Tag Archives: Shane Robinson

marijuana-suicide-risk

The Common Element in These Suicides: Marijuana

The common element in all these suicides or self-inflicted deaths was marijuana.   Marijuana was the factor, not alcohol or other drugs…………in all cases.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2)

Marc Bullard, 23      Colorado

Brant Clark, 17        Colorado

Tron Dohse, 26        Colorado

Luke Goodman, 23      Colorado, traveling from Oklahoma

Daniel Juarez, 18     Colorado

Shane Robinson, 25      California

Rashaan Salaam, 41      Colorado

Levy Thamba, 19         Colorado, traveling from Wyoming

Hamza Warsame, 16       Washington

Andy Zorn, 31          Arizona

marijuana-suicide-risk
These four young men died in marijuana-related suicides. Clockwise from left, Daniel Juarez, Colorado, (photo, CBS News), Shane Robinson, California, Hamza Warsame, Washington (photo, Seattle Times, from the family) and Andy Zorn, Arizona.

Four of these victims — Warsame, Thamba, Juarez, Clark — had experienced pot-induced psychosis during the period leading to their deaths.  Juarez was an outstanding soccer player who got very high with a friend the night he stabbed himself 20 times.   The suicide report showed he had 38.2 ng of marijuana in his blood, eight times the limit for Colorado drivers. Toxicologists tested him for methamphetamine and other substances, but the results turned out to be negative. Although the death occurred in 2012, CBS News obtained the police report in 2015 and made it public at that time.  Juarez´s sister claims he would not have killed himself had he not gotten stoned that night.

Suicidal thoughts can come on very quickly while under the influence in individuals who were not previously suicidal. The suddenness of suicidal ideation means that intervention may be impossible. 

Dohse’s death was determined to have been an accident. Unable to find his keys, Dohse climbed up the apartment building and fell.  The toxicology report 27.3 ng. of marijuana in his blood, but no other drugs or alcohol in his system.  As his sister told CBS, she believes marijuana impairment led her brother to make poor decisions the night of his death.  (Read Part 1 for more background on Warsame, Dohse, Juarez and Clark)

Levy Thamba, left, and Kristine Kirk, right. Both died shortly after marijuana edibles went on sale in Colorado.

The story of Levy Thamba is particularly tragic since he was on a student visa to this country.  He came from the Democratic Republic of Congo to study engineering in Wyoming.  While visiting Denver with friends, he tried a marijuana edible for the first time.  It was a pot-infused cookie, the effects of which don´t appear immediately. About two hours later, he became acutely psychotic, thinking pictures were jumping off the wall. The friends calmed him down before going to sleep, but his psychosis returned.   He ran from his room to the sixth floor balcony, jumping to his death.

Thamba’s death is often described along with the death of Kristine Kirk.  She called 911 because her husband, Richard Kirk, wanted her to shoot him, after he ate a marijuana candy.  By the time, help came, he shot Kristine, mother of their three children, instead.

Bullard, Salaam and Robinson appear to have been suffering from depression as a result of heavy and/or extended pot use.  Marc Bullard was “dabbing.”  Andy Zorn, a veteran who had been taking medical marijuana, knew he had to quit marijuana to survive.  But he couldn’t quit and so took his own life. (Many people begin smoking pot after being told “it’s not addictive.”)

Marijuana Withdrawal is a Risk, Too

Although Shane Robinson had experienced two periods of pot-induced psychosis, he was having marijuana withdrawal syndrome at the time of his death.   According to a program of Dr. Drew Pinsky back in 2003, there is “an extraordinarily high incident of suicide in the first six months of marijuana abstinence.”

Most striking about the youths we describe is that they did not begin pot use because of depression.  All of these deaths occurred in marijuana-friendly states where the social situation was an influence on their pot use.  Lori Robinson, Shane’s mother, warns that educating against drugs and modelling a healthy lifestyle without drug use doesn’t work today.  It is no match for current  cultural trends and government policy which normalizes pot use.

Most who die in marijuana-related suicides are male, but women and girls are still at risk.  One of our supporters attempted suicide in her 20s after years of daily pot use, failed relationships and domestic violence.  Her attempt was not successful.  Today she is 29 years sober and her survival is a blessing.   Not all people will be as lucky. Males are generally more successful in suicide attempts, because their methods are often more efficient.

Pot is the Common Element, not an Underlying Mental Health Issue

These youths banish the claim that mental health problems always come before the marijuana use.   (A strong misconception is that mental illness after using pot only affects those with previous mental health issues.)  The deaths described here include active psychotic reactions at the time of marijuana use, as well as depression from long-term use.

