To prevent suicides we must vote no on Proposition 64!

My son Paul’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder was based on tests showing no drugs in his system even though his first psychotic break came upon him suddenly and disastrously. However, he used marijuana to self-medicate while he was struggling with the effects of bipolar, ignoring his psychiatrist’s warning that using pot was as dangerous as walking a tightrope. After Paul’s suicide death, my husband found marijuana and its paraphernalia hidden away in his closet.

Dr. Christine L. Miller states that studies now show that marijuana use could bring on psychosis and suicide. Could marijuana have driven my son to his death? Of course we’ll never know. However, I can help prevent more outcomes like my son’s by sharing Dr. Miller’s words here and being very much opposed to the passage of Proposition 64 and the legalization of recreational marijuana. The data about suicide rates in Colorado is astounding.

Proposition 64 Means Nothing Good

for California Suicide Rates

by Christine L. Miller, Ph.D

For those of us who have never experienced a suicide in a close family member, it is an unimaginable tragedy. Understanding and coming to grips with why it happens seems like an impossible process. Indeed for me, when offered the opportunity to apply biochemical aspects of my neuroscience research to studies of teen suicide attempters, I realized that gulping back tears in team meetings was not going to work well in a professional setting. So, I retreated to my primary research focus, the causes of psychotic disorders.

Now in semi-retirement, I have been given the opportunity to speak out about a preventable cause for both psychosis and suicide, a drug that is poised to infiltrate its way into the fabric of our society, cloaked with the approbation of those who campaign for natural medicine, for social justice, for individual liberty and for freedom from prohibition. Like a wolf camouflaged in sheep’s clothing, this drug has achieved a status envied by politicians and used by them for political gain, whether they have personal experience with it or not. That drug is marijuana.

The connection between marijuana use and the development of psychotic disorders is the most well replicated finding in schizophrenia research today, bar none. No genetic causes of schizophrenia, nor other environmental causes have withstood the scrutiny of marijuana-induced chronic psychosis. There are literally hundreds of publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals on this topic. Thus, when I was approached by a mother who had lost her son to psychosis followed by suicide, I could readily validate her claim that marijuana had caused his psychosis. That mother went on to found a group known as Moms Strong, which has served as a vehicle to collect more stories from other similarly affected families and contains links to many of the key research papers. I initially viewed her son’s suicide as something directly a consequence of his mental breakdown, as it is a very common outcome in individuals who develop schizophrenia and other forms of chronic psychotic disorders. Now, I have come to a different understanding because of many excellent publications brought to my attention in the intervening time.

Original reports of marijuana increasing the risk for suicide attempts can be found dating back as far as the 1980’s when the marijuana strains were a lot less potent than they are now and the increase was only about a doubling in risk. Now, with more potent marijuana available, a series of publications have emerged pegging the increased risk at about 7-fold (http://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/691344/adolescentcannabis.0.pdf ), even after a prior history of depression is corrected for: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wps.20170/full

Our public health officials here in the U.S. have been woefully slow to pick up on the urgency of this research, in part because most of the studies have not occurred here but overseas where centralized healthcare systems have allowed for the easy collection of data. The media, of course, have also been reticent to cover this topic. But finally, because of the ongoing experiment with legal marijuana in Colorado, enough incidents of inexplicable suicides in previously happy individuals have captured the attention of the press that news has been made. The most dramatic examples have occurred with potent edibles, where the change from happiness to extreme suicidality can occur so quickly that intervention is impossible: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2015/03/25/marijuana-edibles-blamed-for- keystone-death/. Yet smoking the potent product also has triggered sudden suicides: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2015/05/18/marijuana-intoxication-blamed-in-more-deaths-injuries/ . In most of the cases, psychotic thinking was part of the prelude to the acts, but not always: http://video.rmpbs.org/video/2365877889/.Even when faced with these news reports, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has remained silent about the possible connection between marijuana use and the very high suicide rates being experienced in the state since legalization, higher than ever before in state history: “In 2014, there were 1,058 suicides among Colorado residents and the age-adjusted suicide rate was 19.4 per 100,000. This is the highest number of suicide deaths ever recorded in Colorado.” Office of Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2014-2015, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

corrected-cropped

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/PW_ISVP_OSP-2014-2015-Legislative-Report.pdf.

As you can see in the graph above, compiled from the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention Annual Reports, the rise in suicide rates began with the massive rollout of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state in 2009, and has only continued to climb since marijuana was legalized for recreational use. Understanding the neurochemical mechanism by which marijuana triggers suicidal actions is something that will take years of research to unravel, but once accomplished, will provide insight into all causes of this devastatingly permanent outcome.

Thus, it is my great hope that California won’t repeat the error made by Colorado and will instead vote against Proposition 64. Too much is at stake, and unfortunately, your public health leaders have failed to make the risks clear to you.

headshot-miller-clBrief Bio for Christine L. Miller, Ph.D.

Dr. Miller holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. For over twenty-five years, primarily in academia, she has researched the molecular basis of psychotic disorders, most recently at Johns Hopkins University. Now semi-retired, she works part-time as a consultant, authors and reviews scientific papers for journals, and volunteers her time as a scientific advisor for two national drug education groups, Moms Strong and Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

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Thank you so much Dr. Miller for your wise advice. I hope my Choices readers will take it seriously. and take a look at last night’s “60 Minutes” episode dealing with the downside of marijuana in Colorado: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-colorado-governor-on-recreational-pot/.

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