Category Archives: Testimonies

It’s not ‘just’ marijuana

It’s Not ‘Just’ Marijuana

Allowing marijuana use will just give addiction a foot in the door

(It’s not ‘just’ marijuana originally posted in Central Maine Press on March 4, 2017)  Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel (Maine)

BY ROBERT CHARLES

He came into my office with his hair on fire. A father, middle-aged. I made a habit of leaving my door on Capitol Hill open.

Most committee staff directors and counsels don’t do that; they have “gatekeepers.” Nominally, I did too, but I felt I worked for every taxpayer, every single one, and he was one.

My criminal justice committee, plus the speaker’s task force and bipartisan working group on narcotics and addiction that I ran, all focused on oversight. Part of the job was oversight of the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other federal agencies struggling with the spike of drug abuse that was happening then, in the 1990s.

I asked this upset father to come in. He had something obviously important on his mind. In that moment, I appeared to be “the federal government.” I pointed to the big stuffed chair, sat down myself and listened.

He was mid-sentence. “And he was a typical, strong, independent 18-year-old,” he was saying. I nodded. “And he was a good kid … I had been law enforcement, see? I found the pot in his room.” I nodded. “And he was a skier, loved to ski.”

When Teaching Moderation Didn’t Work

“I confronted him, knew what it was …” He seemed to be reliving that inflection point. “But I said, look, ’cause he was a good kid, I said, “OK, OK, look, everything in moderation.”

I did not say anything.

“It seemed OK, you know? That’s what they always said about other things. I wanted to keep the relationship with my son, you know? A good kid.”

The conversation poured out of him.

“Then things changed, he got distant. Other drugs, heroin. He tried to stop.” The father started to ramble. The law’s fault. The criminal justice system. His son had been stealing. Treatment. Friends who weren’t friends. More treatment. Profanity. Exasperation.

I listened. Sometimes that was all I could do. He had come to tell someone. He was looking for something, and I sensed I could not give it to him.

“So, you see, that was three years ago. I was a good dad, said everything in moderation … it was just marijuana.”

He looked up at me sharply. I knew there was more. Finally, it came.

“Last month, I went up there, top of the mountain, where he always skied. I took the ashes of my son, in a shoe box. I held him in a shoe box. The same son I had held 21 years ago as a baby. And I sprinkled his ashes there…”

We were both quiet. He cried. And I cried. I told him he was not alone. I told him many things about this terrible crisis that gripped us, gripped the nation. And he got, I think, some small, insignificant consolation.

That father wanted something I could not give him, beyond a hug and shared tears, and consideration for his agony. He wanted the moment back. The earlier moment. He wanted his son back.

Why No Caring and Empathy for Others’ Pain?

That was almost 20 years ago. The nation had lost 14,000 kids to overdoses that year. Congress wrote and passed the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and federal anti-drug trafficking laws, including against trafficking marijuana. And drug abuse went down — markedly.

People cared. They knew intuitively that narcotics — including marijuana — were not cigarettes, not beer. Attitudes changed, as they had back in the 1980s during the Ronald and Nancy Reagan years.

And then the great forgetting began again. Drug addiction — so often starting with marijuana, as it is readily available — began to climb again. Then the availability of opiates and heroin. No one paid attention.

And here we are, again, today. Only last year, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, taken from loving, devastated parents, as well as siblings and friends. They want the status quo ante, those precious moments back, decisions back, sons and daughters back.

They want to be able to say, “No, marijuana is not harmless, not a good choice, not the right thing — no matter what voters or governments say.”

This week, I talked to another parent who lost her son to heroin, and began with marijuana.

I teared up again, a good kid, led in the wrong direction by a government that did not care enough to tell the truth, explain the trap door, the treachery of addiction that comes so often with marijuana. “We thought, you know … it was just marijuana.”

The truth? There is no “just” about it.

Robert Charles grew up in Maine who served as assistant secretary of state under Colin Powell.

marijuana trap

Freedom from the Marijuana Trap

I had my recreational marijuana card for 10 years and was a daily smoker/dabber/edible eater/etc etc etc. I’m ashamed to admit that I was very much a part of the cannabis scene, what a complete and utter waste of time.

With that said, the best decision I ever made in my life was ripping my California “medical” marijuana doctor’s recommendation to shreds and making the decision to never touch that garbage again.

