I am a resident of California and the mother of a now 22 year old gifted son “Mel” who experienced an adverse reaction in part to THC edibles at ages 20 and 22.
I grew up in the Midwest in the 70’s and tried pot in college. It was a social thing and made me laugh. My friends were all very smart and I never saw negative effects from “getting high”. When I moved to SF in 1981, I didn’t have friends who partook except the occasional college friends whom I saw a couple of times a year.
Once married at 30, I didn’t smoke pot as my social circle did not. One night I tried the new “medicinal” strain with friends who were MD’s. On my drive home, the very potent strain made the familiar road look ominous and difficult to navigate. My eyes were very red and my husband got angry at me.
I didn’t smoke for a few years until I divorced in my early 40’s, I smoked on occasion with a few friends, but never experienced the out of control feeling from the medicinal strain.
In my 50’s, my son Mel left for college at a highly academic California state college. He had never tried pot and mentioned in high school he would not attend a party one night because the parents gave pot to kids at the party and he didn’t want any part of it.
After his first year, I drove him home and he confided he had tried pot and magic mushrooms and I said “moderation is key” and warned him about LSD. A college friend’s son had a break- down a few years prior and ended up in a psych ward. He recovered but had a struggle. I thought only drugs like LSD could cause psychiatric problems.
I could never have been more uninformed.
His second year at college, Mel developed insomnia and was able to obtain a medical marijuana card by phoning a doctor in the college town. A few weeks later, he became distrustful of me and accused me of preventing him from going on a ski trip. He stopped talking to me and his personality changed drastically. The son who confided in me and was close had now be so silent.
He did blame his poor grades on me via text and started complaining about money problems despite his college being funded by his father and me. A review of his bank account revealed $6,000 in transactions around $200 each. I came to realize he was drug dealing. I was powerless over this illegality and was concerned. His father did not want to confront Mel about his finances.
Though Mel reconnected with me, I was not sure if he was still smoking pot. He seemed genuine and happy to see me and I mostly listened to him describe his summer vacation. He left for his 3rd year of college and was living off campus with 2 young men he barely knew.
The new friends showed Mel the true meaning of “mega” pot. These THC products are delivered to medical marijuana cardholders via Internet dispensaries as well as weed and “dabs” hash oil here in California. The MD rarely suggests which type of THC product the patient should use.
In March of 2014 during a vacation in Lake Tahoe with his father, Mel ate lemon bars containing THC or edibles. He called me very upset and depressed during this time (I did not know about the edibles at all). Mel told his father he wasn’t sure he wanted to live. I thought it was some kind of father-son dispute. His father shared that our son’s mood was defensive and withdrawn and of concern. I suggested that he take Mel out and tried to keep his spirits up.
They returned back home a few days later and I started to notice strange behaviors. At breakfast, he told me everyone was looking at him in a restaurant. I calmly assured him that was not the case. Mel told me after watching 60 Minutes, he predicted all of the news stories and felt responsible for the world. That night while we slept, he went from room to room in our home, smoking marijuana, leaving seeds and weed behind. He curled up in our basement on a beanbag chair saying his room of 20 years made him feel “scared”. He was supposed to return to college to begin 3rd quarter that morning. After breakfast, he seemed to snap out of this fearful state. I reluctantly watched him drive off for the 5 hour trip to the California Central Coast. He called me when he arrived, saying someone had stolen his tennis bag. The next day Mel told me on the phone, “I gotta go, they are trying to steal my phone.” I was concerned but had no idea what all of these behaviors meant nor what to do.
Just a week after this lemon bar ingested vacation, Mel became so disorganized and had such disturbing behaviors that his college friend Liam noticed. Out of concern, Liam contacted me via Facebook playing a voice mail of Mel saying “I’m not sure if I want to live. I’m seeing flying mustaches. So call me if you think I should live.” Mel had never had depression or doubt about living. Panic-stricken, I called the local police who did a “well check” on Mel that night and called the local mental health to assess him. At midnight, the police called me and said Mel was not a harm to himself. His father and my fiance Matt made a plan to drive down and pick up Mel the next morning.
