Tag Archives: mental health

Marijuana killed my son David in only a couple of years

Our son’s story is a warning to other parents

Our son was happy and healthy before he started using marijuana at age 14.  A friend introduced him to marijuana during a time when our family was supporting my wife in her fight against breast cancer.  We noticed David changing rapidly, but attributed the change to   puberty. 

After being kicked out of the private school he had attended for many years, he became a heavy user and seemed to lose motivation for school and for life. He graduated from high school at the bottom of his class and started work as a plumber’s assistant. With his paychecks, he would buy more weed.

As his use became even heavier, he became increasingly removed from our family. He spoke of seeing aliens. By last Thanksgiving he appeared catatonic. The next day he stabbed his right palm with his pocket knife. He was hospitalized in a local mental health facility and diagnosed with depression and psychosis, and only tested positive for marijuana. 

After a 6-day inpatient stay, David was discharged with no discharge planning. Notes from the facility reveal that David filled out a questionnaire on the day of discharge expressing that he “often” felt panic or terror and that he had made plans to end his life. This was not made known to the family, and he was discharged anyway.  

After discharge he started an outpatient program. On the fourth day he smoked cannabis in the woods behind our house. Then he came inside, got a gun from the safe and shot himself.

Marijuana kills! It killed my son. We will never escape David’s loss, but we hope that by telling his story we can help other parents and children understand that marijuana is far from harmless.   (We published a testimony by David’s sibling who described the effects of his death on the family.)

We have other articles that explain how the mental health system often fails in treatments for marijuana addiction, part 1.  Mental health care fails at addiction treatment, part 2

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Talent Riddled with Tragedy: Suicide, Mental Health and Drugs

Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. You know their names and you know the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their untimely passing. Bourdain, 61, and Spade, 55, took their lives in suicides by hanging. Their deaths marked an immediate response from mental health advocates while pushing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety to the forefront of the news cycle.

Prior to their deaths the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control), Vital Signs report found that suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age ten or older died by suicide. Even more alarming, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death and is one of three leading causes that are on the rise. But what does this mean for states where drug use runs rampant? Colorado saw a 34.1 percent increase in suicides while Washington and Oregon saw increases by 18.8 percent and 28.2 percent. Take into consideration that these states have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal use and it’s clear that mind-altering drugs can aggravate those with and without mental health conditions.

suicide

Bourdain was a long time pot smoker and made countless marijuana jokes, often alluding to smoking weed in the restaurants he visited. The “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” Twitter account once tweeted an elaborate illustration detailing “how to roll a joint.”

Did copious amounts of THC play a part in Bourdain’s death? At this point we don’t know for sure, but we do know that his weed addiction began in his younger years right before the publication of his best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential,” in 2000. “Weed was a major expense. Before I reached the point where weed made me paranoid and agoraphobic, it was costing me a few hundred dollars a week,” the chef recalled. Fast forward to becoming a successful star, and Bourdain was using cocaine to offset the effects of weed. It’s important to note that cannabis is playing a role in many suicides by causing mental health disorders, including depression and psychosis. One has to wonder if a cocktail of drugs played a part in his untimely death.

Kate Spade suffered from mental illnesses for several years. She was seeking help during the last five years, “seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety,” widower Andy Spade said in a statement. It’s worth nothing that we don’t know if any drug use triggered her problems. The CDC’s Vital Signs report found many factors contributing to the various suicide cases across the country. It’s eye-opening that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

What a shame it is that thousands of Americans are advocating to legalize a drug with the potential to severely damage the brain? There’s absolutely no sense in burdening our country with a mental health crisis.

Cannabis is know to cause mood disorders, and mood disorders are a leading cause of suicide.

MomsStrong.org is  a website started by two parents who lost their sons to marijuana-related suicide. Read Shane’s story, and Andy’s story. PopPot.org is also sounding the alarm about the cannabis-suicide risk. See our many articles on suicide related to cannabis use.

To learn more about the CDC report and the rising suicide rate across the United States click here: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html

 

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Canadians: Learn the Truth About Marijuana Dangers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana by summer 2018.  While marijuana has been directly linked to multiple suicides across the United States, the Canadian government refuses to recognize pot as anything but a harmless drug.  In response to Trudeau’s legalization plans, Health Canada has unveiled a marijuana consumer fact sheet, warning Canadians about the adverse effects of marijuana use.  With legalization on the horizon ClearTheAirNow.org partnered with RIWI to survey over 1,100 Canadians from May 2 to May 12 and gauge their awareness of marijuana’s dangerous health effects, as previously reported by Health Canada. Continue reading Canadians: Learn the Truth About Marijuana Dangers

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Legal Marijuana Imperils Traffic Safety, Adds Mental Health Burden

By Dean Whitlock, a freelance writer from Thetford, Vermont, writes about safety as it relates to marijuana.  The article appeared in Vermont Digger on May 2, 2017.

