I know this isn’t a pleasant topic but I really wanted to write this as a warning to other parents, as if I can prevent even one person going through what we have it will have been worth it. The topic is cannabis-induced psychosis.
My eldest daughter is now nearly 21 and is living in an assisted living facility as she needs round the clock mental health support and protection that we can no longer offer at home. This breaks my heart, but this is where we are. Quick background. She was a bright happy child, headstrong, creative, funny, and full of dreams and ambitions. When she went to secondary school she was very popular and was part of the so-called ‘cool crowd’.
She did well in her GCSEs but by this time there were signs that all was not well. I had some idea that she and her friends were experimenting with drugs – particularly cannabis – and while I wasn’t happy about it (and she of course denied it), we had all the normal conversations around the dangers and about safe behaviour etc etc. I honestly thought it was just a worrying and annoying phase they would all grow out of. However, her mood swings began to become frightening. Always feisty, her temper was now out of control and she became increasingly verbally abusive, and occasionally physically too. As time went on, furniture would be destroyed.
I am cutting out a lot here as it would take just too long to go into all that occurred. But suffice to say that from when she turned 15 life at home became more and more unbearable and we were so worried about her. I took her to the doctor and she was referred to CAMHS. She was with them for 2 years yet her behaviour continued to deteriorate and her cannabis usage increased. We tried everything from grounding her to stopping her allowance, to begging and pleading, to taking her out of London for a change of scene, to going to visit family in the country. Nothing worked.
A couple of months before her ‘A’ Levels, I was called to her school as she had broken down screaming and threatening to kill herself. We had emergency meetings with CAMHS. By now being at home was really frightening and I had to send my younger daughter to stay with friends for a few days. My eldest daughter had started to talk about power and control and her conversations just didn’t make sense any more. I knew something was really wrong. The psychiatrist at CAMHS prescribed medication, but it was her choice as she was over 16 and she refused to take them.
Two weeks later she was sectioned for the first time after an episode too awful to go into here. As there were no mental health beds in any hospital in London she was transferred to a hospital in Bristol under Section and remained there till she turned 18. So I was travelling to and from London to see her.
She was discharged as she turned 18. For the next 3 months we couldn’t leave the house. She was convinced she was getting messages from the TV, that she was controlling the world, that people were trying to kill her, that she was Jesus and that other people were the devil. She didn’t sleep at night and nor did we. As she was 18, if she refused to engage with the Community Mental Health Team we couldn’t make her. It truly was a living hell. In the hospital in Bristol they said it was cannabis induced psychosis. They warned her that if she were to smoke it again it would be ‘catastrophic ’ for her long term mental health.
She started to make some progress and after a few months was slowly able to start leaving the house. However, to cut a long story short, she met up with friends and smoked again.
And so here we are. She has now had 5 long spells in hospital under section. Her friends all moved on long ago. She is unrecognisable from the bright bubbly funny feisty girl she used to be. She was diagnosed 2 summers ago with schizophrenia and during her latest hospital stay, a few months ago, they updated the diagnosis to schizoaffective disorder. Her future is very uncertain, she is incapable of work or study.
I cannot begin to describe the amount of pain we have all been through on this journey with her. And I worry constantly about her and about what the future holds for her. She still smokes cannabis occasionally. She doesn’t have the capacity to comprehend that this is the very thing that will prevent her making any kind of meaningful recovery.
There is so much more I could say, as this is (believe it or not) the most brief overview of our journey through cannabis induced psychosis. I know that many teenagers experiment with cannabis and other drugs. Most will be largely unaffected. But how do you know that it won’t be your child? I now know from bitter experience, from countless conversations with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, and from all the lost souls I have met on various secure psychiatric wards (every single person I encountered was a regular cannabis user) that cannabis is truly the MOST dangerous drug for mental health. As one psychiatrist said to me (obviously off the record) “she would have been far better off taking MDMA”. There is a proven direct link between cannabis use and psychosis/schizophrenia.
PLEASE if you suspect your child is smoking cannabis/weed/skunk , take it very seriously. Tell them about what has happened to our lovely girl. Look out for signs like torn Rizla packets. If you see that, and if they say they aren’t smoking weed, they ARE. Look out for mood swings – I know all teenagers have them but look for a pattern. Are they worse after a weekend sleepover with friends, or if they’ve been at a festival for a few days? Don’t be afraid to search their bags/rooms. They will be angry with you for it, but it is best to know. Favourite hiding places include the back of wardrobes, small boxes, pencil cases and inside socks or cigarette packets.
Don’t make my mistake and think – oh well I guess its only cannabis, it’s just a phase. The misery I have seen this drug cause, not just to our family, but to the many other families I have met in psychiatric hospitals, police stations and emergency wards, is truly devastating. Thank you for reading this, if you’ve made it this far. Please tell your children about cannabis induced psychosis and how very very dangerous cannabis can be. And that they won’t know if they will be one of the unlucky ones until it’s too late.
Written by Whatever Together member, Boo