Category Archives: Testimonies

Postscript: Spot the Pot and Stop

See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4  and Part 5 of The Unraveling of Ryan, an anonymous testimony. Permission is required to reproduce the story.  Names are changed, but details are accurate. 

As a child, I was stung by bees several times.  Each time my reaction got progressively worse. The last time it happened was at age 16; the doctor told me I could die if it happens again. Why is marijuana use like a fatal bee sting that makes some people swell until they implode?  So many young  people develop adverse effects from using today’s high-strength pot.  Just because marijuana originated in nature doesn’t make it safe.

Research around the globe proves that marijuana causes panic attacks, paranoia, severe anxiety and/or depression.  American hospitals often don’t consider marijuana a factor in the picture of mental health, and that’s a tragedy.  There’s an urgent need for psychiatry to train more addiction specialists.  If users quit after the first episode of psychosis or mental health condition, they probably can avoid a permanent psychological problem.  However, these users must never go back to pot again.  It’s like avoiding the bee stings if someone who’s allergic doesn’t want a fatal reaction, or like someone in Alcoholics Anonymous who can’t take one drink again.

IMGMy nephew Jason, is one that followed this advice. In 2011, when he was 16, he experimented with marijuana and developed severe anxiety and panic attacks. Ryan was still alive at the time.  My brother and his wife took him to his pediatrician, who referred him to a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a pediatric neurologist.  Each doctor insisted that pot could not be the cause of Jason’s severe anxiety, panic attacks and sweats.  Maybe they didn’t realize that the highly potent pot in California today has 12-15 % THC, at least 5x what it was when those doctors were in school.

He survived because he stopped using pot, made more urgent after attending his oldest cousin Ryan’s funeral. He was never hospitalized and his brain fully recovered in nine months. Today, Jason plays Division 1 basketball in college.  When I saw my brother at Thanksgiving, he thanked me for sharing the knowledge about marijuana that has kept Jason alive and thriving. 

I’ve read about the COMT gene polymorphism which explains why there may be a genetic link for anyone who carries the recessive gene allele, about 25% of the world population. I contacted three researchers around the globe in hopes of getting my family’s blood analyzed. Even though the research has been published, a blood test for DNA recognition of this gene identification is at least 10 years away.

Stopping a Problem in its Tracks

A  young neighbor recently confessed he was a big pot user all through high school.   Suddenly, he’s been dealing with his mother’s unexpected illness and the stress of a job change.  He developed anxiety out of nowhere, but felt it was related to his marijuana use. His friends keep pushing him to use pot, and to use even more than he had before. (How could someone who would goad another young person to use pot be called a “friend?”)  Thankfully, this young man listened to his own body and mind.

Now I’ve heard that Amanda Bynes has gotten her life back on track.  As of late December, she plans to go to college, stay sober and study psychology.  Congratulations and best wishes for her  continual recovery.  Let’s hope this time she realizes that returning to marijuana could easily lead her to permanent psychosis.

Recent photo of Amanda Bynes, TMZ
Recent photo of Amanda Bynes, TMZ

A Story from Colorado

On a cruise to Alaska with my mother, a story emerged from a couple living in Colorado. Their 21-year-old son had developed depression, out of nowhere. The mom wasn’t concerned her son was smoking pot with his college roommates. “It’s just pot and I smoked while at UCLA in the 70s.” By the end of dinner, she wanted to heliport herself back home to save her son, because of the tragic events I had shared about my son and the high THC content of today’s cannabis.

It was when she finally said her son does too much pot with his friends that I couldn’t hold my tongue. Her boyfriend (not the boy’s father) was Dutch and had a ponytail, so I had instantly judged him to be cool with marijuana, since there have been marijuana coffeehouses for decades in Amsterdam. To my shock, he said that lawmakers in the Netherlands recently capped the strength of pot!! Then this woman blurted: “Tim’s been attending a drug education series at the local Sheriff’s Department for several weeks. He’s been telling me the same thing about pot as you did, but I’ve been blowing him off, as though it was just “‘crazy talk.’”

Afterwards I felt upset that I had violated my vow not to discuss anything about pot or my son Ryan when I boarded the ship.  My mom saw the woman later and said: “You just may have saved that young man’s life.” Her boyfriend had been feeding her the same facts I had, but she continued in denial until hearing the story of my son’s pot use and my belief that it led to his tragic demise.IMG_0014

Wake up, America to the Looming Mental Health Crisis

After losing my own kid, I caution parents not to live in denial of marijuana, as I did.  Your child will be exposed to marijuana and is likely to experiment with it.  It is my mission to prevent other young people from going down the same path my son did.

