Tag Archives: PTSD

Part 1: Tragic Tale of Two Families Named Kirk

Men killed wives after using marijuana “medically”

Shane Kirk, veteran from Oklahoma, served three tours of duty.  Suffering from PTSD, he was trying to replace his anti-depressant with marijuana,  On November 29, 2017, Shane Kirk shot his wife and stepfather, according to his mother.

For those who follow the marijuana issue, this story strikes a familiar chord.  Another man named Kirk, Richard Kirk, shot his wife after eating marijuana candy. The tragic situation unfolded in 2014, a few months after Colorado’s dispensaries opened.

Each man had three sons, and each man killed his wife in front of the children.  Richard Kirk was from Colorado.  Shane Kirk was from Oklahoma, but recently returned from Colorado.  There’s no evidence the men were related. Continue reading Part 1: Tragic Tale of Two Families Named Kirk

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Libby Stuyt at Oregon Mental Health and Law Conference

(An advisor to Parents Opposed to Pot, Dr. Libby Stuyt, an addictions psychiatrist in Colorado, spoke at the Oregon Mental Health and the Law Conference in Portland.  The Mental Health Association of Portland published a blog about it on August 13.) Here it is:

Libby Stuyt, MD spoke at the Oregon Health Forum with Drs. Esther Choo of OHSU and Katrina Hedberg who is the State Epidemiologist and State Health Officer at the Oregon Public Health Division, and at the Oregon Law & Mental Health Conference in June 2017 on the unintended consequences of marijuana legalization. Continue reading Libby Stuyt at Oregon Mental Health and Law Conference

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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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Our Growing Problem of Traumatized Children

Photos of passed out parents with toddlers have surfaced everywhere — the images of our addiction epidemic.  (Above photo is from the East Liverpool, Ohio, Police Department.) Though it’s often heroin, fentanyl or opiates that kill, most of the young people dying today began their illicit drug use with pot.  (Read Part 1,   Part 2 and Part 3. )  We have created a new generation of traumatized children.

“All of the parents I know who use marijuana are terrible parents,” a  fan of poppot.org’s, who is in her 20s, wrote to us recently.  Many newspapers have written about the children of the opioid crisis, but pot-using parents also contribute to the crisis.  We’ve tracked 80 child deaths related to caregivers’ marijuana use since November, 2012.

When those who were traumatized children put their own children in abusive situations, it’s easy to understand their failings.  Selena Hitt’s boyfriend accidentally shot her baby, after both of them had smoked pot. Selena had been raised in foster care.  Her mother died when she was very young, and most of the time her father was not available to care for her.

Policy More than other Factors Creates Problem of Drug Use

However, there’s a group of non-traumatized adults abusing their children because the United States has normalized the use of marijuana.  Because marijuana users can be detached from life and are susceptible to psychosis, it’s important not to use pot if you have children.

Up to eighty percent of child abuse and neglect involves substance abuse, a fact that violence prevention groups  often ignore.*  The denial is helpful to the strategy of making drug use socially acceptable.  NORML, Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Alliance wish to normalize drug use.

The same groups that promote legalization suggest that harm reduction strategies work.  Policy based on harm reduction promotes “responsible use” of drugs, which doesn’t work.  Recently, a five-year-old drowned, because her babysitter used pot at 8:30 a.m. and stopped watching her.

The Widespread Problem of Traumatized Children

One of our Parents Opposed to Pot members in Colorado has a 13-year-old son who suffers from PTSD.   His older brother threatened and terrified him while in a marijuana-induced psychosis.   (The older son, now 17, is in recovery, while the younger son is being treated with EMDR for PTSD. )

Genetic and environmental factors that influence drug use are compounded by a society that normalizes drug use.    Our blog on suicides tells of teens and young adults who lived in environments that normalized marijuana use.  For the most part, they did not use marijuana because of trauma, although one was a veteran.

Many parents of these suffering children use drugs only because it’s social and considered harmless. Michael Goldsby, addictions instructor at College of the Redwoods said, “Risk factors for drug problems include availability of drugs, positive peer attitudes towards drug use [and] community norms that accept drug misuse. Drug and alcohol use is accepted and even encouraged in our community”  Goldsby teaches college in the Emerald Triangle region.

Drug-Related Deaths far Outnumber Deaths by Cars or Guns

The Center for Disease Control recently released statistics about accidental deaths:

52,404 drug-related deaths, up 11%.

37,757 died in car crashes, an increase of 12%.

36,252  gun deaths, including homicides and suicides

As we try to cope with a growing number of children affected by ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), the United States is embarking on a program to legalize all drugs.  Little children are losing their parents at an alarming rate, adding to the trauma and ACE scores of the future.

Instead of protecting the people, politicians are allowing marijuana lobbyists to dictate policy.  (Billionaires, marijuana companies and pro-legalization groups donated more than $30 million to legalize marijuana in California.)   Professionals need to counter the media bias and bias in polls which favors drug legalization.

Taking away children from drug-using mothers is not the answer, because separation from the moms also creates traumatized children. Child protection workers are in a Catch 22 situation. Techniques described in Part 2 can perhaps help the children traumatized by parents’ drug use.

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*Our information is mainly from CASA Columbia.  A good current reference Ed Gogek’s book, Marijuana Debunked.  Several studies are mentioned in our six-part series on child abuse deaths related to pot.   Parents Opposed to Pot has tried to share stories with Futures Without Violence, but they banned us from posting on their Facebook page.

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