The lives of these young men need to be a warning to states trying to legalize marijuana.  Suicide rates in Colorado have reached all-time highs and each one of Colorado’s 21 health regions had a suicide rate higher than the national average, according to a February report by the Colorado Health Institute.

When the pot industry tells us that “no one ever died from marijuana,” they’re lying.   Maybe it is time for the CDC to start tracking marijuana-related deaths.

These 10 deaths are just a few of the many self-inflicted deaths related to marijuana use.  Lori Robinson has assembled more stories of marijuana-related deaths and psychosis on the website of Moms Strong.  Read these stories on momsstrong.org.

Dr. McKeganey Warned of the Marijuana – Mental Illness Link

PSA Warning Issued in 2005 was Ignored

Eleven years ago the ONDCP and SAMHSA held a press conference to inform of research that confirms what many families already knew–that marijuana use was a trigger for psychosis and mental illness.

The ONDCP is the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; SAMHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Each agency has a crucial role in trying to ascertain usage and reduce demand for drugs.

Specifically, Dr. Neil McKehaney from the University of Glasgow came to the US and spoke at the national Press Club on May 5, 2005. The agencies went to great effort to share important information.  A video was recently found online.

Coverup of the Marijuana – Mental Illness  Risk

At this same Press Conference, a couple who had lost their 15-year-old son to suicide due to the mental health problems arising from marijuana use, spoke.  The Press covered the story, but did not use their considerable investigative skills to probe into what those parents and Dr. McKenagey were describing.  It is true that about one quarter of American high school students are depressed, which points to multiple problems of American culture, not just drugs. However, knowing how vulnerable teens are, and then not exposing the factors that could make their outcomes worse, is lamentable.

In addition to depression, anxiety and suicide, there are the risks of psychosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that arise from marijuana use.  Pot proponents love to state that anyone who has a psychotic reaction to pot already had the problem before they used it.  They tend to blame family members for not  wanting to admit  mental health problems, and argue that pot is used as a scapegoat.

Several studies have shown a link between marijuana and schizophrenia.  Explains pharmacologist Christine Miller, Ph.D:  “No one is destined to develop schizophrenia. With identical twins, one can develop the disease and the other one will do so only 50% of the time, illustrating the importance of environmental factors in the expression of the disease.  Marijuana is one of those environmental factors and it is one we can do something about.”

A Missed Opportunity

One person who worked in the office of ONDCP Director John Walters told Parents Opposed to Pot, “They accused us of being pot-crazy during a time when there was a methamphetamine crisis going on.  Marijuana is almost always the first drug introduced to young people and the evidence for the mental health risks were very strong by 2005.  Although pot was getting stronger as it is today, the warning was falling on deaf ears.  Members of Congress wanted us to focus on the meth crisis, but marijuana was a growing issue and we had a myriad of issues.”

This Public Service Announcement reached audiences in the Press, and some newspapers and magazines reported about it.  Since the Internet and search engines were not as they are  today,  few parents, children,  schools and mental health professionals took notice.   (Did the marijuana lobbying groups bully and try squelch the information?)

Lori Robinson, whose son suffered the mental health consequences of marijuana said:  “I will always deeply regret Shane not hearing this PSA .  Shane was a smart, gregarious and fun-loving young man who naively began using pot never knowing he was playing Russian roulette with his brain in ’05-’06 at the age of 19.   Dr McKeganey so clearly stated that the public views marijuana as harmless, not realizing the potency of THC was rising while the “antipsychotic” property of CBD was being bred out.  Sadly, despite both parents never used an illegal drug in our lives, our son assumed that since a few of his friend had smoked in high school, it was just a “harmless herb.”   Shane’s story is on the Moms Strong website.

Robinson added, “This video is absolutely current TODAY.  Let’s keep this video circulating & it WILL save young brains & families the destruction that lies ahead when marijuana hijacks your kid’s brain.

The research has expanded since that time and scientific evidence on each of the following outcomes from marijuana use is voluminous: marijuana & psychosis, marijuana & violence and marijuana & psychiatric disorders.

Lessons to be Learned

Lives could have been saved, and so many cases of depression, psychotic breakdowns and crimes could have been prevented – if the public had become more aware back in 2005.   Congress, the Press and most of all, the American psychiatric community was wrong to ignore the warnings that were issued with this PSA.

Let’s not continue to ignore  the evidence. Today in the US, mental health is worse than it’s ever been, and the promotion of drug usage may be a huge factor in this problem.  Harm reduction in preference to primary prevention strategies is practiced in many jurisdictions.  Drug overdose deaths have overtaken gun violence deaths and traffic fatalities in the USA — by far — under this strategy.

Today Dr. McKeganey is the Director of the Center for Substance Use Research in Glasgow.