July 25, 2023 08:00 am ETEstimated Read Time: 7 Minutes
Recently, a mother mourning the loss of her son to suicide caught the attention of various mainstream media platforms, citing his marijuana usage as the underlying factor in his mental deterioration and subsequent suicide. This controversy adds to a historic discussion around cannabis and mental health.
This begs the question: Is this mother correct in attributing marijuana usage to suicidal tendencies, thereby advocating for its continued federal prohibition?
Let’s dive into the case at hand, examine the psychological facets of grief, and discuss the scientific findings that highlight the positive relationship between cannabis and mental health—a standpoint that contrasts with the mother’s assertions.
A Mother’s Tragic Loss: What Happened?
Sparking controversy related to cannabis and mental health, the personal account of Heather Bacchus is both poignant and thought-provoking. Her son, Randy, was only 15 when he embarked on a path of regular marijuana use. In an alarmingly short time, Randy was diagnosed withcannabis use disorder, leading to a series of interventions, including wilderness therapy.
Simply put, wilderness therapy, often called outdoor behavioral healthcare, is a therapeutic strategy for addressing behavioral problems, substance dependency, and mental health concerns in teenagers. Participants in this form of therapy spend their time in outdoor settings, sharing experiences with their peers.
However, Randy’s relocation to Colorado exacerbated his consumption habits. As he grew older, reaching 21, his marijuana usage spiraled, and the repercussions became increasingly grave.
A series of harrowing changes in Randy’s behavior began manifesting as he struggled with paranoia and delusions. These symptoms escalated over time, culminating in a complete psychotic breakdown just months before his untimely death by suicide in July 2021.
“He believed that it was helping him, assisting him with anxiety and depression, which he didn’t ever have until he started using marijuana. He knew that he would manage and function fairly well in life, but he was paranoid. He thought his roommates were out to get him. He thought that people at work were out to get him. He would quit a job quickly. He accused one of his employers of being in the mob. When he had a full-blown attack in March of 2021, he called us and said the mob was coming after him, that they were coming after us, and he just was out of sorts.”
Heather firmly believes that Randy’s descent into mental turmoil was significantly influenced, if not directly caused, by his chronic marijuana use. This belief represents a decades-long controversy regarding the relationship between cannabis and mental health.
The Controversy Surrounding Cannabis and Mental Health
The link between cannabis and mental health issues has long been a contentious subject in the scientific community. Several studies appear to suggest a correlation between the two. For instance, research conducted by the NIH hints at an elevated risk of schizophrenia among frequent cannabis users. This inference seems to lend credence to the experiences of individuals like Heather Bacchus, who believe in the detrimental effects of marijuana on mental well-being.
However, it is vital to note that correlation does not equate to causation. Numerous studies and expert viewpoints dispute the idea that marijuana directly causes mental health problems. While an association may exist, researchers have yet to prove a causal relationship definitively.
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This complexity is attributed, in part, to the multifactorial nature of mental health disorders, which can be aggravated by many factors — genetic, environmental, and personal. Thus, while cannabis usage might exacerbate existing vulnerabilities in specific individuals, relating cannabis use and mental health struggles oversimplifies the problem and overlooks other potential contributing factors.
Dangers of Misinformation Surrounding Cannabis and Mental Health
Discerning fact from fiction can be challenging for some in this complex world of readily available information. This is especially true when it comes to causation attributions without robust supporting evidence. Assigning blame prematurely or inaccurately can lead to misconceptions and a distortion of reality when it comes to cannabis.
The spread of misinformation regarding cannabis and mental health can wield far-reaching consequences, fostering public fear and misunderstanding about the benefits (and potential risks of polypharmacy) related to cannabis.
This often results in the stigmatization of those affected by the subject of the misinformation, such as cannabis users or people living with mental health conditions. With cannabis use and mental health, it’s crucial to interpret the information critically, relying on comprehensive, peer-reviewed scientific studies. An informed understanding helps dispel fear, promotes empathy, and paves the way for supportive environments and effective policy-making.
The Psychological Perspective on Grief and Loss
In addition to the solutions mentioned above, psychology can shed light on the complex process of navigating grief and loss. It’s not uncommon for those grappling with the loss of a loved one, especially in tragic circumstances, to seek out something or someone to blame. This need to place blame is a part of the human attempt to make sense of the world, to find reason and order amidst profound chaos and pain.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge that mental health disorders, like the one Randy suffered from, are usually multifactorial. They’re influenced by various factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental stressors, personal experiences, and sometimes substance use.
Attempting to pin these complex issues on a single element (like the relationship between cannabis and mental health) oversimplifies the intricate tapestry of influences that shape an individual’s mental health. This understanding is not meant to diminish the pain of those who’ve experienced the loss of loved ones, but to provide a more comprehensive and compassionate view of mental health struggles. It underscores the need for a multifaceted approach to prevention, support, and treatment rather than focusing on a single aspect or potential cause.
As a result of reflecting on Heather Bacchus’ personal loss and the contentious debate surrounding cannabis and mental health, it becomes clear that the relationship between the two is far from straightforward. Heather’s opinion about marijuana’s role in her son’s mental breakdown, bolstered by supposedly new correlational studies, contrasts with other research and expert opinion, suggesting that the link between cannabis and mental health issues is not only complex but also beneficial compared to antipsychotic drugs.
The story underscores the importance of understanding marijuana use and its implications on mental health. It also highlights the importance of distinguishing correlation from causation, especially when dealing with severe and multifaceted mental health disorders.
In this light, the call to action is threefold. First, there needs to be further rigorous, comprehensive research to understand the connection between cannabis and mental health. Second, fostering a greater understanding of societal mental health issues is paramount. And finally, maintaining an open, balanced, and evidence-based discussion about marijuana use and its potential risks and benefits is key. Only through these measures can it be possible to provide meaningful support and effective policy-making to safeguard mental health in the context of cannabis use.
Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.
Lemetria Whitehurst is a cannabis nurse educator and writer specializing in cannabis science and culture. Her career in the medical industry spans more than two decades where she began her career as a pharmacy technician before becoming a registered nurse. As an avid reader
and researcher, she is passionate about educating others about cannabis’ medicinal properties.
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