Buyer beware: As Missouri voters weigh recreational marijuana, its link to psychosis, violence and even mass shootings sounds alarms

Medical and legal experts see a growing and unmistakable link between high-potency marijuana and violence – including the explosion in mass shootings.

Studies are showing it, and doctors, a lawyer and a former retailer in the marijuana field all tell The Heartlander they are seeing a rise in psychotic episodes, homicidal violence and suicides, all linked to cannabis.

It’s no coincidence, they say, as legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana products reach unprecedented levels of the main psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, with precious few laws regulating their use.

The group Parents Opposed to Pot has compiled an ever-expanding list of violent incidents and mass shootings in which the perpetrators have been cannabis users. Fox News and at least one national newspaper have taken notice, as has the Secret Service itself.

This, from The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board’s Allysia Finley:

“Mass shooters at Rep. Gabby Giffords’s constituent meeting in Tucson, Ariz. (2011), a movie theater in Aurora Colo. (2012), the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (2016), the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017), and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (2018), were reported to be marijuana users. It could be a coincidence, but increasing evidence suggests a connection.”

Since that story, a report also has pointed to a marijuana fixation by the suspect in the Uvalde school massacre. The shooter, who first shot his grandmother, “would often talk about how much he despised his mother and grandmother,” and told a co-worker they “did not let him smoke weed or do what he wanted,” a New York Times article noted in May.

It all comes as Missouri voters are likely to decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana, after having approved medical marijuana in 2018.

Experts who spoke with The Heartlander all warned against it.

“The greatest cause of ‘gun violence’ is not the gun but the drug culture the U.S. is fostering by easy access to high-THC marijuana,” argues Dr. John C. Hagan, III, editor of Missouri Medicine Medical Journal and contributing editor to Kansas City Medicine. “Marijuana is the most common drug found in murders, suicides, domestic violence and mass shootings.”

Anne Hassel knows of the dangers personally. Marijuana and its powerful variants nearly killed her – and very well might have killed those around her.

Hassel had a flourishing career as a physical therapist, but left it to pursue her dream job in the budding marijuana industry. She worked in a marijuana dispensary for over a year as a “budtender” in Massachusetts – until the product she was dispensing made her suicidal and even homicidal.

She’d heard about links between marijuana and violence, including mass shootings, but “when I was a budtender, I always thought, ‘That’s not true. Marijuana is so happy and peaceful’.”

Then she saw the sudden, volatile mood changes in her customers, who would sometimes threaten to come back and shoot up the dispensary. She’d begun “dabbing” high-THC concentrated butane hash oil, and then started seeing what she now calls shape-shifting reptilians and having homicidal thoughts about co-workers and customers. She thought of ways to kidnap and torture the company’s CEO. She armed herself with four knives out of paranoia.

“I didn’t have a gun, which is probably a real plus here,” she says, “because what would have happened if I had a gun?”

Hassel had smoked marijuana in the 1980s, when it contained as little as 2% THC. Now she was dabbing 98% THC concentrate. “And that was stronger on my brain than any other drugs. I had done other illicit, recreational drugs back in the ‘80s. You know, I did cocaine, I did LSD. But nothing was as harmful as that high-potency THC was on my brain.

“I would dab. I would pass out. I would come to. I would be thinking about violent acts. I wanted to destroy things. I wanted to, like, vandalize cars. I started to hate people. I wanted to beat them … actually thinking of stabbing people, and then shooting people. I think I came so close to having that complete break with reality. And when I reached that point in my mind, I just wanted to kill myself and I was actively thinking, ‘OK, how do I go about doing that?’ I just can’t even describe to you how low I felt, in terms of having these thoughts.  

“I never thought marijuana would have this effect upon me. That was absolutely the opposite of what I thought marijuana did.”

What saved her was the thought of her mother’s love, and a deep desire not to hurt her by committing a crime – that, and the heavy metal and mold contaminants she learned were in the stuff. She quit. But someone dabbing even more than she was, or a younger user with a less-developed frontal lobe – she’s now 54 – might not have been able to pull out of that nosedive of psychosis, she says.

Dr. Kenneth Finn, an expert on marijuana in Colorado Springs, cites case after case of mass or grisly murders by marijuana users, including:

  1. Blair Ness, of Lewisville, Texas, is alleged to have savagely beaten and stabbed his 16-month-old son Ashton to death in August 2018, in a brutal series of assaults beginning inside an apartment filled with blood and skull fragments, and ending on a sidewalk. The attack ended only after a neighbor shot and wounded Ness, who witnesses said had an “evil” look and had been yelling for others in the area to actually come watch him kill his son. Finn says he has Ness’ toxicology report, and the only substance indicated is THC. “Whenever there’s a child dead from abuse or neglect in the state of Texas, the No. 1 substance by perpetrator, either active or prior use, is marijuana,” Finn says.
  2. Twelve others ultimately died along with Ian David Long after he entered a bar in Thousand Oaks, California in 2018 and started shooting. “I have his toxicology on my desk,” Finn says, “and there was only one substance in his system: THC.”
  3. In 2015, Colorado Springs’ “Halloween shooter” Noah Harpham shot and killed three strangers near downtown before being killed in a shootout with police. “I have his toxicology report,” Finn says. “Guess what was the only substance on his toxicology? THC.”