However, the next morning Mel called me and said he had run out of gas at 7 am. I suggested he call AAA road service. His reply was, “No wallet, no money”. Around 9:30 am, Liam called me and said he just sent Mel back to his house by cab as he saw him walking down his street in slippers and pajama bottoms. Mel had told Liam that he threw his cell phone into a creek because it needed to be detonated. I once again asked the local police to check on him as he now had no wallet or ID or cell phone. My anxiety was rising. The police confirmed Mel had made it home.
At 11:30 am, I received a call from Mel’s roommate Katy saying Mel had run out of gas and left his truck on the side of the road. I told Katy about his father coming to pick him up within the hour and asked if she could stay with Mel until his father arrived. When Matt and his father arrived to Mel’s room, it was in complete disarray. Katy told me walking with Mel was like being with a 6 year old. Mel cried when he left Katy’s house. It was Katy’s 21st birthday that night and there was going to be a party.
That night the son who returned home was not the son we knew. When I approached the truck window, Mel stared through me silently as if I wasn’t there. He then got out and walked about his father’s home, touching the walls on the garage and inside the dining room. He went silently into his bedroom, removing his shoes. I brought him a cup of tea and his mood shifted suddenly back into communication. He ate a little food but was talking a lot. Concerned, I asked him to go to the ER to see what was in his blood stream. Mel agreed amicably but upon entering the ER, he became agitated, paranoid and delusional once we went into the ER treatment area.
After they drew Mel’s blood, I spent 4 hours with Mel to keep him calm. Mel refused to urinate and the MD assessed him as in the midst of a 1st time psychotic break with the possibility of schizophrenia. Because he was at risk to harming himself, the hospital would not let him leave or did a “5150” to await a psychological assessment. I did not know that our hospital did not have an on call psychiatrist. Apparently that is only in the movies these days. My heart sunk and I was in complete shock.
Watching Mel hunched over, talking to himself in a hospital gown, telling me to get him out of there, menacing the security guards was excruciating. It was the worst night of my life.
When he did urinate, THC was the only substance the lab tests tested positive for.
The next morning, despite no sleep, Mel’s mood shifted back to stable. We were surprised when the psych liaison (a licensed social worker) sent him for a 72 hour hold “5150” and we could not challenge that decision. We had no idea what the psych hospital would do to treat Mel. Mel finally fell asleep about 5:30 pm after having been awake for 2 or 3 nights. The ambulance transferred him asleep to Aurora Behavioral Hospital, a lock down hospital.
The impact of the break on our son was profound. The first morning, Mel begged Aurora staff to let us to visit him. He had his head down on the table when we arrived. His first words were “They made me take Lithium.” and he was very distraught. This was a shock to us as well. He also had to take antipsychotic drugs and was told he was Bipolar Manic just a couple of days after he was admitted. We were powerless to get Mel released from Aurora.
Both his father and I found articles online about “substance induced psychosis” that we both agreed sounded exactly like Mel’s symptoms. We showed the article to the Aurora treating psychiatrist who replied “I used to work in Haight-Ashbury in the 60s, and I never saw any such condition.” This psychiatrist was convinced that Mel was Bipolar.
We later learned that it takes up to 60 days for THC to leave the body and that a mental health diagnosis can’t be made until the drugs are out of the system.
Being told Mel was Bipolar was devastating. We did our best to accept the news, but it was very sad to think Mel’s strong young mind could have this condition. Mel’s father finally shared that he had eaten half of a lemon bar by accident in Tahoe and went to the parking garage and suddenly did not know where he was. It was obvious that Mel had a substance abuse problem and seemingly a mental health condition.
I began to attend Al Anon while Mel was in Aurora because of Mel’s seemingly addictive drug use. I worked full time at a new job and many days I would feel so sad it was nearly impossible to get out of my car and walk in the door. I felt isolated and alone amongst the contract coworkers and filled with great shame.
Mel suffered withdrawal side effects from the THC. He called us crying or calm, complained of pain in his testicles, headaches, panic attacks and stomachaches. However at the time, we had no idea that THC was the cause as not one professional in Aurora interpreted these symptoms as such despite our numerous reports. Mel had to take an academic leave of absence for the quarter and slowly became isolated and withdrawn from our family. His symptoms persisted for 3 weeks and his mood became more negative, unpredictable and aggressive each day.
