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Denial. The hospital social worker must have thought that I typified the word as we sat uncomfortably staring at one another in her office. I knew she was searching for her next words even as I was searching for a way to refute them … whatever they might be.

Neither my mind nor my heart could make sense of what I had just heard her say, “Mrs. McGuire, we need to talk about your son’s marijuana use.” My immediate response of, “My son doesn’t use marijuana” is what led up to our awkward moment. She took a deep breath and sympathetically said, “Well according to him, he’s using a lot.” To which I replied, “He’s lying.”

Looking back on this scene, I am embarrassed that I didn’t see it, know it, couldn’t even begin to accept it, recognize it, or understand it. Most of all, I had no way of realizing the long-term implications of what she was describing to me as marijuana induced psychosis.

Because on that day, just a few hours before sitting in her office, I was asleep in my bed in the wee hours of Saturday morning when my oldest son gently placed his hand on my shoulder, waking me and whispering, “I need to talk to you downstairs.” I noted the time, 3:15 a.m. and stepped into the hall. His quiet but urgent pronouncement of, “I just found [my brother] hanging in our closet” shook me to the core.

I rushed to the basement and leapt onto my son’s bed where he lay facing the wall. I turned him toward me, seeing deep purple ligature marks on his throat, all I could do was utter his name. His stony reply was, “What.” Relief flooded me when I heard his voice. But I didn’t have time to focus on that moment of gratitude as I fought to clear my mind of panic and think through next steps.

A short time later, I found myself moving numbly through the surreal conversation with the hospital social worker and desperately trying to understand her words, “His prescription for Adderall combined with his heavy marijuana use caused a psychotic break. It is actually a common outcome.”

I was so naïve about marijuana and so certain that my 17 year old

was not a heavy drug user that even as I look back at my conversations with friends and family members in the weeks following the suicide attempt, I did not mention the marijuana use. It horrified me. We were a Christian family. We had a structured home life. I was an involved parent. My son was active in youth group. He was a gifted student, creative writer, and talented musician with an amazing sense of humor. How could he be a drug user?

When he began having trouble in school a few years earlier, I worked through plans with his teachers when it seemed like stress was overcoming him, I kept regular appointments with our pediatrician to have him assessed and keep a watchful eye on his needs.

Were there obvious signs? Oh yes. There certainly were. But having no experience with this issue, I had no idea that the glaring truth was staring me in the face daily.

Sadly, in-patient treatment was not successful, nor was out-patient treatment. Our lives began to revolve around our son’s addiction and the never-ending appointments, meetings, confrontations, stress and bizarre drama that we never imagined we would experience.

It was both frustrating and heartbreaking to listen as my son frequently described his commitment to marijuana and observe his inability to see how negatively it impacted – even controlled him. We learned we were not fighting a behavior but a mind-set that was cemented into his belief system. Marijuana had become his life, his religion, his identity.

In 2012, just as Colorado was gearing up to vote on Amendment 64 which legalized recreational marijuana, my son’s involvement in drug use escalated to a point where he had to leave our home. For 15 months he chose to live as a street person, travelling up and down the west coast, looking for food in garbage cans and searching for a safe place to sleep at night.

Imagine looking into the faces of every young, homeless person and wondering if you will recognize your own child. Each time I would remember that he was thousands of miles away, whispering a prayer that he would be safe and choose to live sober. He was robbed repeatedly, lost his identification, and experimented with harder drugs.

One day he called me to excitedly report that he was able to obtain food at a “Bum Feed”. Within a heartbeat I was elated to hear his voice and devastated at the realization of what his life had become. Eventually he decided to try the east coast and I was able to see him for a few minutes in a bus station depot when he passed through our state. Joy and grief. The face of my son on a vagrant.

No longer afforded the luxury of denial, my passion is to help other parents realize the warning signs, to encourage those who share similar stories, to keep hope in my heart for my son and to vigilantly educate people that marijuana is NOT harmless, NOT safe and NOT for kids. It is an addictive drug that causes particular harm to youth who are being targeted as new consumers. It’s time to get real about the truth of marijuana. Please join me and be a voice for our kids.

Jo McGuire Five Minutes of Courage “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn
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  1. Viginia Currie


    TV Stations, Newspapers should tell the world about what is happening to our people because of this drug.IT IS THE DRUG OF DEATH>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Politicians in all the states should let the world know what is happening to their young people. Check the hospitals that are over run with young people whose brain has been effected. Wake up
    everyone…The Greed for money is destroying our country. People that produce this drug don’t care about who they and how many they KILL>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    • Florence Campbell


      Oh how brave this lady is to put this out for other people to read.
      My heart aches for her but I must thank her for telling her story as it may help lots of other families.

