One of my dearest friends and colleagues, Laura Stack, just lost her 19-year-old son, Johnny Stack. He was a smart, funny, and affable young man who jumped off a six-story parking garage on November 20, 2019 . It’s a tragic story (see below) with three lessons that need to be widely shared:
- Excessive use of high-THC marijuana and concentrated oil is linked to psychotic episodes that in some cases develop into full-blown schizophrenia. FIVE PERCENT of 18-to 25-year old’s smoking high-THC pot develop Marijuana Use Disorder. PLEASE tell your kids, parents of kids and grandparents of these dangers.
- A few months before Johnny died, he wrote a college paper on the five most important values (Altruism, Patience, Conviction, Enthusiasm, and Gratitude). This short paper provided valuable insight and comfort to his family and all those he left behind. Laura has created a challenge for us to pick one of these values and become a “value ambassador” – working to promote and demonstrate that value. Feel free to join the challenge! But more importantly, if something happened to you today, would your loved ones know what was most important to you? And how would they know?
- Finally, let us have compassion for one another. As the Reverand John Watson said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” How true. As we move into 2020, let us show compassion to ourselves and with those around us.
Here’s the full story as Laura shared with us:
Johnny Stack struggled with social anxiety and panic attacks in high school, which were successfully managed with support, prescription medications, and therapy. He could have been fine. Then at about 16 years old (when he could drive), Johnny discovered marijuana and believed it helped his anxiety. (Yes, we live in Colorado. Yes, it is everywhere. Yes, your kids can get it too unless you chain them to their beds.) He started “dabbing” high-THC marijuana (they smoke a very potent wax or shatter form), which triggered bizarre episodes of psychosis, a first suicide attempt, and delusional thinking (the FBI was after him, the world “knew about him,” the mob had it in for him, we were “in on it,” etc.). We would disenroll him from his current university, admit him to mental hospitals, and they would stabilize him with medications, and he’d recover…until he did the drugs again. He would try other illicit drugs as well. Eventually, even when he stopped using marijuana, the psychosis did not go away, and he developed full-blown schizophrenia. He was put on anti-psychotics to control the delusion, but he didn’t like how “stupid” they made him feel, because he was extremely intelligent. So, he would stop taking them without telling us (a common problem with the disorder). When he died, he had given up smoking, he wasn’t on drugs, and he wasn’t depressed. But because he wouldn’t take the medications he now needed, the paranoid delusions told him to stop the pain, and he jumped.
I’m not making judgments about your right to use marijuana where it’s legal if you’re over 21, and I am not arguing that it helps you with chronic pain, etc. I’m sharing my direct experience with my 19-year-old son using high-potency marijuana, which triggered psychosis, which led to suicide. Can this be proven medically? Yes.
If you would be willing to help by having conversations with a young adult about the effects of THC on the developing brain, here is a portion of a BREAKPOINT podcast that I would ask you to read/listen and share: “A just-published study in the Lancet involving, among others, researchers at King’s College London, compared 900 people who had been treated for psychosis with 1,200 people who had not. Sample participants were drawn from across Europe and Brazil. Both groups were surveyed on a host of factors, including their use of marijuana and other drugs. The study’s authors concluded that “people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly FIVE TIMES” (capitals added by me). Read more at https://breakpoint.org/marijuana-and-psychosis
In another article, doctors in Colorado, California, and Massachusetts, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, say the facts are irrefutable: “Excessive use of high-THC pot and concentrated oil is linked to psychotic episodes that in some cases develop into full-blown schizophrenia.” FIVE PERCENT of 18-to 25-year old’s smoking high-THC pot develop Marijuana Use Disorder. https://www.usatoday.com/…/weed-psychosis-high-…/4168315002/.
Johnny was fiercely loved and constantly cared for…and is desperately missed. His heart was in the right place, but his brain turned on him. Please help me make sure this doesn’t happen to the young adults in your life. People blow off marijuana as no big deal, or it’s not going to happen to me. Well, it doesn’t always happen the 1st or the 2nd or 50th time they do it…marijuana is a sneaky, insidious beast waiting to take the life of our young ones. Talk to them! How do you know if they won’t be one of those 5%?