These were all THC side effects I learned about 9 months later from Jody Belsher’s documentary film The Other Side of Cannabis. Mel attended an outpatient program for 6 weeks where he was told repeatedly he was Bipolar Manic, prescribed meds that made him feel sick. Depressed, Mel went back to smoking marijuana with his local friends he called “loser potheads”.
In May one night, Mel told me he had a part time job. The next week I asked him how the job was going. He answered “What job”? and could not recall telling me about it.
I said “I think you might have a problem with marijuana. I don’t know if you can quit.”
He replied “Am I high now?”
I answered softly, “I don’t know”.
He then packed up his belongings and moved to his father’s house. His father put up with Mel smoking marijuana. Mel’s sister Sally and his father both told me Mel’s room smelled disgusting. Mel stopped speaking to his father for 2 months. His mood was down, negative. I heard nothing from Mel at all. The second silence began. More heart wrenching sorrow and I prayed for Mother Mary to protect my son every day.
It was at this time I became sick at the smell of marijuana and refused to allow it in my house. I will never smoke it again.
3 months after the psychotic break, Mel was let go from an internship after 2 weeks due to his inability to focus. He spent the rest of the summer smoking pot in his room. Mel was supposed to be in my wedding but did not attend. This was heartbreaking for me but I had to accept this.
September 2014, Mel returned to his 4th year of college. From this point on, he struggled academically and socially. He was a gifted and talented young man who slowly has lost cognitive functioning. He went from the dean’s list his first year to near academic probation his 4th year just months after this breakdown. Mel had been an almost straight A student in high school, was on the tennis team and played percussion in the school orchestra. He never smoked or drank in high school. He was a good kid.
I heard nothing from Mel in reply to text messages, voice mail and email; his father gave me periodic updates. The holidays and silence were most painful. Each day, I had to go to work and pretend to be “normal” as my heart was breaking further with grief. “Lost of the living” is what I called it.
In January 2015, I was desperately lonely as no one in Al Anon had a story like Mel’s. I searched on the Internet for a “mothers against marijuana” and found CALM (Californians Against Legalization of Marijuana) who connected me to a web site called Parents Opposed to Pot where I read a story written by a mother about her college student son. He had similar symptoms after accidentally eating a chocolate bar with THC who was almost diagnosed and treated for a psychotic break just like Mel. This caused me to wonder whether Mel’s THC levels were high. A friend’s husband who was a substance abuse counselor, asked me what his THC levels were. I checked his lab results and the levels were > 50 ng up to 100 ng, 10 to 20 times times the > 5 ng legal limit. Not one professional interpreted Mel’s THC levels for me. I found Jody Belsher’s documentary film. I watched the movie and it began with a story similar to Mel’s “It is just pot.”
The worst part of all this is that most medical and psychiatric professionals don’t recognize or acknowledge these symptoms. I used to think “It is just pot” being from the 70’s myself. Then I learned that THC was 1-2% back then and is now 15 to 35 %.
I then met Lori, another mother whose son suffered a similar reaction. Sadly, her son lost his life. Later in March, I met Sally, whose son also lost his life. Finally Mel contacted me April 1st from jail. He had to withdraw from college and is in the legal process currently facing probation at minimum. Mel has taken responsibility for his actions, however I suspect THC had a part in his emotional state which had an influence on his criminal charges.
My final point is the effect of THC on human minds is unpredictable and highly individual. You could be a “Mel” or his father. Are you willing to take the chance on THC roulette for your loved ones young minds?
In November 2015, Mel suffered a 2nd break from pot. His state was so disturbing, Mel, his father and I agreed to a rehab program. Mel had come home and he returned to move his belongings and see his friends one last time. Unfortunately, Mel partied with them a bit too much and had an accident and totaled the vehicle.
He called me next morning and said I was right about pot and he wanted to quit. We arranged a train ticket and he came home and checked into a dual diagnosis rehab facility.
Today Mel is in recovery and has learned that he had marijuana-induced-psychosis and takes meds for his insomnia and lives in a sober living house.
His criminal issue is not yet resolved after one very long year. He has only a few classes to finish his degree but has prioritized recovery over his education. Many people can understand addiction and others understand the mental health impacts, but the criminal part is the most difficult perhaps to accept. Accepting the unacceptable has become my mantra.
A mind is such a fragile thing especially among our young people from all walks of life.
Sonoma County, CA