If a person who uses today’s highly potent marijuana goes into psychosis (or depression, panic attack, other psychiatric presentation), the mental health system needs to first address the drug effects and the need for addiction treatment. Next, educate the person about brain health and wait for the drug-induced mental illness to run its course.

In California, which has unregulated medical marijuana, it’s been common to rope young marijuana users with psychotic symptoms into the label of a permanent, debilitating mental illness rather than give them addiction treatment.  For some, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder may be more comforting than advising them of the absolute need to give up marijuana.  When it comes to strong males like my son, they also flood them with powerful, unnecessary pharmaceutical drugs.

Our children and teens need to learn the true harms about today’s pot, especially to their, young, developing brains. The marijuana financiers should stop pretending they know about medicine.  Medical marijuana practitioners are doing far more harm than good, as the one who gave pot to my friend Leah’s son, Brandon.

A new Ventura County website suggests that some communities might be waking up from these delusions brought on by changing social norms, and “medical marijuana.”  Just because something originates in nature doesn’t mean it’s safe.  Like some people die from a bee sting, a part of mother nature, some people die from the consequences of using marijuana, or they spiral out of control.

If marijuana is legalized nationally, the need for mental health treatment will explode.  Psychiatry is a tricky field with less success than other medical specialties, like heart disease or emergency medicine. The fallout will be huge.   Wake up, America. We are in uncharted waters, as marijuana use is growing nationwide and your kid may be the next casualty.

The Unraveling of Ryan, Part 5: Seeing Similar Patterns

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of The Unraveling of Ryan. Permission is required to reproduce the story.  Names are changed, but details are accurate.  

As I was writing this story, Leah texted me from her husband’s bedside at Cedars-Sinai Hospital: “LA Times, front page article, ‘Cannabis Hedge Funds Rush to Join Green Rush.’” We both wanted to vomit. Our two sons are casualties of this “green rush” movement, a movement to profit from making today’s highly potent strains of marijuana  — at the expense of our youth….and their families.  We will never address America’s mental health crisis until we accept that marijuana is the trigger that starts too many young lives unraveling.

Leah’s husband, Lee, suffered a major medical crisis, as if losing their 20-year-old son 32 months ago to suicide wasn’t enough for the family. Ed and I met Lee and Leah in the grief series; the four of us share a special bond.  We do 5K walks annually in memory of our sons. On Mother’s Day, we took our families to Ojai together.

The Tragedy of Brandon

Leah said to our group back in 2012,  “My son died of mental illness.” I didn’t say much, initially, but as the story unfolded and there was no history of psychosis in either family line, I thought marijuana had somehow played a role.  I followed a hunch and began asking more questions. She looked at Brandon’s journals and saw his entries.  “Am I having drug withdrawals?” he asked, trying to explain his racing thoughts.  When he had to be hospitalized, he was convinced his lungs weren’t working.

Brandon died of suicide after being released from a three-day psych hold while experiencing psychotic symptoms tinged with mania (Guess what drug he had stopped using two weeks before entering the hospital…that’s right– cannabis).  Despite telling numerous people in the hospital that he had just stopped marijuana use, none of the hospital staff raised a red flag that he was experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms.   After Brandon left the hospital, he was convinced he needed a lung transplant despite doctors telling him there was nothing wrong with his lungs.  He felt his breathing wasn’t right and was convinced he had caused it because he hadn’t stopped smoking cigarettes.

Brandon had become manic about four months earlier while smoking pot.  When his mom expressed concern that he was becoming addicted, he just laughed because pot was a natural herb, not part of big drug companies making big $.   Unfortunately Leah wasn’t aware that it’s best to come off pot gradually, under supervision.  Unless psychiatrists are also certified for addiction treatment, they often don’t recognize marijuana withdrawal. Brandon had taken it upon himself to get a “medical marijuana” card, because he was having “anxiety.”  Leah didn’t mind at the time, despite Brandon’s youth and undeveloped brain.  As long as a doctor authorized it, she reasoned that it must be safe and legitimate. Before that time, he was using synthetic marijuana, which had alarmed her.

A diagram showing the various parts of brain affect by drug usage.  Source: NIDA (National Institute for Drug Addiction)
A diagram showing the various parts of brain affect by drug usage. Source: mNIDA (National Institute for Drug Addiction)

How Marijuana Becomes the Problem

Sorry, but I want to share what I truly believe is happening in every town across America, not just to my son, to Lee/ Leah’s son.  If Leah and I hadn’t met, she would have accepted “Brandon died of a mental illness.”  Rather than telling our children they should avoid having children and blaming it all on faulty genes, as some medical practitioners would advise, consider the environmental effects like marijuana.  I think you should advise any child, teen or young adult to practice optimal brain health and avoid all substances that strongly alter the brain.  The medical evidence is the marijuana manipulates the brain more than any other drug.

