Mental Illness and Smoking Marijuana – The Connection is Real
I am the mother of 2 sons. My eldest is 30 now and has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for about 7 years. He has been in trouble with the law several times, as a result of this he can’t drive. He lives at home, but makes it his purpose to blame us for everything wrong in his life even though all we have done is given him many opportunities to change.
All he wants to do is to smoke pot all day. He says it helps, but we watch him and we know it doesn’t help at all.
I am realizing every day that he is manipulating us. He acts so crazy, by walking in circles, opening and closing the door 50 times a day.
My husband and I feel alone. We feel we are at the end of our rope. In his mind, we are part of a conspiracy. When I ask him why we would try to hurt him, he doesn’t know what to say. It only makes us have the responsibility to care for him and burden ourselves into not getting on with our own lives.
Last time he was in the hospital they sent him home after 2 days. He was the same or worse than when he went into the hospital. This is the health system that destroys lives to save money. God help all the parents that are experiencing mental illness in their homes with no hope.
Please seek consultation with a psychiatrist who is certified for addictions treatment. Please check out the sources found on the American Society of Addiction Medicine website. If he ever used marijuana before showing signs of mental illness, it is possible that his primary problem is marijuana addiction. If not, his marijuana use is compounding the problem and making it impossible for him to be helped. Our hearts go out to you and any parents suffering this problem or the problems of addiction.
We’re facing a national tragedy of mental health misdiagnoses because American psychiatry is failing to treat root causes. Too often young people with mental health symptoms are lumped into categories and given potent anti-depressants, benzodiazapines and/or neuroleptics, while the doctors or mental health treatment centers ignore symptoms of marijuana addiction and fail to treat the addiction. In some cases, a psychotic episode is treated as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia rather than drug-induced psychosis.*
Everyone young and old gravitated to my son….always. For a young man who was such a happy-go-lucky personality, so charismatic, death came shockingly, seven months after the second psychiatric hospital in Pasadena had dumped him. After 34 months, just recently I finished making Ryan’s marker so his ashes can be placed in the urn soon. I just couldn’t do it before now.
Despite coming out of a second “episode” of psychosis, some of Ryan’s friends pulled away. He lost his job as a Certified Residential Electrician and his wife didn’t return. Thankfully Ryan never showed violence towards any of us. It’s not to say there weren’t scary times during his two “episodes” that lasted about 10 weeks .
With the blessings from two psychologists working with our family, Ryan moved to our family cabin, near Yosemite, after staying with us for three months. The place that had been special to him from childhood. He begged us to let him move there “to start anew,” after all the adversity had hit him. Ryan brought his beloved dog and had access to our ski boat which he loved. He learned to kayak there:-)
The Cabin in Yosemite
We stipulated that he must join AA, have healthy habits and stay in touch with the psychologist. My husband drove up 5 hours each way almost every weekend, so Ryan wouldn’t be alone. We were with Ryan on New Year’s weekend, 2011, as I did not want him to be alone on his first New Years without his wife and all their friends. We played 2 1/2 hours of Ford Monopoly by flashlight in our cabin when the electricity went out. It was like old times, when the boys were little and we played board games each summer at our cabin. When the lights went on just after midnight, New Year’s (2012) my husband took a picture of me and Ryan playing this game. His cute smile had returned! We left on New Year’s Day with Ryan waving to us. I told my husband what a great year, 2012, was going to be. Our son was back, and we were so blessed.
Ed was not able to drive to the cabin that first weekend in January. I asked Ryan to drive home that weekend since I didn’t want him alone for so many days. He said “no.” Since we had just seen him, I wasn’t overly concerned. Ryan had been living there since August. But on Friday, January 13, 2012, I had the most horrific feeling about 10:00 a.m. — a feeling I’ve never had in my life before. Ryan had known his father was coming for a visit that night. I tried calling him, but no response. I texted and called again, still no response. Ryan would always return my calls or text me, “I am here in AA- will call when my meeting is over.”
I left work and told my husband I’d drive up ahead, but he joined me on route. It was a long 5 hours to get there, but every hour our son did not call I knew. Ryan left a note to “DAD”on the outside of the cabin. The lights were off as we entered the cabin. Ed was reading the “good-bye note” when I ran downstairs to find my boy. Nothing in life can prepare a parent for finding their own child’s body. The consequences of suicide are not just that one person is dead; it’s a tragedy of epic proportions for the people left behind.
Our family prides itself having long lifespans. My parents are thriving in their late 80s; Ed’s parents lived into their 80s, but my father-in-law was facing a terminal health condition in 1999 and tragically took his life. We have such longevity in the family, so Ryan’s youthful suicide just doesn’t make sense. I will always believe marijuana started his life unraveling. His first episode was in Oct ’09 and his second episode was May ’11. There was a total of 27 months from start until his unfathomable death at age 25 years old.
The toxicology report was negative (-) for THC upon his death. He had stayed away from marijuana for seven months, as he told us. Ryan never touched any substance again, and stayed in AA, as he told us. There were NO signs of psychosis again. I’ve read that the highest point of suicide risk for cannabis cessation is 6 months from cessation. Ryan was 7 months from cessation when he died.
The Role of Pot in Replacing Anandamide
Brain anatomy is altered by marijuana use and cessation of use. No way my son would have taken his life without the chemical alteration to his brain.
