. That evening, my then-17-year-old son lay in my arms sobbing uncontrollably. I would soon learn that he was struggling with marijuana addiction.
My bright, enthusiastic, confident, and curious son became a shell of his former self in just six short months of vaping 97% THC oil. What started as recreational use with friends increased exponentially into daily use, multiple times a day, in his room, by himself, with plans to move on to harder drugs. That was my son until the evening of December 9, when he had the remarkable self-awareness to see that his behavior was no different than that of a junkie shooting heroin in a back alley.
My son’s essay
I would like to read an excerpt from an essay he wrote in which he describes in detail the moment he realized he was addicted to vaping nicotine and THC:
I retrieved four nearly empty weed carts, my JUUL, its charger, a mint JUUL pod, a lighter, and an old phone charger. With my dab pen dead and its charger broken, I needed to cut the phone charger in order to strip the wires so that I had another power source for my carts. The carts were so empty that I had to use a lighter to lower the viscosity of any oil stuck around the edges. I sat on the floor and began the process:
Plug the stripped charger into the USB port of the computer. Insert the black wire in the opening of the cart and wrap the red wire around the coils (remember to have your fingers on the open wires themselves, or else you will burn your fingers as the cart heats up). With your free hand, use the end of the lighter’s flame to burn any remaining oil by waving it along the side of the cart. Drop the lighter and wait until the smoke starts to rise. Once the smoke rises, start the balancing act. Extend your leg and place the wire on your thigh at the perfect angle so that it continues to heat the cart. Use one hand to hold the mouthpiece, and the other to hold your nose. This is important. Since the chemicals and butane at the bottom of the cart are now the only real substances burning, the taste will make you throw up if you don’t hold your nose. Inhale until your lungs can’t hold any more so that you maximize the amount of smoke intake, all the while ignoring the burning sensation in your throat. Drop the cart, quickly grab your JUUL, and while still holding your nose take at least five hits in order to replace the wretched chemical taste with mint. Unplug your nose, and repeat until there is no more smoke. Then move on to the next cart. I repeated this process more times than I can count that night. Yet to my dismay, there was so little THC oil left and I had developed such a high tolerance in such a short period of time that I was barely stoned. When I was done, it hit me: ‘this is junkie behavior. I’m a junkie.’ Until that moment, I had thought of junkies as people who overdosed in back alleys from shooting heroin. I had trouble coming to grips with the reality that I was no more than a junkie because I had never heard that term associated with marijuana use. I had always heard that marijuana was not addictive. Yet, there I sat acutely aware that my desperate and addict behavior couldn’t be normal for anyone, of any age, using any drug.
My son had this remarkable insight at the age of seventeen DESPITE the shameless snow job that the marijuana industry has propagated in this country and that he had internalized as TRUTH:
THAT marijuana is NOT addictive.
THAT marijuana is merely a harmless pleasure.
THAT marijuana is medicine.
We took swift action, and today I feel extremely fortunate to report that my son has ten months of clean time. With the number of cases of vaping-related illness and death increasing weekly, we feel he dodged a bullet.
I had no idea that high-potency THC oil existed until that day in December. Two days later, I met with the medical director of the Intensive Outpatient Program at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT, and despondently asked him what the hell kind of marijuana my son had been vaping. His unequivocal reply: the “crack cocaine of marijuana.” I also had no knowledge of shatter, wax or dab pens; I had no idea that THC oil cartridges can be readily vaped in e-cigarette devices, or that marijuana could be smokeless and nearly odorless. Nor had I any idea about the YouTube tutorials demonstrating how to use a lighter to lower the viscosity of oil that is stuck around the edges of empty marijuana cartridges – or “carts” as they are called. I was equally oblivious to the steady stream of social media advertisements glamorizing nicotine and THC vapes that target our kids.
I soon learned that my son had fainted a few times after vaping THC and that his 14-pound weight loss was due to severe gastrointestinal disturbances caused by his THC use. I also learned that other potential side effects of high-potency THC use include cyclical vomiting and a permanent loss of 6-8 IQ points. Until I began reading the scientific research, I had no idea that chronic marijuana use could lead to suicide or trigger schizophrenia in certain people or that occasional use of high-potency THC products could cause psychotic breaks and hallucinations.
Sharing our story with many friends, I discovered that none of them knew about today’s marijuana either. Like me, they assumed it was the same flower of our youth with 2-5% THC.
I have been astonished by what I have learned this past year. My number one goal as a mom is to support my son and to provide him with all of the tools possible to see him get well and stay well. I have been brought to my knees by this addiction and by the many families I have met whose lives have been upended by addiction.
The silver lining in this crisis is that my son and I have a unique opportunity to look within ourselves to find the strength and courage that will ultimately result in success, even if the path isn’t always clear. As a family, my son, my husband and I have all agreed to forgo anonymity in the hopes that putting a face on this issue might encourage others to seek help if necessary. We believe there should be no stigma attached to addiction. Stigma breeds pain and isolation at a time when people need maximum love and support.
