A mom whose 19-yr-old died by suicide has a vital message for parents about marijuana today

Laura Stack's son Johnny lost his life to suicide three months ago when he was just 19 years old. Though she says the grief of his death is "still fresh," Stack took to Facebook to share something that happened three days before Johnny died, hoping it will help other parents whose kids may be at risk.



She wrote:

"On Sunday, November 17, 2019 around 5:30 PM, he came over for dinner. He lived in our condo a couple miles down the street and would often pop in for a home-cooked meal. This evening, he was a bit agitated but lucid. 'I need to tell you that you were right,' he told me. 'Right about what?' I asked. 'Right about the marijuana and the drugs. You told me weed and drugs would hurt my brain, and it's ruined my mind and my life. You were right all along. I'm sorry, and I love you.' He died by suicide three days later."

Stack explained that Johnny had "dabbed" since he was 15 or 16. "Do you understand the difference between smoking pot (and some edibles) and dabbing high-THC wax, shatter, or butter?" she asked. "Most of my friends look at me blankly when I say these words and say, 'I've never even heard about this.' If you don't know what cannabis extracts are, and you have children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews between the ages of 14 and 24, PLEASE keep reading."

"I am NOT talking about those of you who are supporters of legal recreational marijuana for adults over 21 years old—it's your life—do what you want," Stack clarified. "I know some people who take it successfully for specific medical purposes, so please don't write comments in my post about my personal experience. I'm specifically talking about illegal usage by children and young adults under 21, whose adolescent brains are still forming. You may be thinking, 'C'mon, Laura, it's no big deal – it's just pot.' 'Pot's legal, so it must be safe.' Or 'I did pot when I was a kid, too, and look, it didn't hurt me.'

Well, have you recently studied TODAY'S pot, and have you personally seen its effects on your children like I have?"

Stack explained why today's recreational cannabis is so different:

"First, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis that gives the 'high,' is extracted out of the cannabis so that it's nearly pure. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Then a butane torch is used to heat the crystals (similar to beeswax) or oil in a 'rig' (just google it), or a vaping device with a heating element called a dab pen can be used. Forget the 'grass' or 'papers' that were rolled in the 70s and 80s. The pot we grew up with (10% or less THC content) is HUGELY different than today's high-concentrate extracts (often 80% THC content or higher)."

She also explained why young people tend to be affected more by these high THC concentrations, and that the earlier they start the more likely it is that they'll develop a disorder.

"The brain is still developing through a person's 20s, and psychotic disorders typically develop in the late teenage years. During brain formation, heavy cannabis use has been shown to have a negative effect on the formation of neural pathways. It can also lead to heavier drug use. While the vast majority of marijuana smokers never experience CIP, researchers have found that the earlier and heavier someone starts dabbing, the more likely it is that they will develop a disorder at some point (often years later). We must educate our children when they are young (10-12 years old) and use hyper-vigilance in the early teen years, which we found was much easier before the age of 16, when they could drive. We couldn't lock him up or monitor him 24/7. Keep talking and keep trying!!

The harmful combination of a still-forming mind, high-potency THC products, and a high frequency of use = Cannabis-Induced Psychosis. Yes, that's a real diagnosis (or High-THC Abuse – Severe). Repeated CIP incidents can trigger schizophrenia or other mental illness, and even when the cannabis is withdrawn, the psychosis doesn't go away. This is what happened to my beautiful boy. When he died, the toxicology report showed he had ZERO drugs in his system. He wasn't depressed, neglected, drugged, or unloved. He was psychotic, paranoid, and delusional by the time he reached 19, and he refused the anti-psychotic drugs that he now needed, because he thought he wasn't sick (common to schizophrenia)."

It's so easy to think that marijuana use isn't that big of a deal, especially since some states have begun legalizing the drug for recreational use and many people see it as "natural." But the mild, laid-back high many people picture with pot use is not the reality of many of today's marijuana products or methods. Parents need to be aware of the dangers cannabis-derived drugs pose to their children's mental health and educate them as early as possible.

Stack included the following links to articles and studies backing up what she's learned about today's THC products. These are things we all should read and share, as this knowledge and awareness could literally save someone's life.

Potent pot, vulnerable teens trigger concerns in first states to legalize marijuana - The Washington Post

The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder - The Lancet Journal

Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood - Journal of the American Medical Association

Dabs, Wax, Vaping Weed, Edibles and the Real Impact of High Potency THC Products: What Parents Need to Know - Resources to Recover

How Marijuana May Damage Teenage Brains in Study Using Genetically Vulnerable Mice - Johns Hopkins

Significant link between cannabis use and onset of mania symptomsScience Daily

Cannabis-induced psychosis: A ReviewPsychiatric Times

Summary of literature on marijuana and psychosis - Moms Strong

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."