Johnny Stack was born on February 7, 2000 and died by suicide on November 20, 2019 at the age of 19. He was an incredibly intelligent, funny, charming, handsome young man, which you can see in his tribute video. We are a regular suburban family that did regular family things. He had a happy life, a 4.0 GPA with a scholarship to college, and a family who loved him very much. Unfortunately, we live in Colorado, which was the first state to legalize marijuana in 2014, when Johnny was 14 years old.
Three days before he passed, he came over for dinner. He lived in our condo a couple miles down the street and would often pop in for a home-cooked meal. “I need to tell you that you were right,” he says me. “Right about what?” I ask. “Right about the marijuana. You told me weed would hurt my brain, and it’s ruined my mind and my life. You were right all along. I’m sorry, and I love you.” He died by suicide three days later.
Johnny used marijuana for years, starting at age 14 at a high school party, and then he started dabbing as an older teen. When I said “dabbing” just now, did you think it was a typo for “dabbling”? Did you know what I meant when I said he was dabbing? Not everyone does. Do you understand the difference between smoking cannabis flower and dabbing high-THC concentrates, such as wax, oil, shatter, or budder (not a typo)? Most of my friends look at me blankly when I say these words and say, “I’ve never even heard about this” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” If you don’t know what cannabis concentrates are, and you have children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews between the ages of 14 and 24, you are in the right place.
There are FDA approved versions of marijuana used to treat debilitating illnesses such as seizures, eating disorders, and cancer, so we aren’t against that. I’m specifically talking about illegal, recreational usage by adolescents under 21, whose brains are still forming. Your brain is still forming until mid-to-late 20s, actually. And marijuana can still cause harms after that.
You may be thinking, “C’mon, Laura, it’s no big deal – it’s just pot.” “Pot’s legal, so it must be safe.” Or “I did pot when I was a kid, too, and look, it didn’t hurt me.”
Well, have you recently studied TODAY’S pot, and have you personally seen its effects on your children like I have?
Why is it so different? First, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis that gives the “high,” is extracted out of the cannabis so that it’s nearly pure. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Then a butane torch is used to heat the crystals (similar to beeswax) or oil in a “rig” (just google it), or a vaping device with a heating element called a dab pen can be used. Forget the “grass” or “papers” that were rolled in the 70s and 80s. The pot we grew up with (10% or less THC content) is HUGELY different than today’s high-concentrate extracts (often 80% THC content or higher).
The brain is still developing through a person’s 20s, and psychotic disorders typically develop in the late teenage years. During brain formation, heavy cannabis use has been shown to have a negative effect on the formation of neural pathways. It can also lead to heavier drug use. While the vast majority of marijuana smokers never experience permanent mental illness, researchers have found that the earlier and heavier someone starts dabbing, the more likely it is that they will develop a disorder at some point (often years later).
The harmful combination of a still-forming mind, high-potency THC products, and a high frequency of use = Cannabis-Induced Psychosis. Yes, that’s a real diagnosis (or High-THC Abuse – Severe). Repeated CIP incidents can trigger schizoaffective disorder or other mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Even when the cannabis is withdrawn, the psychosis might not go away.
This is what happened to my beautiful boy. Continued use of dabs and vapes made him so paranoid, he wrote in his journal the mob was after him, the university was an FBI base, and the whole world knew everything about him. He wasn’t depressed, neglected, drugged, or unloved. He was psychotic, paranoid, and delusional, and he jumped from a 6-story building in his pain. He refused the anti-psychotic drugs that he now needed, because he thought he wasn’t sick (common to schizophrenia).
As parents, grandparents, friends, and counselors, we must first educate ourselves about the dangers of high-THC marijuana. Then we must warn our children when they are young (10-12 years old) and use hyper-vigilance in the early teen years. This is much easier to do before the age of 16 when they can drive, as you can’t lock them up or monitor them 24/7. They need to understand what this is, before “that friend” shows up at a party offering dabs.
I am compelled to help increase awareness about dabbing and prevent more senseless deaths. We welcome your partnership and contributions.
23 Replies to “JOHNNY’S STORY”
There is no legit use for marijuana at all. Drug use is drug use.smoked pot 26 yrs. It is a destroyer. As society breaks down and liberal thought convinces people it’s a RIGHT TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT MORE AND MORE LIVES ARE BEING DESTROYED. IT CANT BE REGULATED. OR CONTROLLED.RALLIES IN COLORADO SHOW HUNDREDS OF UNDERAGE KIDS GETTING STONED AND DRUNK. A BIG LIE PUSHED BY GREED. GOD NEVER INTENDED US TO USE THESE SUBSTANCES THE WAY WE HAVE. JOHNNY IS ONE OF MANY.NOW KIDS ARE DRIVING STONED. AND ITS EASIER TO GET THAN BOOZE.ITS EVERYWHERE. AS SOCIETY CONTINUES TO BREAK DOWN AND WE IGNORE GOD MORE AND MORE OF OUR KIDS PEOPLE ARE GOING TO LOSE THEIR LIVES. GOD AND HIS 10 COMMANDMENTS ARE THE ONLY THING THAT CAN SAVE US.THERE IS NO TRUE FREEDOM WITHOUT LAW. IT IS NOT FREEDOM TO DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.ITS SLAVERY. ADDICTION IS SLAVERY.
