“It’s Just a Little Weed”

My story with Marijuana and addiction doesn’t have an ending…yet! The chaos, crisis, and emotional turmoil our entire family lives in is ambiguous at the moment. I’m hoping for a happy ending, but really who knows? Especially given the stories I read every day, of loss…both in the physical death of someone and in the emotional, moral and spiritual death of someone. Yes, there is such a thing as death without being physically dead. So I don’t know where we are headed, but I can tell you where it began.

This article originally appeared on Moms Strong website on June 11, 2016

My daughter was 16 when she used Marijuana for the first time. She actually came to me and told me. In hindsight, I didn’t react very well. She would say I overreacted, but with that I disagree. Where I went wrong was to think she got the message that Marijuana use would not be tolerated. I should have actually found her some type of counseling, as it is obvious to me now that she was acting out, looking for something to numb the pain and alter her reality… Weed did the trick.

Three years earlier I had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. They didn’t give me two years to survive cancer-free. It usually comes back in that time, and when it does it’s too far gone. They told me if I went into remission but it came back, I would not survive, they could only prolong my life. We were honest with our children about the cancer, the treatment, and what it would do. I thought I had been strong through it all, showing them I was going to beat it. We talked openly all the time, but when my daughter came to me and told me she had used Marijuana, it was precisely right after the cancer had come back. I was literally fighting for my life…and she knew it. I should have recognized this. I should have gotten her counseling and seen that she was struggling. But, she didn’t bring it up, never used it as a reason for trying weed (until much later, when she said she was scared to death and even a little angry). She said then she was just curious, so I chalked it up to that. Of course, why not? I didn’t want to believe the worst. I had to believe she was faring well with my illness. If I died I had to believe she was going to be OK. So I believed her, and I believed her again when she said she wouldn’t use anymore.

My husband and I had both dabbled in drugs as teens and young adults. We had a healthy fear of the drugs we were playing with, and one day, like many from the 80s, we decided it was time to grow up and move on. These kids today, their ideas on drug use as well as the drugs themselves are not the same as those we were using. There isn’t a single fear to try anything. They are gluttons and have no worry of overdosing, or over indulging. They just see it as a way to get high. Those smoking weed get high morning noon and night, Monday through Sunday. This isn’t a party thing either. They are getting high all day long just to manage living, and once they progress to other drugs…it’s the same. We had been totally honest about our use and the pitfalls of using. We also warned her of the addiction gene she undoubtedly carried. Maybe you won’t become an addict, but maybe you will…why take that chance? That’s what we told her all the time. We thought she was listening, but she was only placating us. By the time she was a senior in high school she had done very well to hide her behavior, now believing that Marijuana was a lifestyle choice. She watched videos on YouTube all the time about how wonderful weed was and all the great magical properties it had. She was even aspiring to be a weed farmer after she graduated. Really?

Just before she turned 18 there was one more chance we had to do something drastic, and we let the opportunity slip through our hands. Again, we wanted to believe her that nothing sinister was going on, and we didn’t want her to spend her senior year in rehab, especially if what she was telling us was true. Our friends and family all told us we were overreacting. “It’s just a little weed”. But our guts were telling us something else. My daughter says the minute she started her cycle at 13 we didn’t get along anymore. I had just been diagnosed with cancer so I have to vehemently disagree. I had no strength or will to be able to fight with a teenager, and there was nothing to fight about, so the imaginary fights and arguments she speaks of actually started when she was 17, almost 18. That’s when I saw the change in her. That’s when I knew my sweet child had disappeared into a haze of pot smoke.

She had been a bright and energetic teen, participating in the drama club, in water polo, in FFA, and in the Robotics club. Her social calendar was always full, and we knew everyone and everything she was doing, except of course smoking. The end of her junior year, she met a boy, not a boy any of you would want your child to be with, but the more we tried to separate them…the more she clung to him. It was just before senior year that we found out what had been going on. We threatened to send her to rehab as it was obvious she was now a daily smoker, did not finish robotics that year, dropped out of FFA and drama and quit the polo team. We saw none of her friends around anymore, just this boy. All red flags.

But she said all the right things and, again, we wanted to believe her. As she pointed out, she was then 18 and anything we tried to do would be met with her leaving. That was a huge fear. The last thing we wanted was her on the streets with that idiot. So we accepted her version of reality and did nothing about the pot smoking except to tell her it wasn’t allowed in our house and, as long as we paid the car insurance, she wasn’t allowed to be under the influence while driving. All of our friends and family were echoing the thought… “It will be ok, it’s just a little weed.”

