Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on the war on drugs

Posted on May 30, 2017 View all news

There’s a “Standard Story” that many Americans, particularly on the left, believe about mass incarceration: During the 1970s and ’80s, the federal government dramatically escalated its war on drugs. This alone led to millions of people getting locked up for fairly low-level drug offenses, causing the US prison population to spike. This new prison population is predominantly black, leading to massive racial disparities in the criminal justice system. And all of this happened, not coincidentally, right after the civil rights movement — showing the rise in incarceration was a ploy to oppress black Americans just after they made huge gains.

But in a new book, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, Fordham University criminal justice expert John Pfaff offers a trove of evidence that this narrative is by and large wrong or, at the very least, misses much of the real story.

The “Standard Story” of mass incarceration, as Pfaff calls it, was largely popularized by a 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Pfaff goes through many facts and statistics to show that this Standard Story gets a lot wrong about the causes and realities of mass incarceration, from the types of crime that people are locked up for (in reality, largely violent offenses) to the areas in which reform is truly needed (with a focus on state and local, not federal, reform).

“The core failing of the Standard Story is that it consistently puts the spotlight on statistics and events that are shocking but, in the grand scheme of things, not truly important for solving the problems we face,” he writes. “As a result, it gives too little attention to the more mundane-sounding yet far more influential causes of prison growth.”

The story that Pfaff carefully describes is different from the standard narrative: It’s not drug offenses that are driving mass incarceration, but violent ones. It’s not the federal government that’s behind mass incarceration, but a whole host of prison systems down to the local and state level. It’s not solely police and lawmakers leading to more incarceration and lengthy prison sentences, but prosecutors who are by and large out of the political spotlight.

The book dampens much of the excitement around the progress we’ve seen in the past few years. Starting in 2010, the incarceration rate began to fall in the US for the first time in decades. But the drop has been slight, driven mostly by changes to sentencing laws for low-level drug and property crimes.

And based on Pfaff’s work, this drop won’t continue — at least in a dramatic fashion — as long as reformers and the public remain focused on a Standard Story that’s almost entirely about the federal war on drugs.

“Simply stopping the rise in incarceration has been a huge accomplishment,” Pfaff notes. “If the goal is real decarceration, however, it is time to shift focus to the much broader, much more confounding issues that keep us locked in to our current predicament.”

To this end, Pfaff agrees that, for example, we should strive to get low-level drug offenders out of prison. He just says it’s not enough — that the real issue is much bigger.

It’s an uncomfortable read, not least because it suggests America will have to make some very tough choices if it wants to seriously cut the incarceration rate: Are we really okay with locking up fewer violent offenders? Does the country really have the ability to sustain a focus on local and state politics to ensure that the real sources of mass incarceration come down? If America does stumble upon a new crime wave or drug crisis, will all the work that’s already been done be pulled back as politicians resurrect “tough on crime” rhetoric (like President Donald Trump has)?

All of this is a reason for reformers to be pessimistic about their ability to undo mass incarceration. The bright spot, if there is one, is that work like Pfaff’s can help expose the real problems in the system, leading to more sustainable solutions.

Drug offenders make up a small portion of the US prison population

No misconception wraps the Standard Story more than the belief that mass incarceration was caused by the war on drugs. This was widely popularized by Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. That book argues that, facing the success of the civil rights movement, racist lawmakers shifted to another regime to try to control black Americans: the criminal justice system. So the federal government launched the war on drugs, locking up black people for low-level drug offenses and driving incarceration rates in the US to astronomical highs.

“The impact of the drug war has been astounding. In less than thirty years, the U.S. penal population exploded from around 300,000 to more than 2 million, with drug convictions accounting for the majority of the increase,” Alexander writes. She later claims that “the uncomfortable reality is that arrests and convictions for drug offenses — not violent crime — have propelled mass incarceration.”

Pfaff demonstrates that this central claim of the Standard Story is wrong. “In reality, only about 16 percent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges — and very few of them, perhaps only around 5 or 6 percent of that group, are both low level and nonviolent,” he writes. “At the same time, more than half of all people in state prisons have been convicted of a violent crime.”

By the numbers, Pfaff is correct: The latest data by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that in state prisons, where about 87 percent of US inmates are held, nearly 53 percent are in for violent offenses (such as murder, manslaughter, robbery, assault, and rape), while only about 16 percent, as Pfaff said, are in for drug offenses.

These figures are at best a minimum for the number of violent offenders in prison. It’s not rare for violent offenders to plea down their charges to nonviolent crimes; this lets offenders get a lower sentence, and it lets prosecutors and judges skip a costly trial. So at least some of the supposedly nonviolent offenders have likely committed violent crimes.

This context is crucial to understanding why mass incarceration happened: It really was a reaction to a massive violent crime wave. From the 1970s to ’90s, violent crime rose dramatically across the US — and lawmakers responded, in what Pfaff characterizes as an overreaction, with mass incarceration.

That doesn’t rule out the role of racism. One reason that policymakers overreacted to the crime wave, Pfaff acknowledges, is likely prejudice, given that “our durable history of racism may make rising crime seem more frightening to white voters than it is to Europeans [who didn’t react to their own crime waves with similar bouts of incarceration], or at least it may ensure greater rewards (or fewer risks) for politicians who crack down on poor minority communities.”

Still, the statistics indicate that violent crime played a huge role in mass incarceration. It wasn’t just — or even mostly — the war on drugs. “Until we accept that meaningful prison reform means changing how we punish violent crimes, true reform will not be possible,” Pfaff writes.