The discussions of H.170, which would legalize possession and home-growing of small quantities of marijuana, have focused a lot on the danger to teenagers, which is appropriate since adolescents are in a stage of neural development that makes them much more likely to become addicted, develop mental health conditions, and suffer decreases in cognitive processing and memory retention. The problem with this focus is that people over 21, particularly up to the age of 25 or 26, are still susceptible to all of these effects, just at a lower level of risk.

That point aside, the area where every age runs the same risk is on the highway. Again, teens and young adults are more at risk because they tend to take more risks in the first place. They are also less experienced with driving and with the use of alcohol and drugs. But adults do make the same stupid mistake of driving under the influence.

According to the best data we have available, drinking alcohol before driving increases the risk of accident five-fold at the still-legal .08 blood level. Driving under the influence of marijuana doubles your risk. That being the case, we would expect to find considerably more people dying on the roads because of alcohol then because of marijuana. The data on traffic accident fatalities that we have from the Vermont Department of Safety tell a somewhat different story:

This data is based on blood tests that measure active THC, so we can be reasonably sure that the drivers had used marijuana recently enough to still be DUI.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Imperils Safety

Note the small difference between the number of deaths due to alcohol and the number due to marijuana. The most likely reason for this is that many marijuana users think it’s OK to drive after using. For teenagers, we have clear evidence for that from our Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Here’s the 2015 data:

Reports from both Colorado and Washington indicate that the same must be happening there. While accidents and fatalities involving drunk drivers went down in recent years, the numbers involving marijuana went up.

Why is this happening? Because we are not teaching people – young or old – that marijuana impairs your ability to drive. At a well-attended forum on marijuana effects held in Burlington last month, one attendee stood up and insisted that marijuana helps people drive more carefully, and this message pervades the popular websites that cater to people interested in learning more about marijuana from sources “untainted” by officials like police officers and scientists.

It’s important to note that the traffic fatality data shown above only includes deaths in accidents. It does not include the five Harwood teenagers killed on I-89 last October. The driver of the car that hit theirs, Steve Bourgoin (36, hardly a teen), has been charged with second-degree murder, so their deaths are not considered to be due to a traffic accident.

Addiction is Not a Crime

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction.

When Bourgoin’s blood toxicology report was completed, authorities withheld the contents pending trial; however, Vermont investigative reporter Mike Donoghue, writing for Vermont News First, quoted several sources in saying that there was active THC in Bourgoin’s blood at the time of the accident. Since then, Vermont Rep. Ben Joseph, D-Grand Isle-Chittenden, a retired judge, has reported being told the same thing by contacts of his in the state legal apparatus.

As reported on VTDigger, Bourgoin told friends that he suffered from anxiety and PTSD due to childhood trauma, and his former girlfriend told detectives that he self-treated with marijuana for “mood spells.” Court documents quote her saying, “It was always very evident when he was out [of marijuana], as he would be more angry and violent during those times.”

Anger is one of marijuana’s withdrawal symptoms, and it is a more addictive drug than most people think. A review of several studies of treatment methods for marijuana addiction found that one-year abstinence rates for adults, even under the most effective treatments, ranged only from 19 to 29 percent.

In a 20-year study involving more than 2000 U.S. war veterans being treated for PTSD, the vets who used medical marijuana along with the standard therapy reported more violent behaviors and worse outcomes after treatment than vets who didn’t use marijuana. The heaviest users showed the strongest effects. Another study found that marijuana use resulted in increased suicidal ideation among marijuana users.

Marijuana and Mental Health Problems

There are other correlations between marijuana and serious mental health problems. Since 2002, a series of studies in Europe have reported that individuals who use cannabis have a greater risk of developing psychotic symptoms. Not only does marijuana bring on symptoms earlier and make them worse, it is a causative factor.

A Finnish study published this past November compared sets of twins where one used marijuana heavily and the other did not. Heavy use increased the risk of developing psychosis by a factor of 3.5. Again, the data indicated that, in many cases, marijuana abuse caused the psychosis, not the other way around. The newly released report on marijuana from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences agrees with these findings.

Addiction is not a crime, it is a mental health issue, and the behavior of users who suffer acute or chronic psychotic episodes goes far beyond the usual definition of addiction. These sufferers needs effective treatment far more than jail time. And these new research findings, combined with Vermont’s recent traffic fatality data, highlight the fact that marijuana is not harmless. Legalizing recreational marijuana in Vermont would not be a simple matter.

Vermont has already decriminalized marijuana use. What we haven’t done is provide a mental health system that can deal with the thousands of cases of addiction, psychosis, and other mental illnesses that we already have in our state, nor have we done nearly enough to educate Vermonters about marijuana’s harms, in order to prevent tragedies from happening.

Legalizing marijuana – whether like alcohol or tobacco – will only make our mental health burden worse, while it makes our highways far less safe.

A former supporter of legalization, Whitlock is now opposed. He is a member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT)

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