DEA claims teen suicide linked to the adverse effects of cannabis

Published Dec 20, 2020 01:59 p.m. ET
iStock / Wacharaphong

Scientists, experts, and the DEA have spent time and money to look at the impacts of various drugs on our youth. There is no question that we are facing an epidemic, with dangerous illicit drugs like fentanyl taking over our streets. Some of it is seeping into children's lives, but what is highly debated are the precise adverse effects that can be expected from merely using cannabis.

We know, for a matter of fact, that smoking anything can hinder things like brain development in utero and that there is more than enough evidence to suggest that kids should at least, for the most part, steer clear of cannabis unless it's medically necessary. What we aren't quite sure of yet is how severe these complications might be or how high the price of underage consumption might sit.

So far, there is very little evidence beyond paranoid and a lack of understanding when it comes to bad trips to suggest that cannabis consumption could lead to any seriously devastating consequences. This is especially true when short term consumption is evaluated, which doesn't impact youth long term. Still, some agencies, including the DEA, are suddenly claiming otherwise, and it's making headlines worldwide.

The bold claim

When asked about a specific case in which a teen suicide was tied with cannabis use, DEA representatives responded by claiming that it is the high potency product with these devastating consequences. They also suggested that cannabis today is nothing like that of our youth, saying that the drugs have gotten stronger and that this alone is the reason for a slight uptick in emergency cases that involve children, many of which could end up just like the teen that's highlighted.

His story

The tragic story of Johnny Stack is enough to make any parent have trouble sleeping. It's told by the boy's mother, who reaches out to Fox 29, a news station, to share her late son's struggle with weed and how she believes that it ultimately led to his demise. Johnny, a 14-year-old high school student in Colorado, went from a straight-A student to one that was barely scraping by shortly after what is believed to be his very first introduction to cannabis.

In the following months, the teen suffered from psychotic episodes, triggering his admittance to several different mental hospitals for various cutting-edge medical treatments, but nothing seemed to work. He lacked motivation, struggled with severe panic disorders and anxiety attacks. It didn't take long for him to sink into what his family describes as a level of depression that took away his ability both physically and mentally to live everyday life.

His mother claims that in the four days prior to his death, Johnny wrote in a personal journal about mobs he believed were after him, explaining some of the paranoia's presented episodes. Still, the delusions didn't end there, and a mere six days later, the boy jumped off of a six-story parking garage, sustaining injuries that killed him. At first glance, this story might not seem like it has much to do with cannabis, aside from the unfortunate teen's use of it, but Laura Stacks says that there's still more to the story.

Stacks claims that three days prior to her son's death, he visited her at her home for a family dinner and that this is where he divulged the damning information. There he assured her that he knew she was right about cannabis and how it would influence "his brain." She also says that he admitted that the plant ruined his whole life before apologizing for using it. This is an intense moment between mother and son, but how does the DEA come to such an abrupt conclusion?

How the DEA came to this conclusion


The DEA officials who commented on this particular case point towards the potency of the plants on the market today as the cause for this irrational type of behaviour in youth. To explain it, they point towards things like an increase in ER visits for kids and things like paranoia and anxiety being well-known side effects of taking a little bit too much. Still, they say much beyond that and use the mother's statement to back up this theory.

The problem with this claim

The DEA has long taken a harsh stance against all thing’s cannabis-related, so it's no surprise that they would pin something like a teen suicide on the mere presence of the plant in a teen's life. However, there are quite a few problems with this recently sensationalized statement. The biggest one is that there is no evidence to show that cannabinoids influenced this particular teen's decisions or state of mind.

As far as we know, this teen suicide might be the result of bullying, or he could be genetically predisposed to some of the mental conditions that were described by his mother. No one has taken this child's medical history or anything else really to rule out cannabis as a determining factor. Instead, the finger has been pointed in its direction based on a statement by what seems to be a somewhat uneducated teenager, who we know was told repeatedly by said mother that cannabis was a large part of the issue.

This is precisely why, with scientific studies, we need multiple subjects, environments, backgrounds, and results to compare against one another. One single personal account or opinion is no more scientific than the next without real hard proof. It's easy to see how a bias toward cannabis could mislead others to believe a certain unfurling of events that might not be true. We know this teen liked smoking weed, but we know very little else to make any specific determination as to the cause of his struggles.

In conclusion

Teen suicide is something that we need to work hard every day to prevent, but it is essential to recognize what facts are and aren't related to such a dire outcome. In this case, cannabis may have exacerbated an issue that was already there. According to some studies, it might also have soothed the more apparent effects of mental illness, and if that's the case, then using cannabis may have bought this teen and many others more time, not less.

We cannot race to make educated judgments based on singular sensationalized headlines. In this case, it's quite a reach to assume that cannabis was in any way responsible for the death of this teen or any other who might find themselves in his position. Until we know for sure, it is essential to look at things through a shade of doubt, just to be on the safe side, but in most cases, there is a lot more to these stories than a little bit of weed.

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