George, agree it is very sad to see all the underage kids using marijuana at these rallies – we’ve all witnessed it before in Colorado. There is a reason marijuana isn’t legal until it’s 21, because it’s common knowledge that it’s harmful for the developing mind. We must work harder to protect the vulnerable and keep it away from them. You are right that addiction definitely controls someone – it definitely had Johnny in its grip. 🙁
Thanks for sharing your story about Johnny. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can truly relate. My son Blake moved to CO because it’s so much easier to get pot. He started using at 14 and dabbing soon after. Johnny’s story is very familiar. Blake tried to commit suicide last year. He has the psychosis events often, thinking the police are after him. It’s scary to listen to him. He refuses to take any real medication.
Sandy, I’m so sorry to hear your son is suffering with cannabis-induced psychosis and suicide attempt. Johnny also refused to take the anti-psychotics he desperately needed. Please join our private Parents of Children with Cannabis-Induced Psychosis (POCCIP) group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/POCCIP. If you want to share your story, we keep it anonymous at https://johnnysambassadors.org/share so others will know this is a very real danger when children start dabbing early.
I went to high school with Johnny, actually sat across from him my freshman year in AP Human Geography. In that short year I learned how kind of a human he was and how intelligent he was. He was a great kid. I started thinking back to high school the other day and thought about Johnny. I went on his page and found this link. I am currently about to go into my senior year at the University of New Mexico. My major is Community Health Education and I find it so interesting the work you have done for Johnny and the effects of THC on the brain. I want to research this for a future paper. His story has really inspired me to look into this and hopefully I can prevent this in my future career. Best wishes to you and your family.
Hi, Olive! How nice of you to reach out! Thank you for sharing your impressions of Johnny. 🙂 You gave me a smile! I would love to have you be one of Johnny’s Ambassadors! We have done the research for you: https://johnnysambassadors.org/research. Thank you for thinking about writing about the risks of today’s high-THC marijuana on adolescent brain development, mental illness, and suicide. This will be an important field as legislators consider making marijuana legal nationally. Please keep me posted and let me know how I can support you. I just sold the book telling Johnny’s story, so it will be available in bookstores next year.
Hi Laura, I am so very sorry for your loss. I am certain Johnny was an amazing young man. His story is so very similar to my son’s and they were born the same year. My son started using his junior year in high school when he was 15. He was young for his grade. By the time he went off to a UC he was smoking daily. This highly academic student began to lose the ability to focus and his anxiety got out of control. We had our first indication of psychosis on Mother’s Day 2020 when he was home during lock down. We took him to the ER and he was diagnosed with “cannabis use disorder” I did not understand at the time that this meant “you son is addicted.” He got into an outpatient program through his UC and after a brief stint at sobriety, he relapsed. He subsequently had 5 more hospitalizations with in a brief 3 month period. Luckily we got him into an inpatient rehab program for dual diagnosis since the medical community cannot untangle true underlying mental illness from CIP until the patient is 6 months sober. He was there for 2 months. He’s now been sober for 8 months. His bipolar diagnosis has been revised to CIP. He attends MA regularly, is in therapy and is ready to return to university this fall. BUT my God, this could have easily been a different ending. It still could be. Sobriety is something my son will have to remain actively committed to the rest of his live. Anyway, I want to thank you for sharing your story, for setting up a non-profit to spread awareness of CIP. Without awareness and education, this tragedy will play out across too many families. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jules, wow, I am so sorry this happened to your son and so glad he’s still with us! When he is ready to speak out, please join our #StopDabbing walk! https://www.stopdabbingwalk.com
Good morning, Jules. And thank you, Laura for sharing your son, Johnny’s story. I am so sorry for your loss. My son has a similar story and was born a year behind your boys in 2001. He was athletic and smart and introduced to cannabis the summer before his junior year in high school. Diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, he liked how it made him feel and he began using so often that it quickly affected school, athletics, our family and his decision-making. Still he began college in Sept. 2019 and was quickly introduced to dabbing. Things really went downhill from there and by the time he was sent home in March, 2020 due to the pandemic, things were out of control. Our family lived in chaos until March, 2021 when he was admitted to the psych unit where in stayed committed for 23 days. Unfortunately, he was released, also with a CIP Dx, and Bipolar medications (but just the cannabis use disorder Dx) to an unhelpful inpatient program where he stayed for a week and then he came home. Since April we have been watching him go from sober to where he is now- not dabbing (I believe) but smoking pot again in greater and greater amounts. I can tell he is ramping up just like before. We are trying to get help but are being told he needs to hit rock bottom. I believe we are not finding the right care because there isn’t an understanding of what johnnysambassadors is communicating. This is a long story but I’m wondering if you could share the dual-diagnosis inpatient program your son went to?
