Cannabis-induced psychosis: Amid push for legalization, sister says brother 'was lost to us for a decade’
Parents Opposed to Pot advocate says lawmakers 'want to legalize ultra-high potency THC products'
An anti-marijuana advocate accused lawmakers of being dishonest about the effects THC can have on young adults and society as a whole as Senate Democrats push to legalize cannabis.
"When our lawmakers talk about legalizing marijuana, they talk about it like it's chamomile tea and that it has no side effects and there's no downside to using and it," Heidi Swan, a board member for Parents Opposed to Pot, told Fox News. "But have they told us about the physical side effects, the mental side effects and the increased problems to society?"
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced a discussion draft last week for the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which aims to legalize marijuana at the federal level.
The bill would treat marijuana much like alcohol or tobacco, allowing it to be taxed and regulated. Buyers must be at least 21 years old, and retail sales transactions would be limited to no more than 10 ounces of cannabis or the equivalent amount of any cannabis derivative.
"What they want to legalize is ultra-high potency THC products," Swan, of California, told Fox News. "And then when you say that, people say, ‘What are you talking about? It's just marijuana.’ No, it's not just marijuana. This is a highly processed product."
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Swan pointed out that some of these products are processed with butane hash oil, a highly potent concentrate with extreme risks for those who both produce and consume it, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
"It is absolutely not natural and it hasn't been for quite some time," Swan, who smoked marijuana occasionally as a teenager, told Fox News.
"One time when I was getting high, I had an experience where all of a sudden I didn't know where I was, and I didn't know who I was with," she recalled. "I didn't find out until years later that there is a name for that. It's called cannabis-induced psychosis."
According to the Psychiatric Times, cannabis-induced psychosis is a possible side effect of excessive marijuana consumption. In those predisposed to a psychotic disorder, cannabis can act like a trigger, setting off symptoms of psychosis that are usually associated with conditions like schizophrenia.
Swan rarely used cannabis following the negative experience. But her brother, K. Anderson, once enjoyed the "fun house" effect the drug gave him, Swan told Fox News.
He continued to use marijuana "pretty much every day from the time he was in middle school until he got his graduate degree," Swan said.
"He went on to try crack and became a homeless drug addict with schizophrenia," she continued. "He was lost to us for a decade."
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, "several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders."
Recent research cited by the government institution suggests "smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times. The amount of drug used, the age at first use, and genetic vulnerability have all been shown to influence this relationship."
Swan and her brother finally reconnected when Anderson contacted his sister after finishing a year in jail and receiving treatment in a rehab facility.
Their mother took Anderson in and Swan and her husband agreed to help him get back on his feet. It wasn’t until almost a year later that Swan realized her brother suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness.
The pair wrote a book loosely based on Anderson’s life titled "A Night In Jail" to raise awareness about the risks of marijuana usage among teens.
Despite her personal experiences with the substance, Swan was not always such a vocal opponent of marijuana and even voted in favor of legalization during the 2016 California election.
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"When I voted for it, I thought they were talking about the marijuana from the 1970s or even the '80s when I used it," she said. "I felt like the reasons for legalization were still sound. Get rid of the black market, bring in taxes, all these other things."
"And then as time went by, I saw what was happening here in California because of legalization, and it wasn't at all what they promised," Swan continued.
The consequences she went on to mention included the rise in homelessness and the amounts of water being used to grow the extremely water-intensive crop. Swan said witnessing the rise in homelessness in California post-legalization is what made her interested in researching the topic originally. Since 2016, California experienced a larger increase in homelessness than any other state, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Additionally, in the midst of a worsening drought, illegal growers have stolen water from agricultural wells, aqueducts and fire hydrants so much so that in March, the plummeting water pressure compromised firefighting operations, the Los Angeles Times reported. As a result, the Los Angeles County Fire Department ordered the removal of 100 hydrants in the Antelope Valley.
However, the most notable effect, Swan said, has been the impact to quality of life.
"People are smoking pot while driving. You can smell it everywhere," she said. "Babies, pregnant women, people with cancer, people trying to get exercise – we’re exposed to it all the time. There is this attitude of ‘it’s legal, I can do whatever I want, wherever I want, whenever I want.’"
Swan’s greatest concern remains the potential long-term effects on young people. "We are conducting an experiment on the brains of our youth and they're paying the price and their families are paying the price."
"Even the proponents of legalization say that young people shouldn't use it, but the young people are using it and it's being marketed to them," Swan told Fox News. "It comes up on their phones, it's on billboards, it's everywhere."
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"I would like Senator Schumer to be honest with the American public about what the studies say," Swan said, calling out the majority leader, who announced he would use his "clout" to make this issue a top priority in the Senate. "We don't need more studies. There are a lot of studies and most of them are being suppressed."
Proponents of the bill argue that communities of color and the impoverished have been unfairly affected by "the failed federal prohibition of cannabis." The bill calls for expunging nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records and would earmark new tax revenue for restorative justice programs.
"It’s not just an idea whose time has come; it’s long overdue," Schumer said at last week's press conference. "We have all seen the agony of a young person arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket. And because of the historical over-criminalization of marijuana, they have a very severe criminal record they have to live with their whole lives."