Yet the opposite has happened. Over the past few years, local and state lawmakers have enacted criminal justice reforms. But these efforts almost always focus on low-level drug and property offenses. In some cases, lawmakers and reformers will argue that low-level offenders need to be kept out of prison so more violent offenders can be locked up — a framework that could lead to more incarceration, not less. (Consider the common line that we need to “focus expensive prison beds on those who deserve them the most.”)

Pfaff cites Georgia, often celebrated as a success story in criminal justice reform, as one example: “Georgia’s lauded 2011 reforms have cut prison populations, but hidden in that decline is a rise in the absolute number of people serving time for violent crimes — people whose sentences tend to be longer, and whose rising imprisonment may, in the long run, undo the short-run declines.”

This won’t work, Pfaff argues: “Freeing every single person who is in a state prison on a drug charge would only cut state prison populations back to where they were in 1996-1997, well into the ‘mass incarceration’ period. That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about releasing a lot of those who are in prison for these sorts of crimes, but we need to be realistic about what doing so would accomplish more broadly.”

One caveat to this part of Pfaff’s argument is the churn of the prison population. While the majority of people in state prison at a single point in time are in for violent crimes, many more people are admitted to prison for drug and property offenses than for violent ones. But the lower-level offenders end up serving much shorter sentences, so they don’t add as much to the total prison population at any given point in time as violent offenders do. This was demonstrated in a 2015 analysis by Jonathan Rothwell for Brookings, where he charted the “stock” and “flow” of prisons and how they differ based on offense:

So while reducing the number of violent offenders in prison is needed to undo mass incarceration (as measured by the total prison population), cutting back on drug and property offenders would still do a lot to lower the total amount of people exposed to the criminal justice system.

The big criminal justice story is local, not federal

Another fundamental problem with how the Standard Story approaches mass incarceration is the narrative poses the greater rates of imprisonment as the result of one system, working to perpetuate mass incarceration as a singular response to civil rights gains. As Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

The reality is that there are many systems at play — more than 3,100, representing every county and county equivalent in America. As Pfaff writes, “[T]he term ‘criminal justice system’ is a misnomer; criminal justice is, at best, a set of systems, and at worst it is a swirling mess of somewhat antagonistic agencies.”

Despite the perennial focus on the federal criminal justice system in the media, most incarceration and law enforcement take place at the local level. “About 87 percent of all prisoners are held in state systems,” Pfaff writes. “The federal government runs the single largest prison system, but several states have systems that are fairly close to the federal one in size, and if we look at total populations under some sort of correctional observation (not just prison, but also jail, parole, and probation), the federal government quickly falls out of first place.”

The focus on the federal prison system may explain why many in the media and other experts think that drug offenses are such a huge driver of incarceration. In the federal system, about half of prisoners are in for drug crimes — more than three times the rate of the state systems.

But given that the state systems contain a much larger bulk of the prison population, Pfaff argues the fight to end mass incarceration should focus at the local and state level — and that means focusing on crimes that go far beyond drugs.

Emphasis on local. “Take New York, a state that has experienced one of the longest sustained decarcerations in recent history, with prison populations falling by about 25 percent since 1999,” Pfaff writes. “This looks like a state success story, but the entire decline between 2000 and 2011 took place in just twelve of the state’s sixty-two counties, with the other fifty counties adding inmates to state prisons during that time.”

The federal government does have some sway over local and state prison systems. But Pfaff argues that this influence is perhaps not as strong as people think.

To demonstrate this, he looks at the federal government’s main tool for driving criminal justice policies at the local and state levels: grant money. These funds are supposed to encourage local and state government to adopt certain policies, but they’re just not sizable enough to make a big impact.

“Between 1993 and 2012, eight major grant-making arms of the US Department of Justice awarded about $38 billion to state and local governments,” Pfaff writes. “As a percentage of annual criminal justice spending, these grants consistently hovered (in total) around 2 percent for the states and under 1 percent for local governments.”

n short, the federal government’s war on drugs never played much of a role in incarceration because the federal government just doesn’t play much of a role in incarceration overall.

Prosecutors are enormously powerful, yet rarely discussed in reform efforts

Typically, discussions of the criminal justice system focus on lawmakers, prisons, the police, and maybe judges. Rarely, however, is the most powerful actor in this system mentioned: the prosecutor.

Local and state prosecutors are enormously powerful in the US criminal justice system, in large part because they are given so much discretion to prosecute however they see fit. For example, former Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson in 2014 announced that he would no longer enforce low-level marijuana arrests. Think about how this works: Pot is still very much illegal in New York state, but Brooklyn’s district attorney flat-out said that he would ignore an aspect of the law — and it’s completely within his discretion to do so.

Prosecutors make these types of decisions all the time: Should they bring the type of charge that will trigger a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence? Should they bring a charge that’s only a misdemeanor? Should they strike a deal for a lower sentence, but one that can be imposed without a costly trial?

Courts and juries do, in theory, act as checks on prosecutors. But in practice, they don’t: More than 90 percent of criminal convictions are resolved through a plea agreement, so by and large prosecutors and defendants — not judges and juries — have almost all the say in the great majority of cases that result in incarceration or some other punishment.

Many prosecutors are also elected. This, too, is supposed to keep prosecutors in check. But in practice, prosecutors try to appease the electorate by looking “tough on crime” — and that means imposing harsh prison sentences, as well as locking up as many “bad guys” as possible. (This may go against voters’ wishes, but another problem is voters don’t actually do much to hold prosecutors accountable: When Ronald Wright of Wake Forest University School of Law looked at data from 1996 to 2006, he found that about 95 percent of incumbent prosecutors won reelection, and 85 percent ran unopposed in general elections.)

