We Lost Ben at Age 21


Our son, Ben, died from a growing wave of modern substance abuse issues which directly impacted his mental health on May 19, 2020.

Growing up Ben was full of energy, had a great sense of humor, loved basketball, gaming on his computer, cars and technology. His sister, brother and friends would always count on Ben to entertain and make things amusing. However, when Ben started to self-medicate his problems during his early years of high school, things started to spiral down quickly. A delayed growth spurt hurt him athletically and he then decided to put his energy into computer gaming around the clock. His dyslexia, ADHD, low self-esteem and anxiety seemed to be superficially fixed with gaming. As the gaming really sped up his brain, he started to self-medicate with weed to calm his mind and find an escape. As we later discovered, this led to weekly, sometimes daily, weed use for the next 3-4 years. Weed use, lying, and stealing led him to a wilderness development program for 78 days outside of Durango, CO. We had gone out as a family to pick him up, support him and celebrate his graduation. This was a happy time for us to see Ben healthy and weed free. After a 30 day stint in a therapeutic boarding school, Ben came home and gradually found his way back to prior issues, despite attending a new high school, he started smoking and dabbing high concentration THC weed again. As we are learning now, high THC and a developing brain do not go together and can re-wire the brain to impede connectivity, create serious frontal lobe issues, lower IQ scores 6-8 points, paranoia, delusions and eventually lead to psychosis and/or schizophrenia.


As Ben kept searching for the next best natural thing, he found psychedelic mushrooms his last year of life. We believe he had 1 or 2 psychotic breaks around the same time and ended up spontaneously driving out to California, from Ohio, to find his California dream of being rich and living by the ocean. His father and I went out to find him early this year and found a different Ben. A Ben living out of his wrecked car with no belongings. He gave them all away including his phone and wore a heavy parka jacket 24 hours a day. He looked homeless and unkempt and was having auditory delusions, paranoia, mania at times, and he was talking a lot about Satan. Our Ben was gone. We wanted to get him back to Ohio but he would not have it so we ended up getting him into a behavioral hospital in Laguna, CA for 3 weeks, a treatment center in Pasadena for another 3 weeks and lastly, a sober house his last 2 months. At 21 years of age, he was calling all the shots, and we did all what we could do to help him navigate him through a dysfunctional mental health support system. We didn’t want him to go homeless and lose him. COVID-19 hit in the middle of this and we are unable to go to CA to access him and celebrate his birthday in April, finally our youngest was going to be 21. Weeks pass by with little communication from him, but we found some comfort knowing he was clean, being regularly drug tested, staying in a home with a curfew and a house manager keeping watch on him pushing him to look for a sustainable job. We also began having talks with him to move him back to Ohio and he agreed. We were feeling relief and scared at the same time for we knew he needed some serious help but we wanted our son home. Our son would be home by the end of the week, we thought.

The next day we got the call. Ben was “running in the lanes” on Interstate 5 in Laguna Hills a little after midnight and was killed by semi trailer tractor. Our beloved son is gone forever.

Reprinted with permission of the To the Top Foundation which was founded by Ben’s family to promote mental health awareness.

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  1. Sharon Southard


    I am so, so sorry you lost your son too! It is so devastating to hear the same story over and over! Just know that you can reach out to anyone of us at Moms Strong, for compassion and understanding, as you deal with this devastating loss. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Sally Schindel


    Thank you for sharing your Ben with our Moms Strong family.
    I am so sorry this happened in your family too. May you find peace & support here with us.

    My son Andy is forever 31 due to, in his words, marijuana killing his soul + ruining his brain.

    Thank you for sharing & helping others.

  3. Reply

    I am so so sorry! Thank you for sharing your testimony with us. Parts of this read as if I wrote them about my son. I pray that you find peace and comfort with this group and as you selflessly share to help others.

  4. Reply

    Devastating. Tragic. So sorry for your loss. My brother was homeless and delusional too. My heart goes out to you & your family.

  5. Reply

    As a physician I told my teenage patients that Mj causes you to get fat ( increased appetite), makes you stupid ( decreased cognition) , and finally does lead to harder drugs with their and scamming for money !

  6. Dana Preisse


    Ben was a wonderful, kind, polite young man. We loved him dearly. My son was a lifelong friend and schoolmate. My heart breaks every time I think about losing him. His family tried so hard to save him. This is not the first of our friends who did everything they could, only to lose a child. We love you Ben and all of your family.

  7. Kendra Strah


    Your story is so full of courage and a strong desire to spread your story to help others. Stay strong and rely upon your faith, family and friends because you have an enormous support system. The information you so bravely shared is very eye-opening and I am hoping it will help parents to understand the impact of drugs upon the brains of young men like Ben. Much love❤️

  8. Kim


    I am so sorry for your loss. I am very much against the use of marijuana and I understand now it is even more of a concern than it was to users from 30+ years ago. I’ve read they are adding horrible substances to it these days. I think your website and cause is a great idea and I look forward to watching the videos and helping to promote this awareness. Again, I am so sorry for your heartbreaking news. May your sons soul rest in peace and may you find comfort in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Blessings, Kim

  9. John Keenan


    Thanks so much for sharing this incredibly painful story. I knew Ben as a young boy and he was all the wonderful things you said. Those are my memories of him. None of us are immune to our kids veering off the good path you put them on. Wishing you all (and Ben) peace and only good memories.

  10. Linda Halsey


    So heart breaking hearing your story of Ben. I remember the little boy Ben. Thank you for sharing his story. Unfortunately this is happening to often and as parents and grandparents we are often at a loss on how to help. Seems like you tried everything you could possibly do. So sorry for you loss.

  11. Melissa Snider


    I am so very sorry for your loss. My oldest daughter went to high school with Ben. Having both mental illness and addiction in my family, I have witnessed with heartache so much of this with my mother and siblings. I watched how it shattered my mom to watch 2 of her children fight the same battles as she did. Sending much love and prayers for your family. I pray Ben has found a peace he sadly couldn’t find in this world. I pray this for my mom always.

  12. Hazel Bright


    My heart breaks reading your story and the loss of your son, Ben. Our son, Kevin, passed away two years ago and had a very similar path as Ben. Cannabis is devastating for our young people and takes their lives. I send my prayers to you and your family. Take care,

  13. Reply

    I’m so sorry for your loss. There’s a similar story that took place last year here in Maryland, where a young man started hanging out with users and soon became addicted to marijuana. He ended his life by first crashing his car into a fence above I-95, then walking down and lying on the roadway. My prayers are with you and your loved ones.

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