He was an above average student. He had many friends. He was a gifted athlete. His counselor told him he could essentially go to any college with his grades and accomplishments.
At 14 he began smoking pot. By the time he was 17 he was exhibiting addictive behaviors. We thought it was “just pot.” We figured he’d grow out of it. But the raging began, then the stealing, then the erratic behavior. By senior year of high school his grades had plummeted from As and Bs to Cs and Ds. He managed to graduate and go off to junior college. However, it was only a matter of months before his use had escalated to such a crescendo that he could not attend any classes. He spent all the money we sent for books and supplies on weed. He stopped eating and used his food money to buy pot. Marijuana was more important than anything. Even more important than his adoring and adorable girlfriend—who tried without success–to influence his choices. She once asked me, “Why does he prefer to go smoke weed than to spend time with me?”
In a matter of months he was at our doorstep saying, “I am home for more parenting.” Within hours he was in a raging tirade with his girlfriend in our family room. That was the first time we called the police. This pattern continued. We were advised to do an intervention, which cost several thousand dollars. Our elderly parents, his siblings, his best friend and girlfriend—we were all there. We lovingly cried our observations and begged him to accept recovery and help; instead, he bolted. He chose marijuana over everything. Over love, over food and shelter, over logic, over safety… over everything. Was it just pot? He said it was. Drug tests confirmed this. But how could marijuana be so destructive? Wasn’t it a benign substance? What was happening? We were devastated. Our son was well loved, well educated, had a healthy stable home with support from sisters, grandparents and extended family. What happened?
Soon after came the first of several psychotic breaks—a detachment from reality that may include hallucinations and delusional thinking. We drove him to Stanford Hospital ER, where they admitted him on a 5150—a danger to self or others. He stayed in that psych ward for a month, barely speaking and never leaving his room. One of the negative effects of chronic marijuana use is extreme paranoia, in addition to severe depression, heightened anxiety, and difficulty with cognitive functions. Our son was suffering and so were we. Marijuana had hijacked his brain.
A cycle of recovery and relapse ensued. Our private insurance was waning, and our pocket book was emptying. He was in and out of facilities and we began to feel hopeless. After numerous rehabs, thousands of dollars, increasing fears, exhaustion, and unsure what to do next, we attended Alanon, sought counseling from our county mental health department, and began to build boundaries and strength for ourselves. Following years of continual issues, and unwillingness to give up the drug, our son chose the streets instead of sobriety. Could marijuana truly have done this? My heart was completely broken. My body reacted by acquiring an auto-immune disease. I cried daily, sometimes uncontrollably. We were in a perpetual state of sadness. I began writing songs to deal with the pain—something I had done throughout my youth. Eventually I recorded a CD and, on the set of a music video, realized I could film a documentary to better understand how today’s marijuana could derail my child. I put in a call to Harvard’s Addiction Center, where they warmly invited me to come interview several of their researchers and specialists. What I learned there was so shocking that I felt I must continue and share this information with all who would listen.
Today’s marijuana is not what it used to be, and as a result, the increased level of THC is damaging the developing brains of our children. After a year of filming and editing, I released my documentary “The Other Side of Cannabis: Negative Effects of Marijuana on Our Youth” (www.oscdoc.com), featuring more than 20 individuals whose lives were negatively affected and more than a dozen researchers who explain why. The film won “Best Documentary” at the Sunset Los Angeles Film Festival and has since been an important educational tool for mental health workers, schools, law enforcement, and other professionals, as well as for families and individuals.
With the State of California facing legalization, it is imperative we educate on these negative effects. It is imperative we warn our youth, their parents, educators, and other professionals. The common perception that marijuana is a harmless, natural plant that should be legal is bolstered by a host of misleading statements. There is no consideration for the double teen addiction rate in legal states, the dramatic increase of fatal drugged driving accidents while under the influence of marijuana, the damage to the developing brains of our adolescents, teenagers and young adults—including persistent depression, mental illness (including schizophrenia, bi-polar, anxiety disorders), decrease in IQ by nearly 8 points, the increase of crime and stench associated with grows, as well as environmental effects: high density water usage (we are in a drought), butane labs now rivaling meth labs to cook marijuana “honey oil and dabs”, and the hollow promise of increased tax revenues that are simply not materializing in legal states.
If my son were a rare occurrence of this response to marijuana use, I would probably cry silently to myself. However, since releasing my film, I have met and heard from many, many families who are experiencing these same outcomes—too many to ignore. Some have lost their children when their psychosis was so unbearable they took their own lives. Some parents have asked me, “Will we ever see our child again…we don’t recognize this person anymore.”
Today my son continues to have relapses and then periods of sobriety. He struggles with depression and anxiety that was triggered by THC. We continue to have strong boundaries. Our hope is for healing, peace, and well-being. Will he ever fully recover? This new breed of marijuana is so new that there simply isn’t data to bear out what the long-term affects are. That remains to be seen.
The big money that is banking on marijuana as an industry is feeding society distorted information about its safety, its medicinal value, and its promises to infuse taxes, stop the cartel, decrease prisoners, cure cancer, and much more. This is the big tobacco of yesteryear—the same ones who addicted our children on cigarettes. They are poised to addict a new generation of young people for a profit. Our culture needs to catch up to the science. My mission is to educate. Educate not only our youth, but their parents and grandparents, professionals, healthcare workers, etc. Education and understanding may help prevent the next generation from falling victim to the harmful negative effects of today’s marijuana.
JB: Producer/Director The Other Side of Cannabis
On October 5, 2016, the Not JUST Pot Anymore Conference will take place in San Luis Obispo, CA, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Sabet and addiction specialist Dr. Stuart Gitlow, as well as Chelsea Clarke from HIDTA Colorado. and Jody Belsher to present a clip from the documentary, “The Other Side of Cannabis: Negative Effects of Marijuana on Our Youth” (www.oscdoc.com). For more information on attending either the Conference (1:30-5:30 p.m.) or the Parent/Student Forum (7-8:30 p.m.) go to www.oscdoc.com/conference.html.