Pfaff has even found evidence that prosecutors have been the key drivers of mass incarceration in the past couple of decades. Analyzing data from state judiciaries, he compared the number of crimes, arrests, and prosecutions from 1994 to 2008. He found that reported violent and property crime fell, and arrests for almost all crimes also fell. But one thing went up: the number of felony cases filed in court.

Prosecutors were filing more charges even as crime and arrests dropped, throwing more people into the prison system. Prosecutors were driving mass incarceration.

Pfaff provides a real-world example of this kind of dynamic: “Take South Dakota, which in 2013 passed a reform bill that aimed to reduce prison populations. The law did lead to prison declines in 2014 and 2015, yet at the same time prosecutors responded by charging more people with generally low-level felonies, and over these two years total felony convictions rose by 25 percent.” In the long term, this could lead to even larger prison populations.

To combat this, Pfaff argues that states could enact, for example, prosecutorial guidelines that limit the amount of discretion these officials have.

“Almost all stages of the criminal justice system now operate under some sort of guideline or actuarial regime,” he writes. “The lone exception is the prosecutor. Although prosecutors need room to exercise discretion, their job is not so uniquely different from the other parts of the criminal justice system that they alone cannot do it if they are subjected to some sort of guidance.”

Yet, he explains, “No major piece of state-level reform legislation has directly challenged prosecutorial power (although some reforms do in fact impede it), and other than a few, generally local exceptions, their power is rarely a topic in the national debate over criminal justice reform.”

The bottom line: Mass incarceration is about way more than the federal war on drugs

Piece by piece, Pfaff paints a more nuanced picture of the criminal justice systems in America than that of the Standard Story. In the end, it’s not that the war on drugs or the federal system doesn’t matter; it’s that they both play a much smaller role than they are typically given credit for. Pfaff goes through similar data on private prisons, the length of certain prison sentences, and other Standard Story tropes — showing that they all tend to get outsize attention given their actual impact on incarceration.

It all points to one conclusion: To truly eliminate mass incarceration, reformers will have to at some point shift more attention to dealing with the mass incarceration of violent offenders, not just low-level drug offenders, and do so with a focus on the state and local levels, particularly prosecutors in these areas.

This puts reformers and lawmakers who want to end mass incarceration in a much more difficult situation. For one, it’s going to be way more challenging to advocate for lower sentences and fewer admissions for violent offenders.

A poll conducted by Morning Consult for Vox last year, for example, found that nearly eight in 10 US voters support reducing prison sentences for people who committed a nonviolent crime and have a low risk of reoffending. But fewer than three in 10 backed shorter prison sentences for people who committed a violent crime and have a low risk of reoffending.

Pfaff tries his hand at some of the messaging that will be needed here: He argues that incarceration is simply an ineffective way to combat crime, while it imposes all sorts of costs on individuals and society that likely outweigh its benefits.

“It’s true that crime is costly — but so, too, is punishment, especially prison,” he writes. “The real costs are much higher than the $80 billion we spend each year on prisons and jails: they include a host of financial, physical, emotional, and social costs to inmates, their families, and communities. Maybe reducing these costs justifies some rise in crime.”

It’s hard to imagine Americans buying Pfaff’s suggestion that we should accept more crime. But he’s certainly right that prison is an ineffective way of dealing with crime, based on much of the research in this area.

A 2015 review of the research by the Brennan Center for Justice estimated that more incarceration — and its abilities to incapacitate or deter criminals — explained about 0 to 7 percent of the crime drop since the 1990s. Other researchers estimate it drove 10 to 25 percent of the crime drop since the ’90s.

More incarceration can lead even to more crime. As the National Institute of Justice concluded in 2016, “Research has found evidence that prison can exacerbate, not reduce, recidivism. Prisons themselves may be schools for learning to commit crimes.”

Meanwhile, criminal justice experts have come up with all sorts of other solutions to combating crime. There are new police strategies — such as “hot-spot policing” and “focused deterrence” — that have measurable impacts on crime, including violence. There are other ideas focused more on socioeconomic issues, such as stricter alcohol policies, raising the age for dropping out of school, and some behavioral intervention programs.

“Besides prison, crime is shaped by the number of police, the unemployment rate, wage levels, the number of crime-aged young men in the population, immigration levels, cultural attitudes toward violence, technological improvements, and so much more,” Pfaff writes.

This creates a lot more room to enact policies that are less brutal and much more efficient at dealing with crime than prisons are. “Hiring a police officer is probably about as expensive as hiring a prison guard, for example, but investing in police has a much bigger deterrent effect and avoids all the capital expenditures of prisons,” Pfaff argues. “Steven Levitt has estimated that $1 spent on policing is at least 20 percent more effective than $1 spent on prisons.”

In an ideal world, maybe America would spend infinite money on these programs and stop all crime forever. But resources are limited. So the US and the different criminal justice systems within it could see better results if they put the money they do have toward anti-crime policies other than prison.

Adopting this sort of perspective on criminal justice issues, Pfaff argues, is crucial to undoing mass incarceration. The important thing here isn’t just to pass laws that cut prison sentences or make it harder to lock someone up, but to fundamentally alter the way that Americans and their leaders think of crime in America. Only then can the US adopt the kind of mentality that will push against “tough on crime” attitudes even as the crime rate goes up.

After all, even if the US did enact a bunch of reforms now, there’s always the fear of a future crime wave, Pfaff explains: “If crime starts to really rise again, which almost certainly will happen at some point, there’s nothing to prevent legislators from rolling back the current reforms and overreacting once more.” He later added, “It is a change in attitude, more than anything else, that will prevent legislatures from bringing back tough laws they earlier repealed.”