In my early 20s, I was really struggling with mental health issues that were impacting my ability to perform my duties at work. A close friend suggested I try medicinal marijuana so I went to get a doctor’s recommendation. The doctor, after a 5-minute visual and verbal examination, cheerfully told me to use marijuana, that it would help with PTSD and anxiety and I would feel like myself again.

From the outset, I became a different person, my usage of marijuana progressively stole a decade of my life from me, withdrew me from society and I developed a debilitating social anxiety and all of the other symptoms that are mentioned on this website.

I watch day after day as marijuana proponents try to pass off junk science and yellow journalism as facts to justify their chemical dependence and it saddens me as much as it annoys me. The DEA was dead right when they said marijuana has little medical value and a high potential for abuse. Dead right. Recreational pot is a mistake. If future research begins to show clear and concise medical value then it should be dispensed through a pharmacy with careful, specific dosage instructions, not the free-for-all pass that I was given when I got my medical marijuana card.

I can truly say that I feel more alive and healthier with each passing day now that the painful side effects of marijuana are no longer holding me captive. It is a blessing to talk to people who are caught in the grips of the marijuana trap and support them in finding freedom from it.

Today’s marijuana is incredibly potent and people need to start acknowledging the risks and potential dangers associated with heavy use.

By: Darren E.

Editors Note: Do you have a story to tell? Contact editor@poppot.org. Your identity will be protected upon your request.

Stop Living in Denial of the Marijuana – Mental Health Crisis

Wake Up, America, to the Looming Mental Health Crisis

by Lori Robinson, co-founder of Moms Strong    After losing my own kid, I caution parents not to live in denial of marijuana, as I did.  Your child will be exposed to marijuana and is likely to experiment with it.  It is my mission to prevent other young people from going down the same path my son did.

Just because something originates in nature doesn’t mean it’s safe.  Like some people die from a bee sting, a part of mother nature, some people die from the consequences of using marijuana, or they spiral out of control.

If a person who uses today’s highly potent marijuana goes into psychosis (or depression, panic attack, other psychiatric presentation), please get the proper treatment.  The mental health system needs to first address the drug effects and assess the need for addiction treatment.  Next, wait for the drug-induced mental illness to run its course.   Then educate about brain health.

Our California Problem

In California, it’s common to rope young marijuana users with psychotic symptoms into the label of a permanent, debilitating mental illness rather than give them addiction treatment.  When it comes to strong males like my son, they also flood them with powerful, unnecessary pharmaceutical drugs.  In the case of cannabis-induced psychosis, the anti-psychotics are often ineffective against the psychosis.

For some youth, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder may also be devastating.   After all, everyone else is using marijuana and it’s a sign of weakness not to be able to handle pot.   As reported recently in the Desert Sun, “Despite robust scientific research about the negative potential effects of marijuana use, young adults tend to underestimate the risks……Nearly two-thirds (60.5 percent) of young adults surveyed who use marijuana do not think it’s addictive, and just as many (60.8 percent) do not think marijuana can damage the brain.”

Our children and teens need to learn the true harms about today’s pot, especially to their, young, developing brains. The marijuana financiers should stop pretending they know about medicine. Medical marijuana practitioners are doing far more harm than good, as the one who gave pot to my friend Leah’s son, Brandon.

If marijuana is legalized nationally, the need for mental health treatment will explode.  Psychiatry is a tricky field with less success than other medical specialties such as heart disease or emergency medicine. The fallout will be huge.   Wake up, America. We are in uncharted waters.  Marijuana use is growing nationwide and your kid may be the next casualty.

How do We Know Who is Vulnerable?

We don’t know.  There’s no genetic test to discover who is susceptible to adverse mental health problems from pot.   Those who have fancy educations and six-figure incomes frequently brag about their ability to use without negative consequences.  (Their families may see it otherwise.)

This boasting shames people — particularly youth — into feeling they should be just as powerful.   Some people continue even when they know it’s bad for them.

As a child, I was stung by bees several times.  Each time my reaction got progressively worse. The last time it happened was at age 16; the doctor told me I could die if it happens again.  Why is marijuana use like a fatal bee sting that makes some people swell until they implode?

