A mother, Laura Stack, from Colorado tells a story involving drugs and her late son Johnny. Ms. Stack talks about how when she first discovered Johnny smoking weed. She thought, “Oh well, it’s just weed. Thank God it wasn’t cocaine.” She had used it back when she was in high school, so she was merely concerned. However, after slipping into using high potency products frequently throughout the day, she says Johnny became “completely delusional.” Fast forward to college and Johnny has been through “various addiction programs,” eventually becoming convinced in his paranoia that “the mob was after him and his college was a base for the F.B.I.” Johnny, who had no mental problems earlier in his life, was being prescribed antipsychotics. In 2019, Johnny Stack fatally jumped from a six-story building. Laura Stack says that a few days prior, Johnny called her and “apologized to her, saying that weed had ruined his mind and his life, adding, ‘I’m sorry, and I love you.’”
Had I not known the title of this article, I would have thought Johnny’s story was that of a severe meth or heroin addiction, or symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. In high school, if you had mentioned psychosis and weed in the same sentence, I would have laughed you off. However, this is the reality of the weed products that are easiest to obtain for those underage—mostly oil concentrates which bear little resemblance to the plant from which they are derived. One likely reason Ms. Stack wasn’t initially alarmed by her son’s smoking is that modern weed is starkly different from the weed of a few decades ago that she would’ve smoked. This is partly due to THC percentages.
As the New York Times article “Psychosis, Addiction, Vomiting: As Weed Becomes More Potent, Teens Are Getting Sick” says, “In 1995, the average concentration of THC in cannabis samples seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration was about 4 percent. By 2017, it was 17 percent.” By June 2022, when this article was written, products with over 95% THC were being advertised. Another reason weed is affecting people more severely now is how little people know about the relationship between CBD and THC. I certainly didn’t know or care in high school. The percentage that isn’t THC (CBD) has gone down by as much as THC has gone up. In high school, friends and I used to think that CBD was lame; the more THC, the better. Turns out that CBD wasn’t solely the boring part of weed that didn’t get you high enough; it was actually tied to “relief from seizures, pain, anxiety and inflammation.” The studies cited in the article suggest that the less CBD is present, the higher the probability that the product will be addictive. One thing I didn’t know was that increased doses of THC are more likely to give one anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. People who were born without any preexisting mental health issues could now acquire permanent ones.
When I was in high school, I had no idea that I was smoking too much weed, that it was all in the form of concentrates, or what it was doing to me. At the end of the day, I just thought I had overly protective parents who would never give me a break. I’ll start by saying that there’s a common concept in addiction referred to as the “I have arrived” moment. Mostly having to do with the alleviation of social anxiety, this moment follows one’s first experience with drugs and alcohol and becomes the feeling one chases during the rest of their time on these substances. Any sort of otherness or separation one feels from those around them seems to go away. Any sort of repression or self-dislike becomes a thing of the past.
For me, this moment occurred when I was a freshman in high school playing hockey. I had kids who bullied me-–I just thought that was part of the deal of being a freshman. They would call me names I’d rather not repeat. When I first smoked with them, I felt at home. I felt like they actually liked me. It may be pertinent to mention that on top of a still-developing brain, I also had mental disorders I was being treated for with medication; on these medications you are really not able to drink or smoke. I was not ready to go off medication, nor was I ready to give up my new love of smoking, so I ended up compounding what were already some severe mental health issues.
My usual defense was that weed is not addictive. Like Johnny’s mother, I thought weed was more tame and less malicious than other drugs. One thing that the mixed high school crowd seemed to agree on was that smoking a bunch of weed was far less ugly than being an alcoholic. It was sort of unacknowledged when one of the fellow heavy pot smokers would miss a lot of school, or take a lot of time off to go away somewhere that we never talked about. As you can probably tell, given that my defense of weed was that weed was not addictive, I definitely hadn’t heard of the stat that the article cites from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Youths are also more likely to become addicted when they start using marijuana before the age of 18.” Once a fifteen-year-old who bellowed that you could not get addicted to weed, here I am almost seven years later being treated for addiction issues.
The good news is that I lived to tell the tale with at least some of my marbles left intact. A lot of people who went through these trials didn’t make it out . As I’ve said, I was a teen who believed the more THC was in my diet, the higher I’d get. That wasn’t necessarily false, but I didn’t realize that another truth was that the more THC there was, the more likely I was to experience addiction and psychotic symptoms. One measure the article mentions is if avoiding drug use isn’t a possibility, using products that are mostly CBD would be advisable. In a perfect world, one wouldn’t touch these products before their brain starts developing because there really is no safe limit.” Another measure that’s advised is open conversations between kids and their parents, “educating them about the dangers of high potency cannabis products compared to those that are mostly made of CBD.”
Believe me, having an open conversation with my parents is probably the last thing I would’ve done in high school. To me, my parents were the enemy, people who didn’t understand me and wouldn’t let me live my life. They had never smoked weed, so I perceived any of their reasoning as misinformed despite all the research they broke their backs doing. It also didn’t occur to me that I also had two other sisters they were sort of required to look after as well. I perceived my parents to be too large advocates of the tough love approach so anything they were saying must be untrue and a result of them being out to get me, but at the end of the day they just wanted me to be healthy. It didn’t seem worthy of acknowledgement to me that I was always paranoid and that all of my relationships seemed to have a shelf life. Maybe I just didn’t want to acknowledge it because it was them pointing it out. Part of the reason I would advise setting a precedent of open conversation between parents and child is because in doing so you could be preventing another half decade (or lifetime) of severe drug issues, scary mental symptoms, and continually degraded relationships. I would beg personally that no matter how old you are you be honest with your parents, and most importantly, accept help where you can get it. If you still have a chance to prevent years of mental hardship for yourself and your loved ones, why wouldn’t you?