That’s why work like Pfaff’s is so important: Only by understanding the real causes of mass incarceration can the public and policymakers be prepared to undo and resist it now and in the future.

Originally published at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/30/15591700/mass-incarceration-john-pfaff-locked-in

0 thoughts on "Why you can’t blame mass incarceration on the war on drugs"

  1. Regina, I am so proud if you. You are keeping lil Briabs memory alive by saving others. Love you, stay strong

  2. Thank you for sharing your Brian with all.
    I hope you find grief healing fir yourself through what you are doing to help others. Wishing you peace.

  3. I am not sure how to say what is in my heart after reading this.
    I am so terribly sorry for the loss of your precious son.
    I am scared for my son who was recently diagnosed.
    I am scared for all the moms out there who are or will deal with CHS.
    Please keep raising awareness.
    You are amazing and are making a difference.
    xo

  4. You are an example to all of us, Regina. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your son with us.

  5. I dont want medical marijuana to be legal anywhere but now more than ever, especially in my city (Pittsburgh, PA)

  6. As the mother of a forever 18 year old because of my child’s marijuana addiction (severe cannabis use disorder was the psychiatrist’s diagnosis), I absolutely believe in the facts and recommendations in this article. This is NOT the same pot I knew of.

  7. I used to think marijuana/cannabis was harmless. I started smoking it in the 1970’s.
    I was wrong. Using the “soft drug” in my 20’s reduced my ambition and created other negative consequences. When I became a parent of a teenager, I knew pot was not healthy but didn’t think it was very serious. My wife and I had a zero tolerance stance, however, I wish we had read the above article back then, to know how to proceed. Most of today’s high THC pot is a “hard drug.” My family’s very sad story is proof of that.

    Thank you, Dr Collier!

  8. Dear Sonia,
    Thank you for sharing your dear son’s story. What a heartwrenching journey for your whole family. What a beautiful son. Such a terrible loss.
    It must not have been easy describing what his last days were like but it’s important for others because most people don’t understand what psychosis is. Your descriptions vividly describe what its like. Hopefully your words can help others to recognize the signs.
    Bless you. So sorry for your loss.

  9. Thank you for sharing this story. I’m so sorry for the loss of your son. I went through my first episode of psychosis. It scared me so much. Your story will help others as they struggle with this. Thank you for sharing. God bless you!🙏

  10. I will pray for you, Sonia, and I hope you find comfort and peace in our Lord.

  11. Sonia I am so sorry for your loss. I know you have had other losses and I am truly sorry

  12. I am deeply sorry for your loss. such an unfortunate loss, Much more research and further investigation and this topic are extremely necessary with a claim that the cannabis itself was the cause of his death. Was he already suffering from some sort of mental disorder? even something as simple as depression? I have so many questions about this topic of “CIP”. Its causing a stir in the cannabis industry with these claims need to be backed up by some sort of research. They don’t give out warning fliers out when you buy a bottle of 99 bananas but now, because of storys like this the industry is forced to now hand out fliers. Just really makes me wonder about this world like are we really analyzing everything rationally. Cannabis is medicine for many people and for most they absolutely could not do without it and when used properly is extremely safe and actuaclly beneficial for the body; but just like prescription drugs and even alcohol are bad for you if abused. I hope we can all look forward and not be so close minded to facts rather then speculation. education is key. God bless.

  13. Dear Rita,
    I am so sorry for the loss of your dear Brian. Thank you for speaking out about this. Too few understand there are any risks to these products. There should be warning labels–both on the products and on billboards. Everyone has a right to know.
    You are helping so many today. A heartfelt thank you to you.
    I send you light as you journey through your grief.

  14. Rita….
    Too many people… it never happened in the 70s from low dose marijuana. Now families are left with a lifetime of pain when today’s cannabis dosages approach 100 times the therapeutic recommendation of marinol
    There are no roadblocks, no guardrails.
    Lets work together on stopping this drug from continuing its march through our young people at the hands of a few evil people.. and make no mistake they are evil.
    I am so so sorry… we all grieve at the loss of every person.

  15. Dear Sonia, I’m sooo sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy💔 All 3 of my daughters went through CIP-each time was worse than the sister before…my last adult daughter is 28, she went through it with mania for 8 very long months..and just like all of the CIP individuals, was able to fool everyone, doctors, nurses, law enforcement etc. She is home, safe, and out of the psychosis state, we’re beyond Thankful to God for bringing her home to us..We have a road ahead of us, she’s very depressed and anxiety ridden due to the destruction she caused over that time period, she also wishes she wasn’t here😭 My Prayer is that one day soon she will realize just how fortunate she is to have made it out alive🙏🏻🙏🏻 My heart hurts for you and all the other parents whose babies can’t come home anymore and my continued Prayers for all is that God Took Your Babies home with him where they’re now safe and away from the enemy🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 Thank You for sharing your beautiful boys story and May God Be With You and Yours Always🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻🙏🏻

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. All the hype before the legalization of marijuana at the states level that marijuana is safe as being “plant-based” and now every dispensary has billboard signs everywhere has done irreparable damage, especially to the young people so much so that changing the users’ mindset is almost impossible.

  17. Thank you for sharing your story. All the hype before the legalization of marijuana at the states level that marijuana is safe as being “plant-based” and now every dispensary has billboard signs everywhere has done irreparable damage, especially to the young people so much so that changing the users’ mindset is almost impossible. Sorry for your loss.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have just begun this journey with my son AND husband. I’m trying to learn everything I can and help educate them as well as others. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss.