Marijuana and any drug usage skews brain chemistry and messes with the neurotransmitters (substances that allow various functions between the brain and body turned on and off). Anandamide is the endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter. Over time with marijuana use, THC displaces anandamide, and the body may not start producing it again for weeks to many months after quitting marijuana. Irritability, anxiety, depression, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia and and suicide are symptoms of marijuana withdrawal.
Other neurotransmitters could be involved, too, and I hope experts in time come to explain why young people who use marijuana are so much likely to commit suicide. The chemical imbalance Ryan had acquired was compounded by losing his job, his wife and friends. Had he not stayed isolated and supported himself with exercise and massage therapy, as he did before moving to the cabin, would he have gotten past whatever feelings he wrestled with at the end?
Were we wrong to not want him on an anti-depressant, after the anti-psychotics has such horrible effects? Ryan was too phobic of taking any medication again after the massive drugging he received twice during each hospitalization.
I absolutely believe knowing what I know now but didn’t then, I could have saved my son. For every person informed of the knowledge that marijuana can cause psychosis, I will consider Ryan’s life not taken in vain. Ryan’s good-bye note indicates he realized the consequences of using pot.
Sadly, anyone in the throes of a severe emotional crisis, like psychosis, is considered mentally ill, versus someone in the throes of a heroin crisis who is physiologically ill and needs addiction drug rehab. Psych hospitals and psychiatrists need to acknowledge to patients and families that psychosis is often temporary, while addiction programs need to warn/educate about psychosis that comes with substance abuse.
I hold today’s “skunk” cannabis responsible for what it did to Ryan’s mind, but I hold the mental health industry responsible for their ignorance and callous lack of regard for human beings who come into their system.
I’m moving to make peace that Ryan (Shane) lived life to his fullest for the short time he was with us (minus the two episodes). That’s how I’m trying to direct my thinking while trying to spare other families this kind of epic tragedy. (In Part 5, and in the Postscript, the author explains how she has armed others with the knowledge to prevent more cannabis casualties.)
(Here’s the first of a 5-part series. Names are changed, but details are true. Permission required for reprinting) No family should lose a child because of this ubiquitous falsehood that pot is benign. It’s not a level playing field for us, because of the marijuana financiers and the pot “evangelists” who try to silence us.
I’m no longer intimidated by anyone who dares to tell me marijuana is a “soft” drug. Kids today comment that it’s not even a “drug.” Recently a pot user told my younger son, “Your brother must have had a weak brain if pot made him go crazy.” When talking of drug policy, we need to consider that this drug has irreversible, insidious mental health challenges and changes for some young people.
On a single night our first-born son went from his normal self — a gregarious, accomplished young man with a healthy mind, so loved by friends and family—to someone me and my husband of 30 years couldn’t comprehend. Ryan had just turned 23, and had been married for two months. I blame the strong strains of marijuana around in 2009 and 2011 when he suffered two psychotic ”episodes,” 18 months apart. He tested positive for THC – the part which produces the high of marijuana — on his toxicology reports.
“That young man in there is an alien. Please find my Ryan, the real Ryan, not that imposter,” I told the psych hospital we finally got our son to, early in the morning. I have worked in health care for more than 30 years, but to see my own flesh and blood sounding and thinking like someone whose brain is unraveling, is way too much pain. The consequences for a young man whose mind spins out of orbit only gets worse inside locked walls of a hospital.
Truly, someone should be following a young person in his/her first episode of psychosis. I swear it would scare some kids into never touching weed again. Despite me, his mom, waving the science research about the “cannabis-psychosis” link to the staff at the locked psych unit, they denied the association. Heavy doses of psychiatric drugs were administered to my bright star–a 6’4″ handsome kid.
The First Episode: a Long Night
“I know you don’t think I use drugs but I’ve been using marijuana but it’s harmless, just an herb,” Ryan said to me and his dad from the back of our car, as he was losing reality. Ed and I were so frightened, so overwhelmed, so helpless and clueless about how and where to get help.
To backtrack, the police took our son to another hospital in the middle of the night, as his bride called 911 and was so frightened at his strange, bizarre behavior. But my son was a law-abiding citizen, had never been in trouble with the law and went peacefully with the police. The police took him to a central processing center in Ventura, CA, only to find there were no psychiatric doctors on duty. The young psych technician didn’t feel he was a danger to self or others and so was calling a taxi when we, Ryan’s parents, appeared in the middle of the night to find our son.
Ryan agreed to go with us, but he was hallucinating and tried to jump out of our car as we traveled on the 101 freeway at 2:00 a.m. Our son kept asking us if we saw the same bombed out buildings (in the middle of the night). He said that he had to save Obama. I swear it was like my son was having a nervous breakdown, a more accurate description than the psychiatric label he was assigned once we found a psychiatric hospital several hours later to “help” our son. We hadn’t even had our son two minutes inside the door when this woman already had diagnosed our son with a severe mental illness. She didn’t know a thing about him or our family lineage, which has no history of any severe mental illness.
I assumed she was just an obnoxious hospital aide, but sadly this locked psychiatric unit was close to the old movie, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ryan was instantly labeled, warehoused with massive anti-psychotics (powerful drugs, supposedly to clear up disordered thinking) for 10 days. He got so much worse the longer he was kept locked away. The side effects of the drugs included muscle rigidity, drooling and slurred speech with a cotton mouth.
My son had his “band of brothers,” the five groomsmen who stood beside him just two months earlier. They came to visit along with countless friends and family. The toughest one of them, walked outside after seeing Ryan, kicked a trash can with such force that it flew in the air, and broke down crying.