Category Archives: Mental Health

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.

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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.

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A Look Inside the Brain of Young Marijuana Users

Recommended for educating school and community groups: In a 3-minute video, Crystal Dilworth explains how marijuana — even in small amounts — affects the developing brain, and changes its structure.  She makes a compelling case for why not to use for those under 25.

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The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 2: Mental Health

(Read our previous articles, Medical Marijuana Risks, and The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 1) Three-and-a-half years ago and with a lot of fanfare, the .

Medical marijuana tries to bypass discussion of the mental health risks.  Marijuana is linked to long-term psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, anxiety and psychosis.  There is mounting research to suggest that youth usage of marijuana greatly increases the chance for both depression and suicide, as recently reported in the The Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

The PTSD Marketing Strategy

It was a good publicity stunt, but a cruel trick.  The marijuana industry recently staged an event in Denver to attract veterans. They gave out free marijuana for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is very real, and it’s a condition to be taken seriously.

The medical community should find solutions that would bring veterans back to their previous state of functioning before combat.  Louis Zamperini, the hero of a book by Laura Hillenbrand and movie directed by Angelina Jolie, Unbroken, had severe PTSD from World War II.  He had been beaten in a Japanese prison camp and lost at sea 46 days on a raft. It’s unlikely he would have healed and charged forward so well if marijuana had been offered as the solution.  The movie will be in theaters on December 25.

Marijuana numbs certain emotions.  It also effects memory.  PTSD symptoms are different for different people, but it can include numbness, too.  If fear, numbness and depression are present with PTSD, there should be a means that re-build connection to everyday life, rather than avoid the reality of life.  Dogs and Yoga are amongst the best treatments for rebuilding connection.  Time is a great healer, too.

Handing out free so-called “marijuana medicine” makes a mockery of recovery.  It’s hoped our veterans could get back to work and not face long-term disability.   Keeping “patients” addicted and under the thumb of medical marijuana industry may do the opposite.  The best book on the subject, Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, doesn’t suggest masking memoryOur first choice should always be therapies that go to the root of the problem, rather than masking the symptoms.  Medical marijuana has the potential for masking symptoms.  It also risks making a person apathetic and numb.  It could give the illusion of getting better without deep healing.

Why does marijuana cause dependency?  As explained in a testimony, marijuana usage interferes with the natural processes and messes with brain chemistry.   After stopping marijuana use, irritability, anxiety, depression, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia and and suicide can be part of marijuana withdrawal.   As time can heal marijuana withdrawal symptoms, time can heal PTSD.  If we want veterans to not be permanently disabled, Congress should not allow marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD.

A Cruel Attempt to Treat Psychiatric Disorders

Marijuana may increase the burden of mental illness.  It is well-known in medical circles that marijuana makes the course of mental illness worse and successful treatment less likely.  In fact, marijuana is the most common illicit drug to trigger a psychiatric disorder.   For this reason, extreme caution should be taken before recommending marijuana to anyone, for any reason.

There’s strong evidence that mental illness is increasing in America. According to Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic, an increase in bi-polar disorder is driven in part by the expansion of diagnostic boundaries, but it is also being fueled by the widespread use of illicit drugs.

Whitaker explains that studies of first episode bipolar patients, roughly 1/3 suffered their first bout of mania or mood instability after they had abused illicit drugs — amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens.  Marijuana, as the most widespread of the illicit drugs, poses the most risk.  (See 10 Marijuana Myths Advocates want you to Believe)

A culture of medication teaches our children to look for easy solutions; it may be influencing the widespread desire to self-medicate with marijuana and other drugs. Psychiatric medications are over-prescribed — anti-depressants, as well as anti-psychotics and ADHD medications.  Whitaker also believes that the use of psychiatric stimulants and anti-depressants increases the risk of getting the bipolar diagnosis.

Does-weed-kill-brain-cells2
The cannabinoid neurotransmitter, anandamide, may be displaced with marijuana use over time, giving users withdrawal symptoms when they quit, including anxiety, depression.

Leafly, a cannabis company in Seattle run Privateer Holdings, solicits users by advertising  88 strains of marijuana to cure bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and ADHD.  This type of advertising should be censored due to the lack of evidence and high risk for psychosis that comes with marijuana.  Any psychiatric treatment demands strict oversight by a qualified medical practitioner, and is often done on a test basis. Medical marijuana “providers” often don’t have to meet standards or qualifications, other than being at least 21 years old.

Prevention over Substituting Addictions

Those who disagree with medical marijuana do not necessarily advocate for the alcohol or pharmaceutical industry.

Some of us notice that people who become addicted to any drug usually began their drug usage with marijuana, which is another reason we wish to prevent youth from using it at all costs.   In fact, when it comes to teens and young adults, addicts almost always begin their drug usage as a marijuana user.   The marijuana industry gives lip service to wanting to keep it from those under age 21, while using the social media and other tactics try to get young people to support them.

Opiate Addiction Solved by Marijuana ????

Recently an article suggested that marijuana can be a tool to beating opiate addiction,  because of a study which opined that states with medical marijuana have fewer opiate overdose deaths. The study shouldn’t be interpreted as proof that medical marijuana brought a drop in opiate use or death.

States with the highest marijuana usage, including use by ages 12-17,  tend to also have the highest opiate pill, cocaine and heroin usage.   Oregon, Colorado and Vermont will need to limit youth marijuana usage, if they truly want to bring down other problems.  To  a certain extent the current heroin problem has arisen because people addicted to the opiate pills have been unable to get the pills.

The logical way to avoid death by opiate overdose is to keep it in the hands of only those who need it, teach responsible use, and avoid over-prescribing.  Not everyone who uses opiate pills needs to get addicted.  Many people use vicodin, percocet and oxycontin only for the limited duration until the pain is gone.   Twisted, illogical thinking is suggesting that we must substitute one addiction with a drug that can also work on the mind and cause psychosis.

If we are to solve the problem of addiction in a lasting way, we need to help children and teens not begin to use.  We emphasize proper usage, not substituting one addiction for another, or “lilypadding” from drug to drug.  Prevention before abuse starts has the BEST chance of success.   (Follow our blog to get Part 3 of The Medical Marijuana Hoax, to be published in December.)

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