  19. I’m sorry for your loss. I have been suffering from the same symptoms and going to all possible doctors until one of them asked me if I smoked cannabis and told me about the symptoms of CHS. I was very surprised because cannabis helps me a lot with my psychological disorders of depression and anxiety. I know what to do now

  20. Excellent advice – I wish I had read this article when my sons were in high school. But I’m linking to it on the website of my non-profit, Be the Influence (www.betheinfluence.us) and including it in my “420” newsletter going out today on 4/20/22! Thank you for this resource.

  21. Jesus Christ can rescue you and heal you. He can make you a new person. My husband and I spent 14 years in the New Age psychedelic counterculture in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s. And later, after we became Christians, Richard worked for 30 years in locked psychiatric wards. Some of those voices you’ve heard are undoubtedly demons. Christ is the answer you need. Turn to him. Check out our booklets, “The Cross & the Marijuana Leaf” and “Psychedelic Seduction” at lighthousetrails.com.

  22. Please continue to raise awareness. As I struggle and I know firsthand. We should choose to acknowledge facts and not just pop culture .

  23. This is so heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing Randy’s story. He has so many similarities to others I’ve heard about who suffered with CIP: paranoia with roommates, being asked to leave, convinced MJ was saving him, etc. We are so grateful you are speaking out. Peace and comfort to you and your family.

  24. We have a similar story. We are witnesses to the deterioration of the mind that THC causes. Tragically, our 27 year old son was successful in his suicide atempt in 2013. We believe he had been using marijuana since age 13, as that is when we began noticing negative changes in his personality at that age.
    When he was 17, we put him into residential treatment; however, within 3 weeks of his return home, he began using it again.
    I agree 100% that a big lie about marijuana is being promoted throughout our country. Those states who have legaized its use, will pay a huge price as rhey will lose generations of youth who had once had great potential and thrir mental health cases will soar. I imagine that they already are, but that the staristics are being hidden from the public.

  25. He kept his story real, very helpful to me as a grandmother of two grandchildren addicted to marijuana and suboxone. This story gives me hope! I hope there’s a group in Florida close by.🙏

  26. We are going through the same thing. Our 18 year old is having a psychotic break due to cannabis. It is horrifying. He has had horrible depression for years and every SSRI and SNRI that he has tried, has not worked so when he got his medical marijuana card, we did not push back. Big mistake. This is a horrible drug that many kids cannot handle. Beware and educate your kids as to the dangers of marijuana.

  27. My son also killed himself on 8/13/22. Within a week before he completely changed. We found vaping product partly used that included THC 0, Delta 8 and Delta 10. I completely believe this product caused Psychosis in my son which caused him to kill himself.

  28. Dear God, he was just a baby. I’m so just distraught that Alex paid for his mistakes with his life. This is so incredibly unfair. Thirteen year olds simply do not have — cannot have — the emotional maturity to grasp the potential consequences of using illicit substances. My own son is paying a heavy price for his foray into Delta 8 and God only knows what other substances along the way. He is suffering from psychosis that is not getting better; we fear it has become a chronic condition, schizophrenia. He was a brilliant, talented, happy kid. We as a society cannot afford to lose our kids like this.

  29. Oh Sue I had no idea all of this was happening. . I can’t begin to imagine the pain both of you must have gone through I know there were times I was impressed to pray for you but didn’t know why. Now I wish I had been listening better and praying more. Now no matter what I said, it isn’t enough. Thank you for being strong enough and so grounded in your faith that you have had the courage to write this.
    My heart bleeds for you and I love you very very much. Elaine

  30. Oh Sue, When I read this I couldn’t stop tearing up.
    You and your family went through so much. I tried to put my feet in your shoes and don’t know how you survived, but GOD. What a peace to know that at one time he asked Jesus to come into his life. Now he is free from all the awfulness of drugs and what it can do to a wonderful healthy young man who had so many dreams and plans of college, a degree, a wife, a family, children, grandchildren.
    When I hear what all the drugs are doing to young people, I know many families must be going through the same terrible experience you endured.
    So glad you were blessed with the day you and Spencer said your last last good-bys and the love you shared together.

  31. Thank you for sharing your story Phyllis. I am heart broken to hear about your son. Prayers for you and your family.

  32. My Dear Sweet Sue, God Bless you for wanting to help others by opening up and sharing your experience. It was a long road Spence traveled and he knew you were always there, even though he was often so ugly in his behavior towards you. I too am so glad God gave you that last visit.

  33. This is my story and thank you so much for caring so much too help not only me but for others as well, it’s all good.

  34. This is my double first cousin,we grew up together and we smoked a lot of pot together.I myself often wondered if it wasn’t all im his head.I drove a tractor trailer and Kenny as i call him would often ride along with me.He was sick alot,I felt so bad for him and it was extreamly difficult to watch.He is a tuff ole boy.Ive seen him in a few battles including a few with me.Getting punched in the face didnt even faze him.He was like a brother to me,so yea we had a few run in’s.He dam sure held his own.But this sickness was beating him up bad,it was scary and very difficult to watch.I love my cousin,probably more than he will ever know and im so glad he found the problem.Im proud of Kenny he and me were both headed down the wrong road.He is a beautiful soul and thank the good lord we didnt loose him over something like this.Ive been smoking since i was 9 years old we just grew up in houses were it was as comon as water.I often want to stop smoking myself but i battle anxiety thats pretty extream.Im sorry someone had to pass for my cousin to find what was wrong.I just sit back and wonder how many lifes will be saved because of Brian.May god bless his family and his death might be the reason my beautiful soul cousin lives on.I love you cuz,can’t wait to come catch some more catfish with you.God bless

  35. I’m unsure whether or not you got my last comment as I’m having phone difficulties & a screenshot can’t be sent.
    Please contact me as I’d like to give my observations/input as a retired educator on informational articles and research that I’ve done over the last 40+ yrs. Also, pass this along to the other relevant organizations listed in your ad or that might be interested.

