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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

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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.

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Marijuana Use is Linked to Increased Suicide Risk

(Please see Part 1: Marijuana Suicide, a Growing Risk for our Youth)

Marijuana-related suicide is a controversial topic because other websites include commenters who claim marijuana saved their lives. Pot interferes with the reward center of the brain, just like cocaine, alcohol and heroin. So when someone dependent on the drug doesn’t have it, their depression or anxiety becomes stronger than previously.   After prolonged use, the brain eventually doesn’t function as well.

For this reason, it’s much wiser to rely on yoga, counseling, walking, and other exercise for depression and anxiety.  (Others will say that anti-depressants are safer, although we won’t actually endorse them, and don’t think they’re always necessary.)

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Source: Christine Miller, PhD

Marijuana increases the risk for psychosis more than any other drug.   Marijuana is not the panacea the pot industry wants you to believe.

What Conditions Increase Suicide Risk?

Daily marijuana use below age 18 is connected to 7x the risk of attempted suicide before age 30.

In today’s world, students have huge problems and challenges even if they don’t abuse substances.  Marijuana is the most likely drug of abuse for teens.  Any substance abuse –marijuana, alcohol, opiates, other drugs or a combination – generally makes the depression more difficult to overcome.

The town of Pueblo, Colorado has had an alarming trend of suicides among its teens, at least five this year.    Although local officials link these deaths to bullying, Pueblo is infiltrated with marijuana and other drugs.   Dr. Steven Simerville, head of pediatrics at a Pueblo hospital, has spoken about the connection between marijuana and teen suicide.   In October, 2016, he said that all but one of teens who attempted suicide had THC in their toxicology reports.

A few years ago studies showed that 28% of all high school students are depressed.  There are plenty of reasons for teens to be depressed in this society: hormonal change, social pressure, relationships and academics.  The social media adds a layer of complication to the problem with cyber bullying.  When a teen becomes an adult, additional challenges emerge, and for some, entry into adulthood is jolting.

Family relationships and community connection are important.  With support systems, many youth go through the rough patches and come out stronger.  It’s a reason that government needs to protect our youth, educate against marijuana and stop legalization.  

From the Moms Strong website, provided by Dr. Christine Miller, PhD

Suicide is Increasing Above National Rate in Colorado

The opposite is occurring in Colorado.  Suicide rates in Colorado have reached all-time highs, according to a recent report by the Colorado Health Institute.   Each one of Colorado’s 21 health regions had a suicide rate higher than the national average.

Those old enough to go into dispensaries can see how the pot industry advertises marijuana to treat depression or anxiety.    Dispensaries prey on the vulnerable.  For veterans and those without a job, it’s hard to resist.

When the pot industry tells us that “no one ever died from marijuana,” they’re being dishonest.  There’s a popular strain of marijuana called Purple Suicide.  There’s also a line of vape pens called Suicide Girls, specifically marketed for using honey/hash oil.  Makers of the vape pens and marketers of Purple Suicide are onto something: marijuana use increases the suicide risk.

When they assert the numbers of those who die from alcohol each year, please ask who is tracking deaths from marijuana.   Maybe it is time for the CDC to start tracking marijuana-related deaths.   Please read Part 3, The Common Element.

A View Into Legalized Marijuana 20 Years from Now

Drug Policy Alliance, NORML and Marijuana Policy Project are optimistic. They’re huffing and puffing now, having won  7 out of 8 states with marijuana ballots in the November election. They also smirk knowing that President-elect Trump supports states’ rights for marijuana.  In 20 or 30 years, they’ll have freedom and no one else really matters.  Pot lobbyists don’t explain the real picture. What if the whole country ends up just like Humboldt County?

Photo Credit: Weed bust photo comes from the sheriff’s department, originally published by Lost Coast Outpost.

