My name is Tiffany Barnard Davidson. I moved to Washington DC six weeks ago. Prior to that, I was a resident of the state of Connecticut for 19 years. I sit before you today to speak about the impact that vaping high-nicotine content JUUL pods and high-potency THC oil has had on my family. I would like to begin by expressing my condolences to those families who have been much less fortunate than mine as a result of this escalating vaping crisis. True to what I have learned this past year, stories endlessly more tragic than mine often go untold because families are often too traumatized.
Super Bowl Ad Makes the Message Clear and Relevant
The Kennedy Forum report on mental health and addiction was released to the 115th Congress three weeks ago. In the report Patrick Kennedy clearly indicates that marijuana legalization is detrimental to public health. Parents Opposed to Pot maintains that by preventing the initiation of drug use, the United States could cut its mental health care needs by 30 percent. Marijuana promotion is contributing to our current crisis. The Kennedy Forum published the following in its report to the 115th Congress:
“In the absence of such a campaign, social media and other channels are inundated with dangerous and incorrect information about drugs of initiation, including alcohol and marijuana. A fact-based campaign reiterating the emerging science, and reinforcing other efforts in schools and communities, is imperative.”
“This is especially needed in the current environment which is legitimizing misuse of certain substances, particularly alcohol and marijuana. It is impossible to grapple with substance use and mental health disorders without tackling drugs of initiation, like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Congress should resist efforts to legalize and further legitimize marijuana. Our nation cannot afford to make the same mistakes with marijuana that we made with legal opioids or tobacco in the past. Congress should put a stop to efforts to legitimize marijuana businesses (for example, by strictly regulating the capacity at which banks can have financial dealings with marijuana businesses), lest we inadvertently support and encourage another entity whose profit motivates conflict with the public health interest of preventing substance misuse and addiction.
“We also need increased accountability from the transnational corporations that generate over $200 billion in revenue each year from the sale of beer, wine and liquor in the United States. Alcohol marketing is ubiquitous in our society, seen everywhere from Super Bowl television commercials to 10-second vertical video ads on Snapchat Live stories………..”
Those who have lost loved ones to addiction and psychotic disorders are deeply offended by T-Mobile, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dog. Such joking disguises the real dangers of using pot. In Anatomy of an Epidemic, Robert Whitaker cites three studies indicating that bipolar disorder can be triggered by marijuana use. Many psychiatrists even need re-training in addictive and psychotic disorders due to the popularity and increased potency of today’s marijuana.
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.