  36. With the mega demand for and supply of Marijuana in the US and Australia these psychosis cases must be occurring daily in our Public Hospital EDs and Psychiatric Units. Can someone please reveal to Every Brain Matters the reason why medical doctors and psychiatrists are not sounding the alarm and taking cannabis prohibitive action modeled on anti-tobacco education warnings.

  37. Hello Dr. Stuyt, I became addicted in my early 20s and suffered a marijuana psychosis at age 25. This was around 1970, when THC was about 3%. I’ve struggled with mental illness ever since, and now some 50-years later, I take 3 antidepressants (two at maximum daily dosage) and see both a therapist and a psychiatrist.

    gfs

  38. Thank you for sharing this all-too-familiar progression with cannabis becoming a gateway to harder drugs, now laced illegally with killer substances, like fentanyl .

    May Catherine rest in peace and her story be a powerful learning for others.

  39. Thank you for sharing this all-too-familiar progression with cannabis becoming a gateway to harder drugs, now laced illegally with killer substances, like fentanyl .

    May Catherine rest in peace and her story be a powerful learning for others.

  40. I think you are missing the point if you think cannabis simply leads to more serious drugs. Cannabis is the destruction drug. It kills the brain and the person as we know them never returns. The damage is done. The idea of calling it the 1st death is brilliant as that is what it is. I understand this journey all too well as my son has experienced the first death and even though he lives on physically he will never be the same. The light in his soul has gone out. There is hardly anyone left. The medical field cannot help as they experiment with different treatment options to no avail and eventually the victims give up on treatment. This is reality and so you go home every day hoping he had the will power to go on to fight another day. The sadness never lifts and hardly anyone understands your pain.

  41. Do not believe that is effective at all. Not just only not particularly effective, but I have seen this in many clients and in a family members. When people self-medicate or use a so-called prescription which is nothing more than a fraudulent voucher per se, they frequently use it to treat depression, anxiety, etc. However, cannabis is known to make these conditions worse and to provoke them. Well most drugs have side effects the side effects of the drug are completely unacceptable and the fact that it’s used recreationally more than proves the point that it would be nearly impossible to sort out a dopamine seeking intoxication as opposed to the remediation for the very conditions that it provokes and aggravates and increases.

  42. My son 17 already has 2 episodes it’s horrible I don’t know what to do, he won’t stop the weed. He acts completely different. It’s really difficult to find help.

    He won’t stop smoking the weed, like he doesn’t understand what happened to him.

  43. Thank You for sharing this story. My daughter was just diagnosed. It was very scary.

  44. This is complete rubbish. Research shows Some studies showed that cannabis products reduced the number and/or intensity of different symptoms, including hyperactivity, attacks of self-mutilation and anger, sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness, psychomotor agitation, irritability, aggressiveness perseverance, and depression. Moreover, they found an improvement in cognition, sensory sensitivity, attention, social interaction, and language. The most common adverse effects were sleep disorders, restlessness, nervousness and change in appetite. Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34043900/

  45. That baby boy yeah that was me pops I never knew and tried killing itself I never knew you said the same as that thing I did and all those times I tried I couldn’t even get that right but you’re my dad man I’ve been through the same thing man I remember staying up for days smoking methamphetamines smoking Molly snorting coke smoking crack smoking synthetic cannabis overdosing three times and now look man I’m sober a year and 11 months I’m sober yes I smoke marijuana but I also believe marijuana has benefits and disadvantages so I just want you to know I truly thank you man every time you told me that you understood what I was going through you really did I love you man you’re my pops

  46. I am so sorry. This industry is devastating the world with its lies and faulty science, poor quality control and general nonsense. I can’t say what I want to say but it would include a lot of four letter words, and ugly language because I am filled with anger. RAGE, more specifically, at the people who are making tons of money at the expense of sick and hurting people. God Bless you and keep you and I will be praying for your healing.

  47. Juli Shamash – “almost all opioid users, started with marijuana” were is your proof? This is nothing but an opinion Cannabis is NOT a gateway drug, it has been debunked long long ago!

  48. Thank you Rik! What an honest share about your struggles and triumphs. I really appreciate reading about what’s it’s like to use marijuana every day. It gives me a better understanding and compassion towards my qualifier. I am so proud of you for running your Mon MA meetings!!!!!Thank You!

  49. I see you said you child was diagnosed with ADHD.
    Did your child take ADHD medication?
    What Medication was prescribed to them?
    How long did they take the medication prescribed to them by a doctor?

  50. Dear Emma,
    So sorry for your son. This warning was out 9 years ago, and psychiatrists have improved in places like California where the problem is too widespread to ignore. But most of the USA doesn’t understand and children/ parents are not warned. Your story is beautifully written and it goes with this article which is in 2 parts. https://poppot2.wpengine.com/2015/02/01/mental-health-care-fails-addiction-treatment/. We need to bring you on as advocate who can demonstrate the story.