 

Humboldt County Leads the Way

The oldest, strongest marijuana culture in the USA is not in Colorado, but in Humboldt County,  California.  Humboldt, Mendocino County and Trinity County also form this region called the Emerald Triangle.   When Sabrina Rubin Erdely set out to write about rape culture for High Times Magazine, she missed the boat by not going to Humboldt County.  Instead she wrote a fabricated story about a gang rape at a highly academic East Coast college campus.  What an irony that a magazine promoting marijuana legalization for years fails to notice that rape is taking place in its community!  There’s politically-motivated denial and deflection, but heavy weed smokers tends to have lots of delusions.

There were 2,000 domestic violence calls in 2015, an increase of 80% over the previous four years.*  A routine domestic violence call in December led to a huge bust for guns and weed.  Marijuana gained a foothold in Humboldt nearly 50  years ago, and it seems guns and weed are a way of life since that time.

Humboldt County leads the way in environmental destruction, too. The area used to be dominated by the logging and fishing industries.   Now the marijuana growers have polluted the streams and dried up many river beds.

See the video about the ecological damage from illicit marijuana grows

Environmental Damage

Environmentalists convinced politicians that the logging industry must stop cutting down the redwoods.  So the marijuana growers found an opening and they’re clearing out the trees!  Aerial views show the redwood forests pockmarked by marijuana grows.  It doesn’t seem that High Times and Alternet have caught on to the irony that marijuana green is not environmentally green.

In May of 2008, approximately 1000 of gallons of red diesel overflowed from an indoor marijuana grow’s fuel room into a creek.  The marijuana grower had left a valve open when pouring a larger diesel tank into a smaller one.  The fuel had spread so far down the rugged stream bed when a neighbor smelled the pungent odor and investigated.  He found “20 to 30 pools of red diesel” far below the spill.  The environmental cleanup was a massive operation, from damage which rivals the impact of an oil spill in the ocean.

Marijuana and Fire Damages

Fires are frequent throughout California, and marijuana sometimes causes these fires, including hash oil (BHO) explosions.  The massive Soberanes fire this summer uncovered several illegal marijuana sites.  Marijuana growers may have started the fire.

Humboldt County has had at least three BHO fires from marijuana labs since California legalized pot two months ago.   A home exploded on November 9 in Rio Dell, the first day after the election. The Redheaded Blackbelt noticed “how ironic that on the first day that it is legal to smoke recreational marijuana… that one of the side effects of marijuana prohibition, a black market BHO lab, exploded.”  The flames burned 90 percent of the bodies of two victims who were airlifted to Davis.   There are rumors that one or both men have died.

The true irony is that when recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, these home explosions grew more frequent, rather than less. In one week of April 2014, there were four BHO explosions.   BHO fires didn’t occur in California before 2010, so liberalizing pot laws and expanding marijuana access created a new problem.  (In 2010, pot was decriminalized in California.)

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The man who started a fire in McKinleyville on December 26 fled the scene. It’s thought to be a hash oil lab fire. Photo above and on top by Marc Davis, published on the Redheaded Blackbelt.

Murders, Suicides and Missing People

If a tv news magazine were to expose the murder, rape and sex trafficking in Humboldt, reporters may be at risk.  An investigative journalism report released in September revealed that some trimmigrants and girls end up getting abused or raped.  The marijuana apologists mislead by insisting that murders and rapes happen because prohibition forces growers into hiding.

There were at least 22 murders in Humboldt County in 2016.   Only 134,000 people live in the county.  (Often it’s difficult to distinguish murder from suicide, which occurs at a rate twice the national norm.)  Humboldt reported 352 missing people in 2015, more per capita than any other county in the state.

Missing persons include trimmigrants, those who come to the region only in the Fall to work on marijuana farms.  Growers also are known to murder these migrant workers, but sometimes the trimmers turn on their growers. There’s even an area of Humboldt called “Murder Mountain.”  The site is where a notorious couple who carried out cult-like murders in the 1980s, but the tradition seems to continue today.