Before my son had his first psychotic episode in 2009, he suffered a terrible knee injury in a boating accident that same year.  It required knee surgery and 9 months of physical rehab. It’s likely that Ryan started using a lot more marijuana to treat “pain” just as the medical marijuana advocates suggest — without giving any regards to proper dosing, strength and time intervals that a pharmacy is required to give.  He was living with his fiancée at the time, so we were not aware of this choice, or that he had already been using marijuana for about three years. The accident, surgery and pain were the perfect excuse for him to use a lot more marijuana–plus he wouldn’t take the pain meds because they gave him nausea.  Pot was apparently the treatment he chose, but we didn’t know it.

So the pattern  emerges–using marijuana for a few years, increase the usage for “medical” reasons (in this case an accident followed by surgery and pain), and, then at some point — psychosis.

Close to Home: Amanda Bynes

Amanda Bynes,the Nickelodeon star of All That and the Amanda Show
Amanda Bynes,the Nickelodeon star of All That and the Amanda Show

Another example of the marijuana – psychosis pattern is former child star Amanda Bynes.  She went to the same high school as my son; they were born in the same year, but one year apart in school.

Last year she was in treatment at the same psychiatric hospital in Pasadena where Ryan had been at one time. I don’t know her or her parents, but I heard she had some excellent treatment there (wish my son had been treated as well).  Afterwards, her parents had a one-year conservatorship for her.  Her mother asserted that the effects of marijuana were her main psychiatric problem, not bipolar or schizophrenia, as had been a rumored.

Amanda Bynes did well and looked amazing during most of 2014, until her parents’ conservatorship ended.   Then in late summer, when the hold had ended, Amanda had some episodes and accused her father of terrible things.  How could that young woman, who had heard that THC alters brain chemistry while in rehabilitation, return to using pot again?  The  relapse speaks volumes as to how addictive marijuana really is, and how marijuana use alters brain chemistry.

Like Amanda Bynes, Ryan seemed completely healthy to us after his “first episode” of psychosis.  Both Amanda Bynes and Ryan went back to the same drug that damaged their young minds.  No one knows which brains will unravel with marijuana. Is the risk worth it for anyone?  In this country, I’ve found a few psychiatrists, Dr. Stuart Gitlow of Rhode Island, Dr. Christian Thurstone in Denver, Dr. Thomas Carter in Seattle, and some psychologists, who understand the link between marijuana use and mental health problems.  Mental health treatment and addiction treatment need to be aligned more closely.  A Postscript describes when and how to stop these problems.

Young Man Says Marijuana Led to Heroin Use in High School

Heroin

Chris’s Story –Audio Recording

Listen to this compelling 11 minute testimony from a bright teenager whose marijuana use led him to indulge in stronger drugs.

How can drug proponents say marijuana is not a gateway drug when in almost every case of heroin use we find a history where marijuana led to heroin?

Recording by ExactingEditor.com

The Unraveling of Ryan, Part 4: The Role of Pot

Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 by Anonymous.  Permission required to reprint. 

Everyone young and old gravitated to my son….always. For a young man who was such a happy-go-lucky personality, so charismatic, death came shockingly, seven months after the second psychiatric hospital in Pasadena had dumped him.  After 34 months, just recently I finished making Ryan’s marker so his ashes can be placed in the urn soon. I just couldn’t do it before now.

Despite coming out of a second “episode” of psychosis, some of Ryan’s friends  pulled away.  He lost his job as a Certified Residential Electrician and his wife didn’t return. Thankfully Ryan never showed violence towards any of us. It’s not to say there weren’t scary times during his two “episodes” that lasted about 10 weeks .

With the blessings from two psychologists working with our family, Ryan moved to our family cabin, near Yosemite, after staying with us for three months. The place that had been special to him from childhood. He begged us to let him move there “to start anew,” after all the adversity had hit him. Ryan brought his beloved dog and had access to our ski boat which he loved. He learned to kayak there:-)

The Cabin in Yosemite

We stipulated that he must join AA, have healthy habits and stay in touch with the psychologist. My husband drove up 5 hours each way almost every weekend, so Ryan wouldn’t be alone. We were with Ryan on New Year’s weekend, 2011, as I did not want him to be alone on his first New Years without his wife and all their friends. We played 2 1/2 hours of Ford Monopoly by flashlight in our cabin when the electricity went out. It was like old times, when the boys were little and we played board games each summer at our cabin. When the lights went on just after midnight, New Year’s (2012) my husband took a picture of me and Ryan playing this game. His cute smile had returned! We left on New Year’s Day with Ryan waving to us. I told my husband what a great year, 2012, was going to be. Our son was back, and we were so blessed.

