Category Archives: Mental Health

More Reefer Madness in Florida?

On March 29,  a Florida man stabbed his parents during a mental episode following vape pen use.  The description of his behavior suggests that Alexander Figueroa was in the throes of a cannabis-induced psychosis. 

The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling on April 1, allowing for the legalization of marijuana.  Governor DeSantis correctly states it would diminish the quality of life in Florida, but the state of mental health and public safety should be the biggest concern. 

Floridians have experienced many cases of“Reefer Madness” over the years, and a ballot to legalize marijuana will give residents the chance to vote on further normalization of this drug.  This article is the second in a series of explaining outstanding episodes of “Reefer Madness.”   Read Ten Years After the Deaths of Levy Thamba and Kristine Kirk, part 1

Parkland Shooter Blamed Marijuana for his Actions

Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and injured 17, at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on Valentine’s Day, 2018. In his initial police interview, he confessed “that he had used a lot of marijuana and had taken a lot of the prescription tranquilizer Xanax.”   He also talked about “hearing voices.” Continue reading More Reefer Madness in Florida?

Ten Years After the Deaths of Levy Thamba and Kristine Kirk, Part I

What have we learned 10 years after the deaths of Levy Thamba and Kristine Kirk?  We ask that question as April 15, the tenth anniversary of Kristine’s death, approaches. Unfortunately, the USA continues to make critical mistakes by allowing the expansion of marijuana. One problem is the increasing number of violent episodes related to cannabis-induced psychosis. Some incidents made the news this year, including four stabbings in Rockford, IL.

Another issue is that states legalized pot without guardrails to deter stoned drivers, resulting in a huge increase in traffic deaths

This article covers some of the many psychotic events and tragedies related to THC in the early legalization states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California.  

Colorado Cases

Levi Thamba Pongi,19, jumped three stories to his death after eating a marijuana cookie in Colorado on March 11, 2014.  Thamba, an exchange student from the Congo, traveled from Wyoming to Colorado two months after Colorado legalized pot.   The report listed marijuana intoxication as a significant contributor to his death.  

Richard Kirk of Colorado killed his wife on April 15, 2014, after ingesting marijuana candy. Before it happened, Kristine Kirk called 911 and explained her husbands was hallucinating and wanted her to kill him.  Just minutes before police arrived, he shot his wife.  Three children witnessed the event and are now in the custody of Kristine’s parents.  Kirk is serving a 30-year sentence for the crime.

Luke Goodman, 23, traveled to Colorado with his family and tried marijuana Colorado on March 21, 2015.  When two edibles did not affect him, he took three more. Several hours later he shot himself and died three days later.  The family believes that marijuana was the cause of his suicide.

Daniel Juarez‘s family believes cannabis intoxication caused his death.  He stabbed himself multiple times under acute intoxication on September 26, 2012, weeks before the vote to legalize.  Had the report been made public, some say Coloradans never would have voted for legalization.   He was 17 at the time.

Top to bottom, l to r: Levy Thamba, Kristine Kirk and Richard Kirk; Robert Corry and Luke Goodman; Hamza Warsame, Brandon Powell and Bryn Spejcher

Cases from Washington

Hamza Warzame, 16, Seattle, jumped 6 floors to his death after smoking marijuana for the first time with a 21-year-old friend in 2015.  At first, police investigated a possible hate crime because Warsame was a Muslim. The cannabis was purchased legally in a Seattle recreational pot store, but it was illegal for Warsame to be using it.  He may have been trying to jump from building to building, without trying to kill himself.

Joseph Hudek – a man from Tampa, Florida — purchased marijuana edibles in Seattle before going on a flight from Seattle to Beijing.  He tried to open a door during the flight. When an attendant and passenger were helping to subdue him, he punched them.  In an affidavit, he said that he ingested the drugs in Seattle before getting on the plane.   Perhaps Hudek expected Seattle pot to mellow him and put him to sleep during the overseas trip.   In the recent incident of an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot trying to take over a plane, the man actually was actually tripping on psilocybin mushrooms, another hallucinogen.

 Crystal Daniels, of Washington, drove her vehicle into a utility pole around 1:40 AM on June 17, 2015. The crash caused power lines to fall to the ground and resulted in “about a hundred yards of flames.” When King County sheriff’s police arrived at the scene, they had to pull her out a back window of the vehicle.  She was completely naked and babbling incoherently. The electricity outage affected about 4000 residents in Shoreline, a city about 10 miles from Seattle.  She had 28 ng of THC hydroxyl in her blood and 8.5 ng. of THC.

