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

"You may be thinking, 'C'mon, Laura, it's no big deal – it's just pot.' 'Pot's legal, so it must be safe.'"

marijauana and teens, teen suicide, marijuana facts

Johnny Stack

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


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on 02.21.20. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and the subjects written about or quoted.


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From political science to joining the fight against cancer: How one woman found her passion

An unexpected pivot to project management expanded Krystal Brady's idea of what it means to make a positive impact.

Krystal Brady/PMI

Krystal Brady utilizes her project management skills to help advance cancer research and advocacy.

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Cancer impacts nearly everyone’s life in one way or another, and thankfully, we’re learning more about treatment and prevention every day. Individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting cancer and promising research from scientists are often front and center, but we don’t always see the people working behind the scenes to make the fight possible.

People like Krystal Brady.

While studying political science in college, Brady envisioned her future self in public office. She never dreamed she’d build a successful career in the world of oncology, helping cancer researchers, doctors and advocates continue battling cancer, but more efficiently.

Brady’s journey to oncology began with a seasonal job at a small publishing company, which helped pay for college and awakened her love for managing projects. Now, 15 years later, she’s serving as director of digital experience and strategy at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which she describes as “the perfect place to pair my love of project management and desire to make positive change in the world.”

As a project manager, Brady helps make big ideas for the improvement of diagnosing and treating cancer a reality. She is responsible for driving the critical projects that impact the lives of cancer researchers, doctors, and patients.

“I tell people that my job is part toolbox, part glue,” says Brady. “Being a project manager means being responsible for understanding the details of a project, knowing what tools or resources you need to execute the project, and facilitating the flow of that work to the best outcome possible. That means promoting communication, partnership, and ownership among the team for the project.”

At its heart, Brady’s project management work is about helping people. One of the big projects Brady is currently working on is ASCO’s digital transformation, which includes upgrading systems and applications to help streamline and personalize oncologists’ online experience so they can access the right resources more quickly. Whether you are managing humans or machines, there’s an extraordinary need for workers with the skillset to harness new technology and solve problems.

The digital transformation project also includes preparing for the use of emerging technologies such as generative AI to help them in their research and practices.

“Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for us to make a meaningful impact at the point of care, giving the oncologist and patient the absolute latest recommendations or guidelines for care for that specific patient or case, allowing the doctor to spend more time with their patients and less time on paperwork,” Brady says.

In today’s fast-changing, quickly advancing world, project management is perhaps more valuable than ever. After discovering her love for it, Brady earned her Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification through Project Management Institute (PMI)—the premier professional organization for project managers with chapters all over the world—which she says gave her an edge over other candidates when she applied for her job at ASCO.

“The knowledge I gained in preparing for the PMP exam serves me every day in my role,” Brady says. “What I did not expect and have truly come to value is the PMI network as well – finding like-minded individuals, opportunities for continuous learning, and the ability to volunteer and give back.”

PMI’s growing community – including more than 300 chapters globally – serves as a place for project managers and individuals who use project management skills to learn and grow through events, online resources, and certification programs.

While people often think of project management in the context of corporate careers, all industries and organizations need project managers, making it a great career for those who want to elevate our world through non-profits or other service-oriented fields.

“Project management makes a difference by focusing on efficiency and outcomes, making us all a little better at what we do,” says Brady. “In almost every industry, understanding how to do our work more effectively and efficiently means more value to our customers, and the world at large, at an increased pace.”

Project management is also a stable career path in high demand as shown by PMI research, which found that the global economy will need 25 million more project managers by 2030 and that the median salary for project managers in the US has grown to $120K.

If you’d like to learn more about careers in project management, PMI has resources to help you get started or prove your proficiency, including its entry-level Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification program. For those interested in pursuing a project management career to make a difference, it could be your first step.

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