(Read part 1) This is how two friends changed forever. I was 19, with spotty employment, working low level part-time jobs. Sometimes I was “involuntarily terminated” from jobs because of poor attendance or petty theft. I did not understand at the time the awful effects that near daily use of marijuana was exerting on me. I had become a different person.
Eleven years ago the ONDCP and SAMHSA held a press conference to inform of research that confirms what many families already knew–that marijuana use was a trigger for psychosis and mental illness.
The ONDCP is the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Each agency has a crucial role in trying to ascertain usage and reduce demand for drugs.
At this same Press Conference, a couple who had lost their 15-year-old son to suicide due to the mental health problems arising from marijuana use, spoke. The Press covered the story, but did not use their considerable investigative skills to probe into what those parents and Dr. McKenagey were describing. It is true that about one quarter of American high school students are depressed, which points to multiple problems of American culture, not just drugs. However, knowing how vulnerable teens are, and then not exposing the factors that could make their outcomes worse, is lamentable.
In addition to depression, anxiety and suicide, there are the risks of psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that arise from marijuana use. Pot proponents love to state that anyone who has a psychotic reaction to pot already had the problem before they used it. They tend to blame family members for not wanting to admit mental health problems, and argue that pot is used as a scapegoat.
Several studies have shown a link between marijuana and schizophrenia. Explains pharmacologist Christine Miller, Ph.D: “No one is destined to develop schizophrenia. With identical twins, one can develop the disease and the other one will do so only 50% of the time, illustrating the importance of environmental factors in the expression of the disease. Marijuana is one of those environmental factors and it is one we can do something about.”
A Missed Opportunity
One person who worked in the office of ONDCP Director John Walters told Parents Opposed to Pot, “They accused us of being pot-crazy during a time when there was a methamphetamine crisis going on. Marijuana is almost always the first drug introduced to young people and the evidence for the mental health risks were very strong by 2005. Although pot was getting stronger as it is today, the warning was falling on deaf ears. Members of Congress wanted us to focus on the meth crisis, but marijuana was a growing issue and we had a myriad of issues.”
This Public Service Announcement reached audiences in the Press, and some newspapers and magazines reported about it. Since the Internet and search engines were not as they are today, few parents, children, schools and mental health professionals took notice. (Did the marijuana lobbying groups bully and try squelch the information?)
Lori Robinson, whose son suffered the mental health consequences of marijuana said: “I will always deeply regret Shane not hearing this PSA . Shane was a smart, gregarious and fun-loving young man who naively began using pot never knowing he was playing Russian roulette with his brain in ’05-’06 at the age of 19. Dr McKeganey so clearly stated that the public views marijuana as harmless, not realizing the potency of THC was rising while the “antipsychotic” property of CBD was being bred out. Sadly, despite both parents never used an illegal drug in our lives, our son assumed that since a few of his friend had smoked in high school, it was just a “harmless herb.” Shane’s story is on the Moms Strong website.
Robinson added, “This video is absolutely current TODAY. Let’s keep this video circulating & it WILL save young brains & families the destruction that lies ahead when marijuana hijacks your kid’s brain.
Lives could have been saved, and so many cases of depression, psychotic breakdowns and crimes could have been prevented – if the public had become more aware back in 2005. Congress, the Press and most of all, the American psychiatric community was wrong to ignore the warnings that were issued with this PSA.
Let’s not continue to ignore the evidence. Today in the US, mental health is worse than it’s ever been, and the promotion of drug usage may be a huge factor in this problem. Harm reduction in preference to primary prevention strategies is practiced in many jurisdictions. Drug overdose deaths have overtaken gun violence deaths and traffic fatalities in the USA — by far — under this strategy.
Specialists in Washington and London Explain Links to Pot and Psychosis
More doctors and other specialists are going public to speak about the dangers of psychosis related to marijuana. An article published in My Northwest recently needs to be taken seriously. Paul Hunziker, a licensed chemical dependency specialist in Renton, Washington explained that researchers have known for years marijuana can lead to everything from paranoia to depression, but the problem is expanding significantly. Duane Stone, a mental health specialist in Seattle, said: “I get lots of first break kind where this person doesn’t have an experience with mental illness, they don’t have a diagnosis, they’re 30 or 40-years-old. And the only thing they’ve been doing has been smoking marijuana for the last year or two.” He goes onto say, “It’s a daily kind of thing.”
In Olympia, Washington, Providence St. Peter Hospital attributes this increase in psychosis to the practice of “dabbing.” “That sudden blast of cannabis can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations or delusions — often a few days or even weeks after consumption,” according to those seeking medical treatment, reports TJ LaRoque. In Washington, marijuana was legalized in December, 2012, and marijuana stores opened in July, 2014.
Medications Don’t Work Well for Psychosis with Cannabis Users
Marijuana users need to know that if they end up in psychiatric hospitals, their chances of recovery are less than those who don’t use marijuana. First of all the marijuana users are more likely to have a relapse after the first episode of psychosis. Furthermore, anti-psychotic medications are less likely to be effective for the cannabis users. A new study out of Great Britain highlights these difficulties.
Psychosis plus pot is a bad mix. Rashmi Patel, lead researcher from the Department of Psychosis Studies at King’s College, London said: “We’re not entirely sure why that is, but it’s possible for whatever reason cannabis use makes it less likely that anti-psychotic treatment will work as well in people with psychotic disorders.” (It should be noted that antipsychotics are known to be ineffective in most cases of drug-induced psychosis including LSD, PCP, meth, etc.)
This finding is important since the marijuana industry wants to use marijuana to treat psychiatric problems. Marijuana makes the course of psychiatric illness worse. The finding is relevant since there has been an increased number of hospital admissions for psychosis and other mental health admissions in localities that have legalized marijuana.
Providence St. Peter Hospital reports there are one or two new psychosis emergency admissions each day. The standard treatment for marijuana induced psychosis is the anti-psychotic medication risperdone. Anti-psychotics are like band-aids; for long-term results, substance abuse or addiction treatment may be necessary. Unfortunately our current health care system treats acute symptoms rather than root causes. Unless the patients are rigid about staying off of marijuana, the problem may return. We hope this new information can bring about better treatment for marijuana-related mental health problems.
States considering medical marijuana or any form of legalization need to know about the increase of mental health care needs and be ready to pay for it. A psychosis from marijuana is not necessary a death sentence, as Vice recently reported the story of Devan Fuentes, who had a marvelous recovery.
The observations of doctors in the state of Washington are substantiated by numerous studies.