Missing teens in Washington and Oregon

Logan Schiendelman went missing at age 19, back in May 2016, from Tumwater, Washington. His story has been told on Dateline and on the Missing Persons podcast.  One of the few things noted about Logan that could relate to his disappearance was his marijuana usage. His grandmother also said: “I know he did a lot of smoking pot, and I’ve wondered sometimes if that caused a little bit of paranoia.” 

Brandon Powell, an 18-year-old from Estacaba, Oregon had a panic attack after taking a highly potent marijuana dab in March 2017. He left home in his pajamas and search missions found dead in a river one month and a half month later in a river.   Dabs are a highly potent form of marijuana that is more popular with teens who use marijuana than with adults. His case is similar to that of Jelani Day from Illinois

California drug normalization; teen parties with heavy marijuana use

On May 28, 2018, Chad O’Melia and Bryn Spejcher were smoking marijuana out of a bong in southern California. Bryn became acutely psychotic and stabbed Chad over 100 times, ending his life. She also stabbed herself and her dog.  The Bryn Spejcher trial was covered in numerous news outlets earlier this year.  A judge sentenced her to probation and community service, even though the jury convicted her of involuntary manslaughter.  Numerous podcasts discuss the trial, including Every Brain Matters and Dr. Daniel Bober. 

Cases in California confirm the failures of the state’s harm reduction approach to drug education. Both Kiely Rodni, 16, and Karlee Lain Gusé, 16, went missing after attending teen parties featuring heavy marijuana use.  Keili was found in a submerged car two weeks later, although Karlee has never been found.  Keili’s death was probably accidental.  The toxicology report on Kelli revealed caffeine, nicotine, and Delta-9 THC.  A review of Karlee’s tragic disappearance suggests impairment from THC, but also the possibility that she may have been harmed.  The FBI has a long case file with testimony from the family.

Autopsies listed “drowning” as the official cause of death for Keili Rodni, Jelani Day and Brandon Powell, but would they have drowned without the THC?  Probably not!  The bottom line — with or without psychosis — marijuana raises your odds of death by accident or otherwise.

Odd cases of psychosis in Colorado

In the Denver Mall, a homeless man started physically attacking people with a PVC pipe, in June, 2016. The 28-year-old man had moved from Indiana to Colorado for marijuana.  Mayor Michael Hancock, blamed the rash of violence on the 16th Street Mall on legalized marijuana. “This is one of the results of the legalization of marijuana in Denver, and we’re going to have to deal with it.”

Robert Corry, the attorney behind Colorado’s successful legalization ballot in 2012, later regretted pushing legalization.  He himself went crazy, and he suffered from cannabis-induced psychosis. Corry went from being the pot advocates’ favorite lawyer to having his law license suspended for one year. 

What have states learned?   Nothing

Perhaps Virginia’s governor, Glenn Youngkin, and New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu have learned lessons from other states.  Only two states, Vermont and Connecticut, cap the potency of THC.   States like California and Washington refuse to pass sensible regulations about warning labels.  They care more about pleasing wealthy donors invested in the cannabis industry.  Too many lives have been destroyed.

Pot advocates who claim teen use doesn’t rise with legalization remain silent about the use of high-potency THC products promoted since legalization.   Part 2 will cover psychotic episodes in other states.  

Is marijuana laced when it causes extreme psychotic reactions?

Christian Soto, smoked marijuana “laced” with something his friend gave him and went on a killing spree in Rockford, Illinois, on Wednesday afternoon. Soto stabbed his childhood friend Jacob Schupbach, ran over him and killed three others in a violent rampage.

From the New York Times:

“While detectives say the motive is not clear, they said that Mr. Soto told them he believed that drugs given to him by his friend were ‘laced’ with ‘ ‘an unknown psychotic,’ Mr. Hanley said, adding that Mr. Soto ‘said he became paranoid after the drug usage.’” Soto went to Mr. Schupbach’s house to smoke marijuana.

Marijuana need not be “laced” with anything to trigger an extreme psychotic reaction, a fact we’ve publicized since 2014.  (See Myth #2 of 10 Myths Marijuana Advocates want you to believe.)

