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.'"
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.
"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
Cannabis-induced psychosis: A Review – Psychiatric 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.