Ed was not able to drive to the cabin that first weekend in January. I asked Ryan to drive home that weekend since I didn’t want him alone for so many days. He said “no.” Since we had just seen him, I wasn’t overly concerned. Ryan had been living there since August. But on Friday, January 13, 2012, I had the most horrific feeling about 10:00 a.m. — a feeling I’ve never had in my life before. Ryan had known his father was coming for a visit that night. I tried calling him, but no response. I texted and called again, still no response. Ryan would always return my calls or text me, “I am here in AA- will call when my meeting is over.”

I left work and told my husband I’d drive up ahead, but he joined me on route. It was a long 5 hours to get there, but every hour our son did not call I knew. Ryan left a note to “DAD”on the outside of the cabin. The lights were off as we entered the cabin. Ed was reading the “good-bye note” when I ran downstairs to find my boy.  Nothing in life can prepare a parent for finding their own child’s body. The consequences of suicide are not just that one person is dead; it’s a tragedy of epic proportions for the people left behind.

Our family prides itself having long lifespans. My parents are thriving in their late 80s; Ed’s parents lived into their 80s, but my father-in-law was facing a terminal health condition in 1999 and tragically took his life. We have such longevity in the family, so Ryan’s youthful suicide just doesn’t make sense. I will always believe marijuana started his life unraveling. His first episode was in Oct ’09 and his second episode was May ’11. There was a total of 27 months from start until his unfathomable death at age 25 years old.

The toxicology report was negative (-) for THC upon his death. He had stayed away from marijuana for seven months, as he told us. Ryan never touched any substance again, and stayed in AA, as he told us. There were NO signs of psychosis again. I’ve read that the highest point of suicide risk for cannabis cessation is 6 months from cessation. Ryan was 7 months from cessation when he died.

The Role of Pot in Replacing Anandamide

Brain anatomy is altered by marijuana use and cessation of use.  No way my son would have taken his life without the chemical alteration to his brain.

Does-weed-kill-brain-cells2
Tthe cannabinoid neurotransmitter, anandamide, may be displaced with marijuana use over time, giving users withdrawal symptoms when they quit, including anxiety, depression. It can take a long time for the body to start producing its own anandamide again.

Marijuana and any drug usage skews brain chemistry and messes with the neurotransmitters (substances that allow various functions between the brain and body turned on and off).  Anandamide is the endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter.  Over time with marijuana use, THC displaces anandamide, and the body may not start producing it again for weeks to many months after quitting marijuana.  Irritability, anxiety, depression, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia and and suicide are symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.

Other neurotransmitters could be involved, too, and I hope experts in time come to explain why young people who use marijuana are so much likely to commit suicide.  The chemical imbalance Ryan had acquired was compounded by losing his job, his wife and friends. Had he not stayed isolated and supported himself with exercise and massage therapy, as he did before moving to the cabin, would he have gotten past whatever feelings he wrestled with at the end?

Were we wrong to not want him on an anti-depressant, after the anti-psychotics has such horrible effects?  Ryan was too phobic of taking any medication again after the massive drugging he received twice during each hospitalization.

I absolutely believe knowing what I know now but didn’t then, I could have saved my son. For every person informed of the knowledge that marijuana can cause psychosis, I will consider Ryan’s life not taken in vain. Ryan’s good-bye note indicates he realized the consequences of using pot.

Sadly, anyone in the throes of a severe emotional crisis, like psychosis, is considered mentally ill, versus someone in the throes of a heroin crisis who is physiologically ill and needs addiction drug rehab. Psych hospitals and psychiatrists need to acknowledge to patients and families that psychosis is often temporary, while addiction programs need to warn/educate about psychosis that comes with substance abuse.

I hold today’s “skunk” cannabis responsible for what it did to Ryan’s mind, but I hold the mental health industry responsible for their ignorance and callous lack of regard for human beings who come into their system.Shane

I’m moving to make peace that Ryan (Shane) lived life to his fullest for the short time he was with us (minus the two episodes). That’s how I’m trying to direct my thinking while trying to spare other families this kind of epic tragedy.   (In Part 5, and in the Postscript, the author explains how she has armed others with the knowledge to prevent more cannabis casualties.)