High Potency Pot Took My Son

by Laura Stack

Johnny Stack struggled with social anxiety and panic attacks in high school, which were successfully managed with support, prescription medications, and therapy. He could have been fine. Then at about 16 years old (when he could drive), Johnny discovered marijuana and believed it helped his anxiety. (Yes, we live in Colorado. Yes, it is everywhere. Yes, your kids can get it too unless you chain them to their beds.) He started “dabbing” high-THC marijuana (they smoke a very potent wax or shatter form), which triggered bizarre episodes of psychosis, a first suicide attempt, and delusional thinking (the FBI was after him, the world “knew about him,” the mob had it in for him, we were “in on it,” etc.).

We would dis-enroll him from his current university, admit him to mental hospitals, and they would stabilize him with medications, and he’d recover…until he did the drugs again. He would try other illicit drugs as well. Eventually, even when he stopped using marijuana, the psychosis did not go away, and he developed full-blown schizophrenia.

He was put on anti-psychotics to control the delusion, but he didn’t like how “stupid” they made him feel, because he was extremely intelligent. So, he would stop taking them without telling us (a common problem with the disorder). When he died, he had given up smoking, he wasn’t on drugs, and he wasn’t depressed. But because he wouldn’t take the medications he now needed, the paranoid delusions told him to stop the pain, and he jumped.

I’m not making judgments about your right to use marijuana where it’s legal if you’re over 21, and I am not arguing that it helps you with chronic pain, etc. I’m sharing my direct experience of my 19-year-old son using high-potency marijuana, which triggered psychosis, which led to suicide.

Johnny said 3 days before he died, “You were right all along about the drugs.” He started with high-THC pot, which led to stronger, illicit drugs such as LSD. Then drug-induced schizophrenia led to suicide.

Rest in peace my beloved son

Johnny Kenneth Stack
2/7/00 – 11/20/19

Laura Stack, Colorado. Founder & CEO, The Productivity Pro, Inc.

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16 Comments

  1. Sally Schindel

    Reply

    Dear Laura,

    Thank you for sharing Johnny with us. May he live forever in our hearts and in those who heed his warning that you are right about the drugs.

    Wishing you peace as you share Johnny with others to spare more families our pain of losing our children. There are too many families losing too many children.

  2. Ken Finn MD

    Reply

    Your family is in our thoughts. You have a large network here. We continue to educate on the harms of high potency pot (>10% by definition, which does not exist here in Colorado). Happy to chat if interested. KF

    • Reply

      Thank you Ken. I always told him, “Don’t do drugs or pot, because it will kill your brain cells.” “Don’t smoke weed, because it will make you stupid and cause mental health issues,” etc. etc. Kids today think we don’t know what we’re talking about. Hey, it’s Colorado, it’s legal, it must be safe, right?! Ugh, so awful. I miss my boy. Two months today.

    • Uluk Chorov

      Reply

      How and why has it been decided that anything 10%< is deemed "high potency?" Seems arbitrary without proper source/context.

      • Christine

        Reply

        In response to Uluk – I think you mean <10% THC is considered low strength THC. When only two categorical levels of potency are being evaluated in a study ("low" and "high"), leading psychiatric epidemiologists in Europe have chosen 10% as the cutoff point (e.g. DiForti et al., 2019, The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across Europe (EU-GEI):a multicentre case-control study). You must understand that potency is generally lower in Europe, and they chose 10% because that value distinguished a more potent product known on the street as "skunk" from the type of product more common in the last century. Because so little epidemiology is conducted in the U.S. on the impacts of different strengths of THC, there are no generally accepted "low" and "high" levels here.

        Editors Note: Christine Miller is the Scientific Advisor to MomsStrong.org

  3. Linda

    Reply

    Laura,

    An article in the USA Today led me to this website. I am so sorry this happened to your beautiful son. We are now dealing with exactly the same issue with my beautiful 19 year old son. As we speak, instead of going to his university classes here in Florida, he is in a psychiatric facility for the 4th time and is now suffering from schizophrenia after smoking marijuana nonstop for several weeks. We are desperate to get him help and will do anything within our power to help him but are finding it so difficult to find the appropriate treatment and care not only because so few facilities are able to help him, but mostly because he has no recognition of what is happening to him and since he is 19 and technically an adult it is almost impossible to get him to agree to anything. Additionally we have tried legally to gain control over him to force him into treatment but since it is “only marijuana” outpatient treatment is the only option and there are limited legal enforcement tools. Please if anyone out there has any advise please please help. Laura my heart aches for you and your family.

    • Reply

      Perhaps reach out to a community anti-drug coalition (They may know a treatment center for these issues.) Check out the website, Parents Opposed to Pot, or the private Facebook group of same name (Ask to join). Best of luck to you; sounds very tough.

    • Reply

      I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through with your beautiful son. It sounds exactly like what happened to my Johnny. If he is in a center, they will keep him safe, but it’s afterward that’s worrisome. My son had taken me off all the medical approvals as well, so he shut me out of being able to help him. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but looking back, I would have called the Colorado Crisis Centers and gotten social services involved to get our family help—throwing all pride and concern to the wind. I would have called the police to pick him up. I would have mortgaged our home and done anything I could to get him into private inpatient. I would have moved out of Colorado, where pot is seen like no big deal, and there are drugs everywhere. There are centers that handle dual diagnosis with mental health and drug addiction issues. The trick is to get the state to legally recognize that he is incompetent and unable to make decisions for himself and get legal custody. You can get his psychiatrist to force the hospital to give him a shot that will stick for 3 months vs. trying to get him to take something every day he won’t take because he doesn’t think anything is wrong with him. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. Prayers for you all!

  4. Eric

    Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss. I will keep your family in my prayers.
    I agree with a lot of this article. I do not think marijuana needs to be legalized in over 10 to 20 states. Legalizing it everywhere will also make the Mexican Cartels even deadlier.
    Only 1 in 10 people get addicted to pot, but if everyone starts doing it….then we have a huge issue on our hands.

    Another strain of pot to watch out for is the K2 strain of pot. I used it heavily when I was 19 and in college and it almost took my life. I think/ hope that it is outlawed everywhere by now but it should have taken my life as I was also a high stakes poker online poker player at a very young age which is also very dangerous.

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