  51. My son who is 40 had 2 episodes back in 2019 due to marijuana and what we now know is cannabis induced psychosis. He knew if he continued, he would lose his wife and 2 kids. So he stopped. That is until July 2023 when him and his wife separated and he got a medical marijuana card and started vaping it. He is so out of touch with reality right now that we can’t get him to listen to us and will not get help. I have reached out to the police to do a wellness check and they go out to his house and say there is nothing they can do, because he had a medical marijuana card and is in his house. His gas has been turned off due to not paying the bill, and he thinks it is because his thermostat is broke. After his daughter went to check on him, she saw where it looked like he had tried to start a fire on their wood kitchen table, but then put out. The police and mental help line people there is nothing they can do unless he is a danger to himself or someone else. If lighting a fire on a wood table isn’t a danger to himself, I don’t know what is. I don’t know where to turn for help or what to do. I am concerned he isn’t eating, sleeping, and has no heat in the house and it is 26 degrees overnight. If anyone has any suggestions or can help, please let me know.

  52. MADE a COUPLE of TWEAKS:

    A friend involved with Every Brain Matters asked me if I’d consider writing a paragraph or two on my experience with a loved one with a Cannabis Use Disorder.

    My loved one is a good friend, who I’ve watched smoke cannabis daily, then stop for a few days or even a week or two, only to fall back into using. They have struggled, and I have struggled. Sometimes, when they haven’t been using, I wish they would use, but then it means interacting with someone who’s in an altered state of mind while I’m not. It’s a roller coaster of emotions ranging from sympathy, anger, frustration, disappointment, concern for their well-being, and fear. It’s a lot, and it can be isolating..very isolating.

    Who do I talk to? Do I talk? What do I say?

    What are some of the things that have really helped and made all the difference? Getting support for myself. In particular, a weekly, Saturday morning support group via Zoom. There we share our experiences; the things which have helped and as importantly, the things which have not.

    There’s a wide range of support available, and I encourage anyone to seek out support and that fits with you. There’s a saying, “Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional”. Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t think you’re alone, because you’re not.

    Another helpful saying is, “I didn’t cause the marijuana use, I can’t control the marijuana use, I can’t cure the marijuana use.” It was the beginning of detaching with love from my loved one and taking responsibility for myself, not my loved one’s addiction.

    At the moment, my friend hasn’t used cannabis for a couple of months, and while I’m pleased for them, I’m also cautious and wary. For better or worse, I simply see them as an “untreated addict.”

    Whether my friend/loved one is using marijuana or not, my job is to keep the focus on myself, so I’m able to continue taking loving care of myself, and keep giving myself the support I need and deserve.

    Ana B., Canada

  53. Aubrey
    Excellent presentation of the facts. I have continued to evaluate SAMHSA’s grantmaking guidelines and it allows allocations to non-governmental entities. Secondly, I believe we have a strong case for not allowing funds for prevention to go to States that actively market marijuana, like mine in California.

    I am going to pursue it further. If we can capture part or all of those funds for a valid prevention program, I think we can start the process of effecting a change in drug policy to protect our youth. The existing federal drug policy focused entirely on treatment is a joke.

  54. Hello you sweet mama. You are an amazing and courageous mother for taking the strength needed to post this. I can’t imagine anything worse for a mom, but thank you for sharing and helping and serving. I am actually a 40 year old mother and teacher, and I was using legal cannabis vape pens for insomnia. I was sick for two months before I figured it out from researching on the Internet- the docs couldn’t figure it out. It is hell to go through. We need to fight for more education about how strong these new forms of marijuana are.

  55. Thank you Mr.Hill for sharing your horrifying experience. My daughter had psychosis to a lesser extent and she is now in a recovery program. I am sharing your story with everyone I know who thinks weed is “harmless”. I am absolutely spreading the word about this destructive substance.
    May God bless you and your girlfriend and her mother who are staying by your side. Praying for you and sending blessings and peace.

  56. Yes, You as many other mothers and fathers in this nation are appalled at what is in front of us – the destruction of the brain and well being of our children – The joy of teenage life of our daughters and sons is at risk just because a policy and media is pushing on them weed ” Marijuana and THC ” as a harmless and recreational drug that can be get in easy way, changing the course (for worse) the life of many families and forever. WEED IS WRONG and THC is killing our children. We need to atop this Now.

  57. Javonte,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is a haunting and remarkably similar to those I’ve heard others tell. It means a lot that you’re speaking up. You will help others and prevent needless violence, death and suffering.

  58. The information provided here is relevant to my position as a cancer control specialist, as vaping is a major problem in my area of Kentucky. Suicide is also on the rise as well.

  59. I am experiencing the same thing with my 22 year old son who is complete denial. Please send me some resources who he can talk to. I feel he was totally brainwashed when he was young about THC that it is harmless.

  60. Thank you for so bravely sharing your story, Ethan. God bless you on your journey. Your story is happening to many, many young people. We need them told to help people understand.

  61. Hi There!

    I am so sorry for what you have been through and so glad to hear that your daughter is doing well.. My name is Crissy and I’m the Director of the Parent Action Network. We are an initiative of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and we work directly with parents and families negatively impacted by the legalization of marijuana. We provide education and training in today’s high potency products and give you a voice and prepare you to use your story to encourage policy change at the state , local and federal level. We are currently working very closely with Pennsylvania advocates and legislatures to change policies and hopefully prevent recreational legalization. If you are interested in sharing your story and advocating for change in your own community/state please contact me at [email protected] We also have other advocates in Pa. that we could connect you with. I hope to hear from you. Again I’m so sorry for what you e been through and I admire your willingness to edu are others. Best, Crissy Groenewegen

  62. Ethan, your article is the best firsthand account of what it feels like to be in psychosis that I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing your story and giving hope to the MANY teenagers and young adults who are addicted to marijuana (in all its many forms) and experiencing CIP. This truly is going to be the next epidemic in America and we need to get the word out. You should consider going to speak at assemblies at middle schools and high schools and sharing your story/warning/hope!! I will be forwarding this article to all my friends, thanks again.