As soon as she turned 18 she took $100 she had earned from her little part-time job and went to a doctor and told him her back hurt. He diagnosed her with mild scoliosis (yeah, right!) and gave her a medical marijuana card. She barely graduated high school and was growing about an acre of weed on the boyfriend’s dad’s property. She and I couldn’t even have a conversation that didn’t end up with her yelling and leaving. She was fighting with this kid all the time, although it was very one-sided. He was too stoned to fight, but she was often enraged one minute, crying the next, sleeping all the time. The worst part was the unhealthy obsession she had with this boy. He didn’t mind it…the first several years at least, as he now had no place to live, with no car, no job, and no family that would put up with him. As long as he had my daughter, he could do what he wanted and always had a roof over his head, sneaking in her window at night or sleeping in her car.

Eventually it got to the point where she did nothing with us as a family. We never saw her. She was with this boy 24/7. Something was off-kilter in her head. Her reasoning wasn’t logical and she was mostly paranoid and anxious all the time. But at the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had several times tried to show her articles about Marijuana use causing depression, anxiety, and sometimes schizophrenia. I saw aspects of this in her personality, not so much the schizophrenia attributes back them, but by the time she had been out of school a year she had dropped out of junior college, lost her third job, and whenever I was in her presence she was a complete emotional mess. The only time she wasn’t was when she was actively high. She could maintain while high…at first. The depression, anxiety, obsessiveness and paranoia, and even violent behavior came when she wasn’t high. So she’d get high again and again and again. Until one day the high from the weed, was not enough I guess.

And here is where my story differs from most of the stories here. By age 19, close to 20, she had lost three jobs, was no longer in school, and had progressed to abusing prescription pills. Her boyfriend had escalated to IV drug use with heroin. But he was hiding it from her. Shockingly, she and her boyfriend had discussed drug use and had made a pact they would never use more than these prescriptions and, of course, smoke the almighty wonderful weed. So he hid it, which I believe added to her paranoia and anxiety. She knew something more was going on. Her behavior became more erratic and it became a danger to have her in our house.

We found out about the prescription pills and this time she didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, she basically told us to “F” off. She would, no problem, stop using the prescription pills…but would never ever, ever stop smoking weed and therefore would never ever, ever go to rehab, where they wouldn’t let her have her precious weed. So we thought it time for tough love. “Rehab or you’re out” is what we told her.

She had no qualms about leaving. Her life continued to spiral out of control from there. She was a complete basket case, and when I would see her because she was starving or in dire need of feminine hygiene, she would most assuredly be stoned before she ever met up with me. But of course, according to her, everything was under control. However, she started to become paranoid about us. She had conjured ideas about what we were doing behind her back. Almost always she was just plain weird. But we were never around her long enough to know what was truly going on.

Looking back, I can see this same behavior towards her boyfriend and other friends she had abandoned way back in high school. She thought they were doing and saying things they weren’t. And the hysterical crying and screaming? Yeah, that was all about the same thing. Her imagined ideas that she thought were really happening. Hallucinations? Drug induced psychosis? All while still in high school, after a year or so of smoking weed on a somewhat regular basis. I didn’t see it.

Without going into too much detail, our life here at home, even when she is not here with us, has been a chaotic mess. I wouldn’t wish this journey on my worst enemy. My daughter did eventually find out about the boyfriend’s heroin use. I guess if you can‘t beat them, join them? My daughter is now a full-blown drug addict, meth, heroin (smoking, but has not progressed to IV use) and that wonderful little plant called Marijuana that would never do anyone any harm. You’d think if it wasn’t such a big deal, she’d have dropped it a long time ago…like she dropped the prescription pills? She isn’t using it to come down off the meth. That’s what the heroin is for. In fact when you talk to her about rehab and getting sober (and, by the way, she is in an outpatient program right now) she will tell you the hardest drug to part with is Marijuana. Yes, the thought of never being able to smoke weed again is one of the things that keeps her from fully committing to sobriety. She doesn’t want to give it up.

Over the past three years my daughter has been in and out of our home, mostly living on the street and sleeping in her car. She has been abused, exploited, and held at gunpoint. Most nights have been sleepless for us, wondering when the phone will ring and someone will tell us she is dead. Meth causes hallucinations (just like Marijuana does…don‘t kid yourself), and when she uses this drug along with Marijuana, it is a full on “Alice in Wonderland” trip. How do I know? Because she doesn’t hide it. She believes what she hears and sees, even when not using meth, because she is always high on weed, ALWAYS, no matter what else she uses. But, as time went on I merely thought, like so many others, that it was the meth alone causing the psychosis.