Nonetheless, Humboldt County has wonderful examples of love and community spirit.   Recently, residents of Eureka came out in the heavy rain to honorJennika Suazo, a teen girl who died suspiciously.

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An AP photo shows how marijuana growers have bulldozed trees in northern California to make room for pot grows. The environmental damage is worse than from the timber industry.

Domestic Violence, DUIs and Humboldt’s Other Problems

Humboldt County district attorney Maggie Fleming sat down for an interview with Paul Mann of the Mad River Union recently. (The entire article is in Lost Coast Outpost.)   “We see DUIs all day long in this community …. There are people who are drinking or using prescription meds or smoking marijuana or using methamphetamine or heroin and driving at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Some of our fatalities are in the middle of the day,” Fleming explained.

She listed multiple factors powering Humboldt crime: high rates of driving while intoxicated; the county’s nightmarish marijuana, drug and alcohol culture; the prevalence of domestic violence and the deep-rooted poverty that inflicts childhood trauma and impairs children’s health, often with lifelong afflictions, including criminal behavior.  She definitely sees the crime is a result of the drug culture. Both those  with substance abuse problems and those selling drugs for financial gain instigate the crime.

“I see firsthand how marijuana is a social and environmental disaster,” a policeman from the Emerald Triangle wrote to PopPot.org. “Youth access, abuse, transient population moving in to grow or trim, associated criminal behavior all rising.”

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The homeless population in Humboldt creates a dilemma. Here’s what was left when several squatters were forced out of a Eureka home on Oct. 31, 2016.

 

“Where there is pot …there are other drugs…..and all the behavior associated with lives less enabled,” he said.  “The money isn’t worth the social cost to our world.”

–Emerald Triangle policeman

It’s clear that having a marijuana culture adds to the use of other drugs. Those laid back from smoking too much dope will try amphetamines to get them back up again.  It also leads to rampant alcohol abuse, since booze just enhances the effect of the drugs.  People think the homelessness problem in Humboldt is caused by mental illness, but one social worker in the area disagrees.  He is certain that rampant drug/alcohol abuse precipitates the problem. Politicians in both parties remain clueless of how drug use creates mental health problems. Their ignorance will continue as long as it’s politically incorrect to blame pot for anything.

Seven hundred homeless children without parents or guardians in nearby Mendocino County, also part of California’s “Emerald Triangle” growing region. These street kids sometimes work on the pot farms, but basically no one has ever loved them enough to care for them.  They’re likely to become drug users too, and the cycle of multi-generation drug use will continue.

Pueblo is a Warning to Other Places

Four years after Colorado legalized marijuana, the small city of Pueblo is another example of how pot commercialization can destroy life for the residents. “I can no longer allow my 13-year-old to walk the dog, one mother said. There was recently a murder 3 blocks from our house.”  Pueblo failed to pass two referendums which would have closed dispensaries and growing sites in the city and county.  Some people think of marijuana as an economic panacea for lost jobs in the steel industry.  However,  it has created a huge increase in the homeless population. Pueblo doctors recently made videos showing the damage marijuana is doing to the health care in the community.

Buyers in Pueblo West, Colo., line up on Jan. 1, 2014 to legally buy marijuana after it was approved for recreational use. (Source: AP Photo/John Wark)
Buyers in Pueblo West, Co line up on Jan. 1, 2014 to legally buy marijuana when the state’s first pot shops opened. (Source: AP Photo/John Wark).  The Press prefers to emphasize that so much money can be made, rather than the destruction with legal pot. It hasn’t turned out as orderly as this photo.

International cartels have moved into Pueblo and bought up property for their marijuana grows.  The black market is booming.   Russians, Cubans, Argentinians and Cambodians have come to town. Pueblo, Boulder and Denver lead the state in percentage of high school students using pot, but in Pueblo there are more problems. Fully 12% of high school seniors have also used heroin.

