Inexplicable to me – public opinion has been supporting normalization and promotion of drug use, legalizing and commercializing recreational use. It is very politically unpopular to stand up against it. I know firsthand.
The common element in all these suicides or self-inflicted deaths was marijuana. Marijuana was the factor, not alcohol or other drugs…………in all cases. (Read Part 1 and Part 2)
Marc Bullard, 23 Colorado
Brant Clark, 17 Colorado
Tron Dohse, 26 Colorado
Luke Goodman, 23 Colorado, traveling from Oklahoma
Daniel Juarez, 18 Colorado
Shane Robinson, 25 California
Rashaan Salaam, 41 Colorado
Levy Thamba, 19 Colorado, traveling from Wyoming
Hamza Warsame, 16 Washington
Andy Zorn, 31 Arizona
Four of these victims — Warsame, Thamba, Juarez, Clark — had experienced pot-induced psychosis during the period leading to their deaths. Juarez was an outstanding soccer player who got very high with a friend the night he stabbed himself 20 times. The suicide report showed he had 38.2 ng of marijuana in his blood, eight times the limit for Colorado drivers. Toxicologists tested him for methamphetamine and other substances, but the results turned out to be negative. Although the death occurred in 2012, CBS News obtained the police report in 2015 and made it public at that time. Juarez´s sister claims he would not have killed himself had he not gotten stoned that night.
Suicidal thoughts can come on very quickly while under the influence in individuals who were not previously suicidal. The suddenness of suicidal ideation means that intervention may be impossible.
Dohse’s death was determined to have been an accident. Unable to find his keys, Dohse climbed up the apartment building and fell. The toxicology report 27.3 ng. of marijuana in his blood, but no other drugs or alcohol in his system. As his sister told CBS, she believes marijuana impairment led her brother to make poor decisions the night of his death. (Read Part 1 for more background on Warsame, Dohse, Juarez and Clark)
The story of Levy Thamba is particularly tragic since he was on a student visa to this country. He came from the Democratic Republic of Congo to study engineering in Wyoming. While visiting Denver with friends, he tried a marijuana edible for the first time. It was a pot-infused cookie, the effects of which don´t appear immediately. About two hours later, he became acutely psychotic, thinking pictures were jumping off the wall. The friends calmed him down before going to sleep, but his psychosis returned. He ran from his room to the sixth floor balcony, jumping to his death.
Thamba’s death is often described along with the death of Kristine Kirk. She called 911 because her husband, Richard Kirk, wanted her to shoot him, after he ate a marijuana candy. By the time, help came, he shot Kristine, mother of their three children, instead.
Bullard, Salaam and Robinson appear to have been suffering from depression as a result of heavy and/or extended pot use. Marc Bullard was “dabbing.” Andy Zorn, a veteran who had been taking medical marijuana, knew he had to quit marijuana to survive. But he couldn’t quit and so took his own life. (Many people begin smoking pot after being told “it’s not addictive.”)
Marijuana Withdrawal is a Risk, Too
Although Shane Robinson had experienced two periods of pot-induced psychosis, he was having marijuana withdrawal syndrome at the time of his death. According to a program of Dr. Drew Pinsky back in 2003, there is “an extraordinarily high incident of suicide in the first six months of marijuana abstinence.”
Most striking about the youths we describe is that they did not begin pot use because of depression. All of these deaths occurred in marijuana-friendly states where the social situation was an influence on their pot use. Lori Robinson, Shane’s mother, warns that educating against drugs and modelling a healthy lifestyle without drug use doesn’t work today. It is no match for current cultural trends and government policy which normalizes pot use.
Most who die in marijuana-related suicides are male, but women and girls are still at risk. One of our supporters attempted suicide in her 20s after years of daily pot use, failed relationships and domestic violence. Her attempt was not successful. Today she is 29 years sober and her survival is a blessing. Not all people will be as lucky. Males are generally more successful in suicide attempts, because their methods are often more efficient.
Pot is the Common Element, not an Underlying Mental Health Issue
These youths banish the claim that mental health problems always come before the marijuana use. (A strong misconception is that mental illness after using pot only affects those with previous mental health issues.) The deaths described here include active psychotic reactions at the time of marijuana use, as well as depression from long-term use.
The lives of these young men need to be a warning to states trying to legalize marijuana. Suicide rates in Colorado have reached all-time highs and each one of Colorado’s 21 health regions had a suicide rate higher than the national average, according to a February report by the Colorado Health Institute.
When the pot industry tells us that “no one ever died from marijuana,” they’re lying. Maybe it is time for the CDC to start tracking marijuana-related deaths.
These 10 deaths are just a few of the many self-inflicted deaths related to marijuana use. Lori Robinson has assembled more stories of marijuana-related deaths and psychosis on the website of Moms Strong. Read these stories on momsstrong.org.