    • blair


      marijuana is a gateway drug after you used it for a couple of years you need stronger drugs to achieve the high you used to get.anyone who tries to tell you anything different have no clue what they are talking about.i been there done it.after all experience trumps denial

  2. Sally Schindel


    Thank you for your story Jo. It is a sorry state of affairs that we mothers need to stand up and tell these sad stories to try to be heard over the siren song of an enormous addiction industry preying on the minds of our youth, their future best customers. The industry itself should be working to protect youthful brains yet they continue to deny the addictive nature of their product. Just like Big Tobacco…

  3. Christine Miller


    This parent’s experience of her son’s Adderall exposure followed by the tragedy of his heavy marijuana use is sadly not unique in our country. More than any other country in the world, teachers and school administrators here will push for pharmaceutical approaches to the rambunctious behavior of children, particularly boys, to help solve the attentional difficulties they face in school. My neighbor’s hyperactive son had his recess taken away as punishment, when recess and other outlets for his seemingly boundless physical energy was what he desperately needed so he could then sit quietly in class. Like so many others, she finally caved in to the demands that he be treated with a stimulant, only to find out years later that the prescription he never really needed in the first place was going to keep him from being accepted into West Point. Fortunately, in his case, he did not go on to other drugs before he was able to wean himself from Adderall.

    But of the two drugs portrayed here, it is marijuana that bears the bulk of the responsibility for the damage to the future of Jo McGuire’s son by his descent into psychosis. More than any other drug, including the class of drugs to which Adderall belongs (the amphetamines), marijuana is associated with the development of chronic psychotic disorders. In Finland, they tracked nearly 19,000 patients who had been diagnosed with different types of drug-induced psychosis and found that the marijuana-induced psychosis cases most consistently converted from a reversible drug-induced state to a more chronic, permanent form. Only about half were able to recover, whereas a large majority of those with an amphetamine-induced psychotic state were able to return to normal (70%):

  4. Anna


    Right-on, Lori Robinson. Right-on. This insidious drug has swept every corner of America — it’s everywhere. And with the advent of the internet especially, kids everywhere are getting the message that pot is harmless. That message is being reinforced by so many different sources, and once you’re hooked you’re likely to listen to anything which reinforces your bias. Since the damaging effects can be subtle in some people, they are more likely to be convinced it’s benign. One of the more insidious things about pot is that if people feel life experienced through pot is so much more gratifying, exciting, etc., and they also think it’s harmless, that is an obvious recipe for disaster and addiction, since there is no incentive to create limits and boundaries. Decades ago I was babysitting a two-year-old, and the horrid parents were not only smoking pot in front of me, they then actually started blowing smoke into their baby’s face!! When I protested, they got verbally abusive and kicked me out. If you’ve convinced yourself it’s harmless, those boundaries toward self or others will blur or disappear.

  5. Pingback: Marijuana and Suicide: A Growing Risk for Our Youth -

  6. Patricia


    My husband has been addicted to marijuana for over 30 years. So many people say it is safe, it is not addictive, but I have seen the many times he has gone through withdrawal. I have also witnessed a man who is too chillaxed to care about disciplining his children or defending the way they treat their mother. He is emotionally withdrawn. But when we talk about it he says he doesn’t like who he is when he is not on it. Thirty years of marijuana use has undoubtedly damaged his brain. I wish more people understood that this is not just a cool, harmless, recreational drug.

    • Shawn lisa


      Sorry for your situation. I am 4 years clean from pot…started daily use late in life….late 30’s all kinds of reasons why, even thought it started innocently enough when my guard was down…thought what can be so bad about smoking pot? Ended up really liking the high but it ended up causing other problems and somewhat manageable(?) past abuse issues and A.D.D ish issues became inflamed and unmanageable…so when I reported concentration issues etc with dr. He figured ADD so prescribed Dexedrine….but I continued using pot…needless to say it was a bad cocktail and my life spiralled down bad. The rock bottom thing is a wake up…and I am grateful 20 + years later to have gained some recovery in the 4 years without pot…but did it have to be so hard…not fair to use hind sight for solution to life’s problems…we have to live it however it turns out…But seriously I can’t deny the devastation pot use caused…thanks for listening

  7. Samantha


    Thank you for sharing your story. I find myself dealing with something similar. I caught my 13 year old smoking marijuana in his room and needless to say i freaked out. I called the police and they came took the rest of his drugs and then i made him tell the police who sold it to him. So dealing with that, then the next day the same police officer showed up at my door. I walked out and he said that the school councilor called and said that my son told some of his friends that he was going to commit suicide by hanging himself. So as a mom i went through a lot of messages on his i pod and there it was him saying that he was going to hang himself cause no one loved him or cared about him. I just started crying.. I am doing my best to make sure he is ok but there are days that are hard. but when comes to our kids we do our very best to make sure they are ok..

  8. zona ross


    I feel so sorry for this tortured mother.I have heard many young people defend the use of marijuana truly thinking it will not hurt them but when it changes their personality and effects their lifestyles you can agree with the quote’They don’t call it Dope because it makes you Smart”.

  9. Ruth


    Thank you for sharing. We just found out that our church going, very gifted musician, 17 year old son has been using. Not totally surprised since he withdrew at the same time. The lie that it is not addictive, not harmful must be addressed. So devastating. Sad.

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