It’s Not Just Pot Anymore
My husband and I thought it was “just pot.” We had no idea our son’s teenage marijuana use could lead to a path of negative outcomes, including addiction and mental illness.
When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, the THC content in pot was roughly between 1-3%. It was a shock to learn that today’s marijuana tests from 15-25% THC on average, and in concentrated forms, up to 98%. This classifies today’s cannabis as a hallucinogenic drug with possible grave effects on developing brains. Use of today’s cannabis has caused dramatic increases in psychotic episodes in adolescents and young adults whose brains are still forming. This potent level of THC has been linked to triggering schizophrenia, as well as other mental illnesses such as major depression and anxiety disorders.
Our son easily obtained a medical marijuana card. There were no background checks or visual checks, which would have clearly indicated he was not well. He was able to purchase “medical” marijuana identical to “recreational” pot, just after checking out of a psych hospital. He had a valid, physician prescribed medical card, so he had the right to purchase the drug. Before long, he was exhibiting suicidal ideation and ended up back in the hospital.
Our beautiful child was not well. We were told our son had a cannabis-induced psychosis. We had never heard of such a thing. He had been a good student, an avid reader, a star athlete, and he had many friends and a loving family. He began raging, lying and stealing. He chose to live on the street rather than in the comfort of our home or his apartment. He lost his car, his job, his personal belongings, his girlfriend – he lost his life compass.
We tried to persuade him to quit using cannabis, but the drug had hijacked his brain. Things spiraled out of control. He consumed it, and it consumed him in every way.
After spending two miserable years watching my son’s life spiral out of control, I decided I had to do something. As a musician and songwriter, I began writing and performing songs about recovery. Over time, I began to realize that my music could connect with others’ experiences.
While on the set filming the video for my song “Gather the Dreams,” I had the epiphany that I could create a documentary to help others understand today’s marijuana. I flew to Boston and met with the top Harvard researchers on marijuana and the brain. From there I went to Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, then to Colorado, Illinois and throughout California to learn more about this “innocuous” drug.
My findings were startling. I experienced many miraculous events and powerful interviews. Fallout from this “harmless” drug seemed to be happening everywhere. It became my mission to educate the public on the negative effects of this drug.
Marijuana, it turns out, is a stubborn addiction. We have yet to realize the impact on our youth, as well as on society in general, from long-term use of new strains of potent marijuana developed primarily over the past decade. Many recovering addicts feel it is okay to use marijuana instead of their drug of choice – some continue to use despite negative consequences. Fueled by society’s current love affair with this drug, it is perceived as a harmless, natural plant.
Tobacco, too, was once thought to be harmless. Over time, however, we came to realize the physical side effects in the form of lung cancer, among others. Not surprisingly, it is this same industry that is most interested in addicting our children to marijuana. In states where marijuana use is legal, they are targeting young people with ads for edibles that include gummy bears, pop tarts and sodas.
We are only slowly beginning to recognize the dangers of marijuana. The 2013 edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) added cannabis withdrawal, one of the cannabis-related disorders, as a diagnosis. Pot withdrawal causes issues with sleep, appetite and cognitive abilities, and often also includes depression and anxiety.
Many people erroneously believe that if marijuana is legalized, the issue of excessive incarceration will be solved. However, imprisonment for marijuana possession by itself is rare. A 2004 Justice Department survey reported that nearly all of those sentenced to federal prison for any drug-related crime during that year-long period were sent to prison for something more serious than simple possession.
Studies from states where pot has been legalized indicate the black market continues to thrive by undercutting the price of taxed products. This in turn decreases the anticipated tax gains. Additionally, even organic varieties of marijuana are testing positive for harmful pesticides, mold and bacteria, presenting serious health dangers.
How can people find a solid recovery from cannabis addiction and marijuana use disorders? We are beginning to see treatment programs addressing this addiction, but the answer is the same as with any addiction: it begins with the individual’s desire to quit. Programs utilizing healthy foods, lifestyle changes, nutriceuticals, hyperbaric chambers, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapies are having positive impacts on those who make the decision to get clean.
Will my son find sobriety? We continue to hope for that day. When he is ready, we will be there for him. Meanwhile, I continue to educate and encourage prevention measures both in the home and in school, to identify at-risk youth, to support campaigns for healthy lifestyles and to educate professionals, many of whom are not familiar with the negative outcomes of today’s cannabis.
As a certified recovery support specialist, I am able to assist individuals and families with marijuana use disorders. I speak at conferences and to parents and show my documentary to help people understand that this is not just pot anymore. My film, The Other Side of Cannabis: Negative Effects of Marijuana on Our Youth, has won Best Documentary at the Sunset Los Angeles Film Festival and is now being shown worldwide.
Jody Belsher is a documentary producer and director. She is a master’s candidate in addiction studies, a certified recovery support specialist, a certified lifestyle coach and holds a degree in social work. www.oscdoc.com