When she would be here at home and trip out…she would eventually become violent and think we were in on the conspiracy to kill her or whatever she was hallucinating about. We would end up calling the police, and each time she was never afraid to face them. She would say she wasn’t on meth…only weed and she had a medical card so it wasn’t illegal. They would swab her mouth and nothing would show but the Marijuana. I was confused. I started to believe maybe the meth had actually made her lose her mind and now, high or not, she was in psychosis. We took her home once more and, since she got sober from all three drugs at times, I could see she was not always in psychosis…only when she would fall off of the wagon. Every time that she has ended up in the ER in a psychotic crisis, she has had Marijuana in her system….sometimes meth and heroin as well….but the one common thread to these crises is Marijuana.

Each day for my daughter is a struggle as she faces the mess of the life she has made for herself. The boyfriend? He’s out of the picture finally….or at least for now…I hope forever. He went to jail, came out, and his mother finally let him come home and is supporting him in his sobriety. He has a job…a pretty good job, and he dumped my daughter. That’s fabulous, except she is devastated after having stood by him for 6 years. He’s right, he can’t be with her if he wants to stay sober, because my daughter’s head isn’t in the right place like his is, or hers should be…and I give all the thanks to Marijuana use…made worse of course by the circumstances of life and other drug use….but it all started with Marijuana. I truly believe that, had she never used Marijuana, she would never have had the emotional and mental issues she had and still has, and I am certain she never would have traveled down the rabbit hole to find herself in the mess she is in right now.

I have one thing I hope you reading this come away with. If your child is using Marijuana now, just think about how long it will be before he or she is on to prescription pills, meth, or heroin? If you aren’t convinced yet that this could happen, then consider this: How long before your son or daughter is so paranoid that they can’t function? How long before they are hallucinating when high and find it so hard to deal with the come-down that they can’t wait to get high again? Using all day everyday just to keep the high going? Or would you rather simply like to consider when it will be that your son or daughter uses and ends up in a psych ward because their minds have gone off the rail? Will they ever come out of it and be the same… Will they even survive it?

I don’t have the answer to that. Like I said, my story has no ending right now and we are in limbo waiting to see. If you ask my daughter…my sober daughter at the moment…she will tell you she is broken. Her mind has been destroyed and she will never be the same. I don’t believe it. I see my daughter in the glimmer in her eye sometimes. I know she is in there and can do this. I’m still holding out hope for a different outcome. But I contend with all that I know, all the research I have done, with the connections to others in this boat I have made through speaking at the UNGASS 2016, about drugs this year… It all started with the use of Marijuana. I’ve never met a heroin or meth user who went to a high school party one night and thought, as they were handing around a meth pipe or syringe full of heroin, “Hell yeah, I’ll take one” as their first introduction to drugs. No, sorry…it was Marijuana. No one has ever made the jump from no drug use to sticking a needle in their arm, first time out.

Many of you parents reading this have used Marijuana yourselves and maybe still do and have no problems with it. If you are a past user, have you used the Marijuana that’s out there today? Have you smoked the purest forms of THC, such as in dabs or wax? How about the hash oil out there? No, probably not. Not everyone is affected by Marijuana in this way either…just like with other drugs and alcohol, some become addicts and some don’t. More and more, we are seeing that they do. But I’ll confide in you this… When I smoked the joints or bowls in the 80s, when the THC was 3% as opposed to the THC that is now 30% and much higher in dabs and wax, I hallucinated. I hated the loss of control of my mind. Others didn’t really hallucinate and some did and enjoyed it… I couldn’t stand it, and my dabbling with Marijuana was short-lived.

Now I wonder, is it hereditary? Was it my genetic makeup that made my daughter susceptible to Marijuana paranoia, hallucination, and psychosis? It doesn’t matter. It’s an enigma for the scientific community. But as a parent, I say the same thing to you that I said to my daughter… “Why take the chance?” If your son or daughter is smoking weed and underage…stop them now. Get them to residential rehab…remove them from the drug and the other kids who are using and make sure they get the emotional help they need to overcome the addiction. Stop it now before it’s too late. If you have an adult child struggling…I feel for you. I have no answers, because here in the U.S. our hands are tied so we cannot force our addicted adult children to get help. It’s also legal in some states to use recreational Marijuana and about to become legal here in California…that is, if we don’t stop it.

For those of you reading this who have children addicted to Marijuana and/or other drugs, know this: Rehab and recovery in the U.S. is broken. Even if your child is willing to get help, the help available is inadequate to heal the addiction. Along with not legalizing drugs we need to be working hard at educating and preventing use, as well as reforming our policies when dealing with the addict legally and reforming rehabilitation and recovery practices. The time has long passed when we can stick our heads in the sand and pretend an epidemic isn’t happening and stealing a whole generation of our youth from us. No longer should anyone be saying, “It’s just a little weed.” It’s so much more than that.

Colleen Marlett

Santa Maria, CA