Others respond, too
In response, I founded Moms Against Marijuana Addiction (MAMA). MAMA is an ever-growing cohort of parents, prevention professionals and concerned citizens. Our mission is to educate parents and legislators about the potential risks associated with marijuana use: addiction, drugged driving, psychosis, damage to the developing brain. It is our belief that legalizing recreational marijuana is normalizing a psychoactive drug in the eyes of our children. Make no mistake about it: in order to commercialize marijuana, the cannabis industry needs to hook children at a young age to maintain a steady revenue stream.
For the first 6 months of this year, until the CT legislative session ended on June 5, I successfully galvanized a group of very concerned moms to fight against the legalization of recreational marijuana in CT. And guess what? The vote never made it to the floor in Hartford. They didn’t have the number of votes necessary to pass the bill.
Never underestimate moms who grow sick and tired of industries that undermine the countless minutes, hours, days and years that have been poured into raising mentally and physically healthy children. Of course, it’s not only moms who can take credit for the success in CT. Much of the credit belongs to the Black and Latino clergy, who are outraged by the toll that drugs continue to take on their communities. Legalizing recreational marijuana should not be a partisan issue. It is not a progressive issue. It is not a social justice issue. Preventing easier access to marijuana in all forms for recreational use by our children is about protecting the future of our states, our communities and our families. We can address social justice directly, without legalization.
In 2015, Ari Atkins, Juul’s R&D designer, told the Verge, “We don’t think a lot about addiction here because we’re not trying to design a cessation product at all.” He added that “anything about health is not on our mind.”
2015 was the year my son first JUUL’d. Across the country, the public school health curriculum had done such an outstanding job teaching kids about the dangers of cigarette smoking that, here was a kid who, much like the majority of his peers, would not be caught dead with a cigarette. Then along came JUUL. His favorite flavors were mint, mango and cucumber. By the time he stopped JUULing, he was vaping a pod a day. According to the manufacturer, a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. Initially he liked the buzz it gave him. Then he liked how it enhanced the high he got from the 97% THC oil he started vaping. In his JUUL device.
In the last few weeks, both the FDA and the CDC have advised Americans to refrain from the use of vaping products, particularly those containing THC, including items bought from seemingly trustworthy companies. That’s 4 years after my son first vaped a JUUL pod. What took so long?
As Ruby Johnson, whose 18-year-old-daughter nearly died after vaping nicotine and THC, told a House panel last month, “If this was romaine lettuce, the shelves would be empty.”
Here is the message I’d ask each of you to take back to your Senator:
I am not going anywhere. I will continue to speak to every mom I meet everywhere I go to spread the word one mom at a time about the risks of vaping THC. I currently have MAMA members stretching from Hawaii to New York. In addition to MAMA, MomsStrong and Parents Opposed to Pot are two mom-led organizations actively fighting against the legalization and normalization of recreational marijuana.
Each member of Congress who votes to legalize – and thus normalize – recreational marijuana has blood on his and her hands.
Each is responsible for encouraging marijuana use and for the steady increase in use and addiction.
Each will be held accountable for every family brought to its knees by this drug and by the drugs that follow once the high from marijuana is no longer high enough.
Each will be responsible for every injury and fatality due to driving under the influence of marijuana.
Each will be responsible for telling their children and grandchildren and their constituents and their children that they didn’t perform their due diligence, that they didn’t listen to scientists like Dr. Christine Miller, or mental health professionals, or police chiefs, or emergency room workers or the parents of dead kids.
Or the parents of kids in recovery.
Or the kids in recovery.
That they didn’t bother to take the time because they were so blinded by the shiny pennies that the lobbyists poured into their campaign coffers.
Each will be no better than those who allowed Big Tobacco and Purdue Pharma to lie to the American people which has resulted in the loss of countless numbers of loved ones.
It may sound silly, but it’s worth noting that you are unlikely to hear pro-vaping testimony today – or any day – from parents whose children vape nicotine or THC regularly. Of that I can assure you. Rather, you will hear from lobbyists who are making a killing camouflaging a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
My sincere hope for them and for all of you is that addiction never knocks on your door – ever.
SAFE Banking Act is bad idea
I’m no expert in banking or finance, but let me just say that the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act has ZERO to do with keeping our communities safe. The SAFE acronym is a misnomer. The SAFE Banking Act has everything to do with lining the pockets of shameless investors wanting to grow their portfolios.
I’d like to read a statement made by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who co-sponsored the Act:
“Forcing legal businesses to operate in all-cash is dangerous for our communities. It’s absurd that cannabis business owners have to shuttle around gym bags full of cash to take care of their taxes or pay their employees. Operating in cash is an invitation to robbery, money laundering and organized crime. This is a public safety issue, and I hope that this will be the Congress when we build a bipartisan consensus to put this common-sense fix into law.”
Senator Merkley: I’d like to extend an invitation to you to sit down with me and other MAMAS to discuss our views on public safety and common-sense laws.
Thank you all for your time.
Tiffany Barnard Davidson is the founder of Moms Against Marijuana Addiction (MAMA). She gave this testimony before the U.S. Congress on October 22, 2019. Learn more about vaping on SAM’s website.