  63. I knew from the day I met you how special you were. I think we often define “courage” as something we did in combat…but writing this article is the ultimate courage. You are one of my hero’s brother!
    todd

  64. If you would be interested, Ed Shemelya, National Coordinator and Director of the National Marijuana Initiative, will be special guest speaker Tuesday, March 5, 2024, 1:00 at Wayne County Community College District, 21000 Northline, Taylor, MI 48180.
    Courtesy of AARP, Chapter 4676.

    Mary Sobran
    Program Chair
    734.374.2515

  65. Ed Shemelya will be our guest speaker, Tues, March 5, 2024
    at Wayne County Community College District.

    The National Marijuana Initiative National Coordinator will be AARP’s special guest to dispel misconceptions and raise
    awareness of issues to improve public safety and knowledge
    regarding marijuana.

  66. Thanks for sharing your story. It is really helpful in understanding the progression that follows when your loved ones begin usingTHC. Such a devastating, tragic and exhausting problem that breaks families apart. Very glad to hear about his recovery and I hope we can hear about his full recovery and success story some day.

  67. This story is tragic, but you should have some relief in knowing that Florida passed a law banning Delta-8 THC. We hope the governor will sign the law and it will be banned throughout the country. The 2018 Farm Bill which legalize hemp must be revised.
    (Delta-9 THC is still a problem and vaping has been a great way for youth to hide their THC habit.)
    Your story shows that treatment does not guarantee that recovery can be permanent.

  68. Hi Jennifer, my heart is also broken right now. My 17 year old is in a mental facility as well. This is his 3rd admission since Feb 13. I am also so scared. I’m heartbroken because like you, I can’t comfort him, I can’t hold him. My prayers are with you. I hope god is merciful and heals our babies ❤️ Sending you strength.
    Ginny

  69. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and strength in revealing this very important story . You have suffered greatly but still have great compassion and understanding. I commend you and hope people realize how dangerous marijuana can be.

  70. The ridiculous concept of “Harm Reduction” was conceived of and implemented through the Drug Policy Alliance, financed by George Soros. His motives are not to reduce harm. He is on record in his book The Bubble of American Supremacy stating …. “Prevention is the single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect.,” so he knows what works. He has been in control of drug policy since he put Obama in office and for 16 years, through 3 administrations, there has been no attempt at PREVENTION. He should be held accountable, along with all the politicians he has corrupted, and his assets should be seized as retribution for all of the lives lost and destroyed, and environment harms to the planet.

  71. Dear Paul,
    Thank you for sharing your experience to help others. My thank you also to Kurt for allowing you to share this.
    My heart goes out to both of you as you recognize Kurt as the victim of this drug. We need people like you to help others understand how dangerous THC can be.
    My son died by suicide blaming his severe cannabis use disorder for killing his soul and ruining his brain. From a discussion I once had with him, I believe he feared he could become a danger to others, perhaps leading to his suicide.

    Thank you for helping others.

  72. My daughter has tried to kill me in phycosis from THC and almost has ! If I was an avg 62 year old I would be dead! I have been an athlete all my life so being thrown down stairs and off decks and my head hitting tile I was ok! Strangled beaten the list goes on broken nose jaw on and on! It’s not my. Kid
    I mis my daughter so much😓😓😓🦾👣🙏👣

  73. I’m so sorry for all
    Your family has endured due to this poison it helps to have the terrible unraveling made sense of I wish you had found this group and these resources sooner to support you but it’s never too late to share your family’s tragic story to help others These kids have no idea what can happen to them with marijuana use it’s horrendous unintended consequences on so
    Many levels I hope this article gave you some peace in knowing there are many of us out her that understand what you have and are going through
    May comfort always be with you Sending love to you

  74. Reading about the devastating impact of Delta-8 THC on this family is heart-wrenching and sheds light on the serious consequences of unregulated cannabis products. The personal account shared here emphasizes the urgent need for stricter regulation and awareness of the potential dangers associated with Delta-8. It’s evident that this substance can have severe effects on mental health, leading to psychosis and disrupting lives. The courage to speak out about these experiences is commendable and serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of informed decision-making and responsible consumption. This article has deepened my understanding of the risks posed by Delta-8 THC and underscores the necessity for comprehensive measures to protect individuals and families from such harm.

  75. This heartbreaking account vividly illustrates the devastating impact of delta-8 THC use on individuals and their families. Through the lens of a parent’s anguish and concern for their son’s well-being, the article powerfully conveys the urgency of addressing the risks associated with this substance. It’s a poignant reminder of the importance of informed decision-making, regulation, and education surrounding THC and CBD products. The personal narrative not only raises awareness but also prompts reflection on the need for responsible industry practices and robust safety measures. This story underscores the imperative to prioritize public health and safety over profit margins.

  76. Reading your story was deeply moving and informative. It’s heartbreaking to hear about the struggles your family has faced due to the effects of delta-8 THC on your son’s mental health. Your candid sharing of personal experiences sheds light on the serious risks associated with this substance, highlighting the urgent need for greater awareness and regulation. Your bravery in speaking out serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating impact unchecked substances can have on individuals and families. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope it inspires others to advocate for safer practices and regulations surrounding THC and CBD products.

  77. So honest and brave. Admirable and strong. You will get there Michael, I love you!! Your cuz, Lori