Stop the Denial

So many young  people develop adverse effects from using today’s high-strength pot.  The marijuana advocates are pushing it because there’s so much money to be made.  The don’t want potential users to become aware of these problems.  They preach that nationwide legalization is inevitable and foster denial.

Research around the globe proves that marijuana causes panic attacks, paranoia, severe anxiety and/or depression.  American hospitals often don’t consider marijuana a factor in the picture of mental health, and that’s a tragedy.  There’s an urgent need for psychiatry to train more addiction specialists.  If users quit after the first episode of psychosis or mental health disorder, they probably can avoid a permanent psychological problem.  However, these users must never go back to pot again.  It’s like avoiding the bee stings if someone who’s allergic doesn’t want a fatal reaction.

How many American families have lost a member to suicide, and now suspect it was undiagnosed bipolar disorder?   How many of these loved ones have been marijuana users, or former users?  Rashaan Salaam, the Heisman Trophy winner who killed himself last week, suffered from marijuana addiction which destroyed his career.

Maybe these families placed their denial in the wrong diagnosis.   Youth who use marijuana are 7x more likely to attempt suicide,  as reported in Lancet Psychiatry Journal in September 2014.  How many of these loved ones have been marijuana users, or former users?

A Father’s Warning About Chris’ Short and Tragic Life

Guest testimony by an Arizona resident

Here’s one story.  As personal and painful as it is to relate, I write this account hoping that efforts to legalize the use of recreational marijuana will be defeated.

My second son, Chris, had an outstanding secondary school career. As the youngest student in a class of 315 students, he was the valedictorian. At spring honors day, he received the American

chris-photoHistory prize, the best peace essay, a state and national scholastic writing award, the best student in mathematics award, AP Calculus award for the highest score and the Student Leadership award. But he was no nerd. He was President of the Student Council and Co-captain of the wrestling team. He had a ton of friends and he loved to backpack, kayak and rock climb. My only worry about him was his lack of fear in tackling any physical challenge.

On a holiday break in his first year at Stanford, he came home and went out with some of his friends. About a half hour later, he came running back home in a state of absolute panic. This fearless kid was terrified and in a state I hardly recognized. He thought the woods were surrounded by FBI agents and that a high school football star was trying to rape him. It turned out that the kids who picked him up were smoking marijuana. Evidently, this was not Chris’ first time. With all his accomplishments, he always tried to be one of the boys and smoking weed was what they did. I felt a tremendous sense of guilt because I hadn’t thought that it was necessary to talk about drug use with my own boys.

That night was a marker for his steady mental decline which continued even after he ceased using marijuana. Within two years, he was exhibiting full-blown schizophrenia. In his first of six hospitalizations, the doctor told us that he had a severe case and we should expect his mental acuity and his social affect to decline. The positive news according to the doctor was that Chris was high functioning enough that the decline could be tolerated. He was wrong.

The next ten years were not pretty. This thoughtful, intelligent, winsome child became extremely paranoid and sometimes violent. He heard voices continually and his thoughts became completely disordered. Once a promising writer, his journals show a steady progression from cogent essays to paragraphs and sentences that don’t make sense to jumbles of meaningless word combinations. Hospitalizations and attempts to medicate him had no effect.

At the age of 28, perhaps in a moment of lucidity recognizing what had become of him, he took his life.  Although there will never be any proof that marijuana was the cause of his schizophrenia, I believe that the first panic episode I witnessed was a precursor and initiator of his illness. This is certainly consistent with the scientific studies which suggest the correlation between early marijuana use and schizophrenia.

Proposition 205 would imprint on young people that recreational marijuana use is without risk.  No wonder that so many social agencies, medical professionals, state officials and business groups oppose its passage.

I am sure that many people smoke marijuana on a limited basis with no apparent ill effects. However, there is ample scientific evidence that marijuana use by teenagers whose brains are in the developmental stage are at risk for psychotic events which may be long term.  There is also evidence that long-term use by adults can also lead to mental impairment issues. For anyone who is interested, I can share a bibliography of over 60 scientific articles addressing the risks that early marijuana use poses.

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Editor’s Note:  It is a public health failure that we have not warned young people they are at risk for psychosis and other mental illnesses from marijuana. But as this author remarks, risks remain for those who start using marijuana as adults.  Our recent article summarizes the dangers of marijuana, and why it cannot be consumed safely by anyone.