Is marijuana growing also going to replace tobacco growing  in Kentucky and Tennessee?  Will it be a substitute for the coal mines that shut down in West Virginia and Pennsylvania?  When policy is driven by knee-jerk reactions without careful planning, chaos follows.

At this time, the United States has more than half of the world’s illicit drug users.  Six percent of America’s high school seniors are daily marijuana users.  It appears that the legacy of drug use is going to continue creating this problem for America’s children.  Humboldt County is the future of our country if we continue to believe marijuana use is perfectly harmless and normal.

* This statistic and much of the information on sexual abuse, missing persons, domestic violence, rape and abuse of trimmigants comes from the massive report by Shoshana Walter, published in Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting on September 8, 2016.

Is Marijuana a Safe Drug?

By  Christine Miller, Ph.D., for Moms Strong.  Dr. Miller was one of many speakers at a rally in front of the state capital in Sacramento, Oct. 4, 2016.  She  also wrote Ten Myths Marijuana Advocates Want You to Believe.

We all know individuals who have been able to use marijuana and be happy, successful and productive members of society. The precise proportion of users who fall into this category is not known, but what is clear is a substantial percentage of people cannot use marijuana with impunity. Unfortunately, you can’t tell ahead of time who that is going to be. There is no genetic test, no psychological profile, no family history screening that is reliable.

The question becomes not how many fatalities does use of marijuana cause, but can a young person use it occasionally, i.e. “responsibly,” like having a single beer once a month or once a week, and be sure that they’ll be O.K.? The answer is no, particularly in regards to psychotic outcomes. Some individuals experience acute psychosis after their first use.

1) Psychosis: hundreds of peer-reviewed, scientific articles show a correlation between marijuana use and psychotic outcomes such as schizophrenia, too numerous to list here. The question of whether marijuana is causal for psychosis has been answered in the affirmative by applying standard principles of causation used in pharmacological and epidemiological research:

  •  Dose response effect, so that heavier use of more potent product results in more users developing schizophrenia(Zammit et al., 2002; van Os et al., 2002; DiForti et al., 2009; DiForti et al., 2015)
  •  Administration of the active ingredient (∆9-THC) in the clinic under controlled conditions causes psychotic symptoms (D’Souza et al., 2004; Morrison et al., 2011; Bhattacharyya et al., 2011; Freeman et al., 2014).
  •  Self-medicating is not that likely, because many will try to quit to avoid the psychotic symptoms before they become too impaired (Fergusson et al., 2005), e.g. comedian Seth McFarlane; but for others it may be too late (as seen in The Other Side of Cannabis, Heartsgate Productions, 2015).
  •  Marijuana use generally comes before the psychosis, not vice-versa (Arseneault et al., 2002; Henquet et al., 2005; Kuepper et al., 2011).
  •  In users who have schizophrenia, the age of onset is earlier than for non-users, similar to the effect of carcinogens in causing an earlier onset of a suite of cancers (Veen et al., 2004; Barnes et al., 2006; Large et al., 2011)
  •  Of all recreational drugs, marijuana use is the most likely to result in chronic psychosis (Niemi-Pynttari et al., 2013).

What percentage experience a psychotic outcome? The low to moderate-strength marijuana available in the last century was shown to trigger single psychotic symptoms (paranoia, racing thoughts, delusions, hallucinations) in 12% to 15% of users (Thomas, 1996; Barkus et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2009). Of those with such “prodromal” symptoms, about 35% can be expected to develop full psychosis, i.e. a constellation of symptoms occurring at once (Cannon et al., 2008). For about half of these individuals, conversion to chronic schizophrenia spectrum disorder occurs irrespective of family history (Arendt et al., 2008; Niemi-Pynttari et al., 2013).