This case echoes the Bryn Spejcher stabbing case, where the victim provided the marijuana that led to his death. Spejcher also stabbed herself, which Soto did not do. But he also killed Schupbach’s mother and two people unknown to him, a teen girl and a mail carrier.  News reports describe Soto and Schupbach as “childhood friends.”

The house where it began, at 2300 Holmes Street, stands about 2 miles from a pot shop, one of three “dispensaries” in Rockford.

Shortly after news broke of this mass murder, Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia vetoed a marijuana commercialization bill, noting that today’s high potency pot can cause immediate psychosis.  

Other Cases of Cannabis-Induced Psychosis

While the public may be horrified that a person in cannabis-induced psychosis can be acquitted, there’s precedence in other countries. Recently an Irish court suspended the trial of James Kilroy, who strangled his wife while in psychosis from THC. In Dublin, a jury found another man who suffered a cannabis-induced psychosis not guilty of his wife’s murder by reason of insanity.

One motive for keeping cannabis illegal acknowledges that, while somewhat infrequent, use of cannabis can trigger such unspeakable tragedies.  Few states with legalized marijuana require mental health warning labels or warning signs of psychosis on the walls in “dispensaries.”   Cannabis-induced psychosis can be acute, as in the Rockford stabbings, or chronic, as in the Kilroy case.

Different people react differently

If Soto was able to explain himself, his acute psychosis may have subsided by the time he told prosecutors his story. Was the marijuana purchased at one of Rockford’s three “dispensaries” or did it came from a drug dealer?  Such details may be revealed in the trial and after an investigation. Let’s hope the police release toxicology reports on Soto and Schupbach to the public.  Different people react to the same drugs differently.

Illinois legalized marijuana in 2020. Many incidents in the state suggest that opening state-regulated pot shops does not guarantee “safer” cannabis.  

Some people buy Delta-8 THC at smoke shops which also can cause extreme psychotic reactions. Illinois hasn’t banned these products, as about one-third of states have done.

Shame on the politicians who increased access to marijuana by legalizing it and made our lives less safe in the USA.

Other cases in the news

Sadly, these cases are not isolated events. We note a long and ongoing series of marijuana-fueled violent psychotic breaks. Take a look at a few examples:

  • Jake Notman stabbed his girlfriend more than 30 times and ran her over after eating a pot brownie. Like Spejcher, he was cleared of murder because he did not know “what was real and what was not”.   At the trial, Justice May said: “There is an obvious lesson…that cannabis can be very dangerous. It is an illegal drug for good reason.”
  • Lavrius Watson stabbed to death the mother of the children he was babysitting after eating a weed cookie and suffering an “adverse reaction”. He later pleaded “no contest” to murder.
  • Marquis Brown, a Duquesne University student, went to a friend’s apartment, smoked some weed, and then began acting erratically. When campus public safety officers arrived and tried to calm him down, Brown threw a chair through a window and leaped 16 stories to his death

The individual stories are framed by a larger narrative, as more and more research links the use of marijuana to increases in violence, self-harm,  and suicidality.   The  US ignored the warnings,  creating a more violent, drug-fueled society.  We could have prevented the Rockford tragedy, if the state hadn’t legalized marijuana.  Cannabis, not “laced” cannabis, triggers psychosis. 


Does Marijuana Cause Mental illness?

The THC in cannabis can destroy critical neuronal pathways in the developing brain, which can result in permanent brain changes. The worst case scenario is psychosis that becomes permanent and is then considered schizophrenia, a life-long, debilitating disease. No one can predict in advance who will be susceptible, as some can experience symptoms after a few times of use.

The mental health harms of cannabis are well known to scientific researchers. Professionals say the evidence found in peer-reviewed studies is undeniable: THC in cannabis, even in low concentrations, can cause psychosis. And out of the drugs that can cause a temporary episode of psychosis, marijuana/cannabis has the highest conversion rate to chronic psychotic disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

Symptoms of psychosis are: paranoia, feelings of doom, irrational thoughts or behaviors, delusions, confusion, hearing voices or seeing people who are not there, and inability to communicate coherently.

Cannabis Induced Psychosis (CIP)  is listed in the DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual used by medical professionals for assessment and diagnosis. 

Continue reading Does Marijuana Cause Mental illness?