There’s much more where that came from, Finn says – adding that he once asked a highly experienced psychiatric colleague what frightened her the most: psychosis from alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, or cannabis.

“She said cannabis psychosis is the scariest psychosis she has ever seen in her entire career. She said cannabis psychosis is the most extreme and the most violent,” recalls Finn, who is also president of the American Board of Pain Medicine and author of an upcoming paper on cannabis psychosis.

Yet, growing incidents of marijuana-involved violence don’t get much attention in either medicine or journalism, according to Dr. Eric Voth of Topeka, Kansas, president and chairman of the board of the International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis (IASIC), and David Evans, a New Jersey-based substance abuse lawyer and former research scientist with the New Jersey Department of Health.

Indeed, they and Hassel all note, the New York Times later mysteriously removed marijuana’s link to the Uvalde massacre from its story. “I find that the American press really does downplay that and takes out those references,” Hassel says.

“We’re seeing more and more and more violence,” Voth says. “I think that’s a disturbing trend, and there ought to be a systematic process of looking at these shooters, to see what’s their toxicology, what’s going on there.”

“There is now very clear scientific documentation that (marijuana) causes psychosis and is connected with violent acts,” Evans adds. “And so, when you see somebody doing something that’s really bizarre, you can bet your bottom dollar marijuana is probably involved somewhere because of the distorted thinking that it causes in people. It causes paranoia. It’s flat-out mental illness.

“The one group that has been forceful on this is the American Psychiatric Association. They’ve made it very clear that marijuana use causes psychiatric illnesses, and they put out position papers on that.” In addition, Evans says, a small group of state medical societies banded together to oppose marijuana legalization and issued a paper.

But Voth says, alarmingly, that rank-and-file doctors aren’t even well-schooled in marijuana-related illnesses and effects.

“No, that’s one of the really sad, just inexcusable things going on,” Voth says. “The modern-day physician doesn’t know beans [about the levels and effects of THC on patients]. They don’t get it in school. They may get some things in what they read, but most regular MDs, etc., don’t know near enough about marijuana. 

“And you know, it’s a controversial subject, and they don’t want to get dragged into all the arguments, and they just kind of cast a blind eye – until, all of a sudden, they’ve got to deal with a psychotic patient or a violent patient.”

“The doctors aren’t saying anything, and I don’t know why,” adds Finn, a co-founder of IASIC. “When I speak to physicians, I get deer in the headlights, like, ‘I didn’t know CBD [cannabidiol] can cause liver damage. I didn’t know that CBD can cause suicidality.’ And so, that’s why I do what I do.”

Experts say the examples of marijuana-linked violence are too numerous to ignore, and should be thoroughly studied and debated – not just to understand and possibly prevent mass shootings, but to inform voters such as those in Missouri who are being called upon to legalize it for recreational use.

“A Review of Cases of Marijuana and Violence” at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Institutes of Health, presents “14 cases of violence [involving] chronic marijuana users that highlight reoccurring consequences of: marijuana induced paranoia (exaggerated, unfounded distrust) and marijuana induced psychosis (radical personality change, loss of contact with reality).

“When individuals suffering from pre-existing medical conditions use marijuana in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms,” the report goes on, “ultimately this worsens their conditions over time.” Although the effects of marijuana differ with individuals and the level of THC, the report says, “scientifically documented links between certain marijuana users and violence do exist.

“Wider public awareness of the risks and side effects of marijuana, as well as a more prudent health policy, and government agency monitoring of the drug’s composition, creation, and distribution, are needed and recommended.“

Instead, access to the drug, and acceptance of it, is growing because the public awareness is not.

“It’s a public health and safety disaster. It’s not coming, it’s already here,” Finn warns. “The vast majority of the public is completely unaware, and I think the light will go on probably when I’m dead and buried.”

Drugs certainly worsen pre-existing mental issues, as the National Center for Biotechnology Information report notes. But Hassel says she had no such issues before using high-potency THC.

“I was a peaceful person who did yoga for 20 years before I went into that marijuana industry and used the high-potency THC,” she says. “And I know what it did in my brain. The science will eventually show it, and I just don’t know how much destruction will have to happen, how many lives are gonna be lost.”

“Any violent act, there needs to be drug testing,” Finn says. “And I’m not saying every single person that’s committing violent crimes is a pothead, or has THC, but you need to know, and the public needs to know.”

Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is said to have taken “tons of marijuana and tons of Xanax to quiet the voices in his head” – and to have said at his trial, “I hate drugs, and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana and doing all these drugs.”

The question is, is America listening?

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