When Hamza Warsame fell six floors to his death in December, 2015, the social media was abuzz with suggestions of a hate crime against the Muslim teen. Warsame, an immigrant from Somalia, was living in Seattle and had been invited to the 21-year-old classmate’s apartment.
However, the news came out that Warsame had smoked marijuana for the first time and had a psychotic reaction. He may have tried to jump to the next building’s roof. It wasn’t legal for a 16- year-old to smoke marijuana. But Washington is a marijuana state, and his 21-year-old classmate had bought it legitimately at a dispensary. (Signs along the highways of Washington warn that it’s illegal to buy or give alcohol to those under age 21. There should be similar warnings for marijuana.)
Less well known are the stories of Brant Clark and Daniel Juarez, featured on a CBS News Report of May, 2015. High potency pot has been the norm in Colorado since the early 2000s. Psychosis and hallucinations occur quite frequently. These teens became psychotic and killed themselves — before Coloradans voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
Tron Dohse was a young adult featured in the same evening news report that reported about Clark and Juarez. He overdosed on marijuana and fell to his death while trying to climb a building.
As one Colorado resident said, “If residents had known the horror story of why Daniel Juarez death in 2012, they never would have voted to legalize.” (Juarez’s photo is on top of the page.)
More Recent Suicides
More recently, there were the marijuana-related suicides Marc Bullard and Rashaan Salaam in Colorado. (These are the stories that made the news, so we don’t mention recent suicides from pot not in the news.) Salaam was 41, a former Heisman Trophy winner. He had a promising football career until 1999, when he lost his energy and began spending time smoking pot. He never got his life back and when he died there was 55 ng. of THC in his blood.
Like Salaam, Marc Bullard was living in Colorado at the time of his death. The Texas native had been a high school valedictorian, a successful college student and had landed a dream job. However, he had moved to Colorado and was doing dabs. In his journal, he recorded the downward spiral of depression and his inability to stop doing marijuana dabs. He was 23.
A landmark study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, September, 2014, tracked teenage marijuana use in Australia and New Zealand. The subjects were tested for a variety of outcomes by age 30. The evidence showed that consistent early use below age 18 is connected to 7x the risk of attempted suicide before age 30.
On Veteran’s Day we honor Andy Zorn who died in March 2014, age 31. His mother Sally Schindel wrote this statement about his killer.
Andy Zorn’s mission was to make friends and families laugh. He was the class clown. He made parties come alive. As he grew older, he helped friends through tough times. He served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.
His bright future, however, masked a dark secret. Marijuana abuse took him down a spiral suicide help lines, hospitalizations in five mental health hospitals and two stints of court-ordered mental health treatment. He told his mother, father and social worker he had to quit using marijuana if he is to live, but he just couldn’t do it.
And then, at the age of 31, my son hanged himself from a tree in Peoria, Arizona. His suicide note the cause of his death. “I want to die. My soul is dead. Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain.”
As I came to terms with Andy’s death and the note he left, I was confused. I’d always believe marijuana wasn’t addictive. My research since has revealed I was far from the truth. Marijuana is highly addictive. Almost one in three users of marijuana exhibit symptoms of substance use disorder. I learned later that my son had been diagnosed with severe cannabis use disorder.
Andy’s wallet contained his medical marijuana card and a dispensary loyalty card, indicating his numerous purchases and progress toward earning a free eighth of an ounce. So I visited the manager at the store he frequented. I wanted her to know my son’s story so she could prevent another death by recognizing someone in trouble with addiction. I asked her to watch for any healthy young person buying the limit of 2-1/2 ounces every 15 days, which could be a sign of dependence.
She told me marijuana is not addictive. “Marijuana has never been related to a death,” she insisted. I asked her to look at my sons suicide note. I asked her to look at his death certificate, one no parents want to see listing suicide as the cause of death. I offered her copies to share with her patients to help prevent another death.
She declined and asked me if there was another explanation for my son’s death, another drug in the coroner’s report. No there were no other drugs. She pointed out the décor in the dispensary: giant copies of checks to local non-profits, including a children’s hospital. I suggested she consider donating to organizations that educate youth to prevent drug and alcohol use at the early ages susceptible to substance use disorders. She said that wasban interesting idea.
I took note of other décor in the dispensary. A sign in the receptionist’s window promoted products with 90 percent THC, the psychoactive element of pot. In the 1970s, THC content was in the low single digits.
Then I left because I know a business is unlikely to help prevent use of its product by people who will be its best customer in the future. I left because I am sickened by an industry that refuses to acknowledge the known risks of its products. I left because this woman made it clear she will continue to sell her product without feeling responsible for customers exhibiting signs of abuse.
I left because my desire to save a life like my son’s is wasted on anyone in this industry. Marijuana is much like the tobacco industry of the past, which refused to acknowledge known risks in its product.
Editor’s note – Since the tobacco industry is required to post health warnings, the marijuana industry should be required to use warning labels, also. A long-term study of from Yale showed that marijuana makes PTSD worse, and no health organization validates marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.