The result for low to moderate-strength marijuana was about a 2.5-fold increased risk of schizophrenia, but for the high strength product available today, the risk for schizophrenia is 5-fold compared to non-users (DiForti et al., 2015). That increase in risk translates into about one out of every twenty users if they don’t quit in time. Is this impact limited to adolescence? Given that the brain continues to develop in males through the late twenties (see figure on back), it seems unlikely that the risk for chronic psychosis is limited to adolescent users. Furthermore, administration of THC to adults in a clinical setting results in psychotic symptoms (D’Souza et al., 2004; Morrison et al., 2011. Bhattacharyya et al., 2011; Freeman et al., 2014).

Other Adverse Psychological Outcomes

2)  Risks for anxiety, panic, and depression are increased by marijuana use: Zuardi et al., 1982; Thomas, 1996; Patton et al., 2002; Dannon et al., 2004; Hayatbakhsh et al., 2007; Medina et al., 2007; Hasin et al., 2008; Zvolensky et al., 2010; Fairman and Anthony, 2012; Silins et al., 2014; Cougle et al., 2015; with some studies showing that correction for confounding variables lessens the association with anxiety and depression, while others report the effect remains. For a review see: Miller CL, The Impact of Marijuana on Mental Health in: Contemporary Health Issues on Marijuana (Winters KC and Sabet K, eds), Oxford University Press, in press.

3)  Risk for suicidal ideation is increased on average 7-fold: Arendt et al., 2006; Silins et al., 2014; Kvitland et al., 2016 , even after correcting for a prior history of depression: Clarke et al., 2014.  In 2014 (the report specific for 2015 data is not yet available), the 2nd year after legalization of recreational use of marijuana, Colorado experienced the highest suicide rate in state history: “In 2014, there were 1,058 suicides among Colorado residents and the age-adjusted suicide rate was 19.4 per 100,000. This is the highest number of suicide deaths ever recorded in Colorado.” Office of Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2014-2015, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Particularly alarming, the Colorado media has reported sudden onset suicidal ideation or completed suicide in consumers of commercial edibles: Levi Thamba Pongi, Denver, 2014; Richard Kirk, Denver, 2014; Luke Goodman, Keystone, 2015, but also reported following the smoking of potent marijuana: Brant Clark, Boulder, 2007; Daniel Juarez, Brighton, 2012.  (Editor’s note: In Seattle, 16-year-old Hamza Warsame jumped six floors to his death after smoking marijuana in December, 2015.)   These responses can happen so quickly in individuals who were not previously suicidal that intervention may be impossible. 

4)  Lack of educational achievement and decreases in motivation – after covariate adjustment, the odds for marijuana users completing high school are reduced to about 0.37-fold that of controls (Silins et al., 2014); accounting for demographics and other factors, marijuana use adversely affected college academic outcomes, both directly and indirectly through poorer class attendance (Arria et al., 2015); decreases in motivation with marijuana use have been documented in clinical studies of humans (Bloomfield et al., 2014) and in animal models (Silveira et al., 2016).

5)  Negative impacts on IQ: up to an approx. 7 point drop in IQ from childhood scores by age 38 in marijuana users who have been abstinent for 24 hours prior to testing; but only an approx. 5 point drop in those abstinent for a week prior to testing (Meier MH et al., 2012); a subsequent study of twins by Jackson et al., 2016, yielded mixed results, with an average decline of 4 points in marijuana users by late adolescence, however restricting the comparison to the matched twins (thereby controlling for genetics and a myriad of environmental factors), the effect of marijuana largely disappeared. The limitation of this later study is that brain development is not complete by late adolescence, particularly the wiring of the all-important cortex is still ongoing through the late twenties (see Figure below). There is no controversy, however, about the negative, real-time impact of marijuana use during tests of cognition and memory: Curran HV et al., 2002; Ranganathan and D’Souza, 2006; Morrison et al., 2009; Solowj et al., 2010; Pavisian et al., 2014.

See 10 Myths Marijuana Advocates Want You to Believe for complete information, footnotes and the bibliography