I am a lifelong Californian, and so are my husband and two children, Brian, 24, and Melissa, 21. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, my husband and I had been exposed to marijuana. But marijuana these days – even the stuff sold in medical marijuana dispensaries – can contain anywhere from 18 to 25 percent THC, the chemical that gets you “high.” In our day, THC levels were in the single digits.
Brian was a high school star athlete, popular and friendly with everyone. He successfully applied to numerous in-state and out-of-state colleges and chose to go to school in central California. He graduated early from the four-year curriculum.
What we didn’t know until after he graduated was that he had depression. He saw a talk therapist who was helpful but decided not to take antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist. We supported him in this decision, not understanding the depth of his depression.
We now know he had been smoking marijuana during college. After graduation, he was unsure of his future career path and his depression worsened. We believe he started self-medicating with even more marijuana as well as Spice, or synthetic marijuana. Spice is being made in illegal labs in China, among other countries, before being imported to America. Packaged so it looks like herbs that can be smoked or made into a tea, Spice can be bought over-the-counter at just about any head shop or tobacco store. The herbs are usually sprayed with chemicals that cause the person to experience an intense, short-term high. Sometimes the chemicals are similar to rat poison and I know of young people who have died from it.
Brian had a psychotic break two years ago. Over the course of one month, he was 51/50’d three times. The first time he was taken to County Mental Health by the police. The second time he was taken to County Mental Health after checking himself into Emergency at a local hospital. The third time, he was taken to a lockdown psychiatric hospital.
After the second 51/50, he was released from County Mental Health where they gave him some clothes and a bus pass and sent him home. That night, he smoked more marijuana and accused his roommates of being undercover cops and spying on him. He was furious with them.
The next morning, he picked up an ax in his backyard and broke up a wooden shed he owned as well as a few other items. Understandably, his roommates were scared and called the police. When they arrived, Brian dropped the ax but still resisted arrest. We thank God he was not on the sidewalk in front of the house with the ax when the police arrived and he resisted arrest or he may have been shot. He was handcuffed and taken to jail, where he stayed for five days until he was arraigned and we could post bail.
While in jail, Brian was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. They gave him medication, which started to bring him out of the psychosis. He was still paranoid and psychotic while in jail, claiming that the deputies were torturing him by piping carbon monoxide into his padded cell.
After releasing him from jail, we drove to a dual diagnosis center in Los Angeles, which was not equipped to take him in his psychotic state. He came home with us instead. We admitted him to a day program near our home but they kicked him out after a few days because he was too disruptive. Still psychotic, he decided to take the train back to his hometown. We could not stop him. A week later, he went to the emergency room at his hospital because he said he didn’t feel well. We believe he was feeling suicidal. County Mental Health was called and they 51/50’d him again, this time taking him to the psychiatric hospital. The facility gave him more anti-psychotic medication and also diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.
Meanwhile, we were facing numerous court hearings for Brian. His attorney was able to convince the court that Brian was not a criminal and that his actions were caused by mental illness. The judge mandated that Brian meet with one of the court’s psychologists, who confirmed the bipolar disorder diagnosis, although she thought it could also be schizophrenia. The district attorney’s office fought to keep Brian in the criminal courts, but the judge decided in Brian’s favor and moved him to mental health court. Brian was sentenced to two years of behavioral health treatment through the mental health court and three years’ probation for the felonies and misdemeanors. It was a very good outcome.
Brian attended the behavioral health court-mandated therapy sessions twice a week and had to submit to search and seizure checks and drug-testing by his probation officer. He also had to go to a psychiatrist and stay on medication. He has since been released from both programs for good behavior.
A year into his treatment, Brian was asked by the behavioral health treatment court to get a new psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist ran eight hours of tests on Brian and came to the conclusion that Brian did NOT have bipolar disorder but was still depressed. Brian has since been off the bipolar disorder medication and is working on controlling his moods using the therapeutic techniques he learned through treatment. We believe he is clean and not smoking marijuana.
Brian is currently working at a restaurant. We do not know what his future holds, but we do know that he is extremely lucky to be alive. His father and I are taking it one day at a time with him and letting him heal mentally, physically and emotionally from this ordeal. One thing we do know: marijuana is NOT harmless and nearly killed my son. I pray for and think about all the young people and their parents who have not been as lucky.
In order to keep our story as brief as possible, I have omitted numerous details about this two-year journey with Brian and his involvement with drugs, the law, and mental hospitals. All I can say is that it was a life-changing experience for him, as well as for his immediate and extended family. Many of our friends and family members were in shock that the happy, easygoing young man they had known all his life had experienced such trauma.
We are in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in the history of America, and I would put marijuana near the top of the list as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. It’s hard to believe that so many otherwise smart, successful people in this country – including congressmen, senators, doctors and lawyers – are so naïve as to think that legalizing marijuana would be a positive step.
The truth is, today’s marijuana is destroying the lives of young people and killing our kids.
(Editor’s note: 51/50 means when a person is suspected of being mentally unstable that makes him/her “a danger to themselves or others and/or gravely disabled” a qualified clinician or officer is authorized to involuntarily confine that person)