I’m so sorry this is happening to your son! We hear it over and over – same pattern. Yes, it’s very important to get him into a 45-day in-patient rehab to detox and get proper medication. So important to stay sober or the psychosis will return and soon, it doesn’t go away like my Johnny. We have resources for centers our ambassadors have used at https://JohnnysAmbassadors.org/parents, and we have an intervention partner, who can help you find a good place and get him to agree to treatment. Write me at [email protected] if you need help with that! xoxo
Shay. Please look into PACE Recovery Foundry in CO as well as Mission for Michael and Newport Institute. My son had a very similar situation as all our sons here do. He began smoking in 2018 and spiraled into heavy daily use by 2019 he has anxiety / ocd tendencies as well as a ADHD dx. By October 2021 he was isolated smoking daily barely passing college and staying up all hours of night and sleeping the day away he was able ti maintain his gym routine but we saw the hole he was falling into get deeper and deeper. He was on daily dose of vyvanse at times abused in addition to the daily pot and also taking pre workout caffeine pills energy drinks and a pseudo steroid called RAD140. He was using all of this to get up and then come down his life was a daily science experiment with chemicals
he felt pot was so therapeutic and all natural and any claim that he was playing with fire was met with extreme resistance. He began experiencing the CIP episodes Oct 2021 and never reduced pot use or vyvannse we knew we had no control over situation because if his age (21) he was delusional and paranoid low level with a few intermittent acute episodes that subsided quickly but we tried everything 211 911 family intervention
over and over he refused to acknowledge there was a problem and that he needed help ( we believe he doesn’t have Memory of the episodes) finally two weeks ago we had a successful 911 call where he was admitted to Yale only to be released two days later. Up to that time he has always been quick to “snap out” and compose himself but this came after 4 nights of no sleep so it was more extreme and the symptoms were not able calmed quickly after almost successfully escaping Yale 3x he was sedated then slept and ate non stop and was deemed ok to leave after 2 days on basis of direct admittance to dual diagnosis center. He was dx with substance induced mood disorder
Soon after his intake interview at the RTC he literally bolted and was missing for a day. The Worst day of my life where I filed a missing persons report with my son literally on the run addicted and paranoid
He later resurfaced at his apt. I saw a continued downward trend as the week went on as he was now withdrawing from vyvannse and pot as we cut him off $ wise
the no sleeping set in again and so he found a way to buy street pot ( he had always only bought dispensary pot) which in my book is no better to “ help him sleep. A few days later another episode occurred and we called 911 this time the dr listened to our plea that despite him “snapping out “ quickly he was NOT ok and was still in a low level delusional state and that he needed medication. . They listened and cared so much and were able to see it. He was immediately placed on risperdone with dose increased quickly at Yale Psychiatric hospital where he is being released to Newport Institute this Wednesday. I can say to all out there in the beginning of this
Get help right away through any means possible. They will thank you on the offer side of this ( we exaggerated to 911 to save our son )
do your research find out everything about CIP and find the best treatment options that are at least 90 days.
Our son is doing well now on risperdone and actually shed tears of joy and fear that he is finally facing there is a problem that is now front and center. He hit rock bottom but in a safe place in the hands of drs at Yale I don’t think hitting rock bottom works for those in psychosis it’s too big of a risk
this is the first time in his life we have set clear boundaries. No option but RTC and no coming home until healthy
we have amazing Drs at YPH that worked with us as a team to be as aggressive as possible with med and a medical directive to a residential treatment after bc he’s so young and so treatable. We are hoping by the Grace of God all his symptoms disappear quickly and can come off med after a short course. Research does suggest two years of anti psychotic is ideal but each case is different. They are immature with littke insight and don’t know what the best chance looks like. But it’s getting on an antipsychotic and then going to a treatment center for lasting lifestyle changes. We have and will continue praying daily for continued healing ❤️🩹 of his brain and body and of his personal responsibility to own his addiction and rebuild his life and stay off of anything psychoactive for the rest of his life
I pray for all the other boys out there struggling with this awful addiction and the problems it produces. Never give up. It’s Never to late to get help. Miracles and healing do happen
Every day is a gift but every day that passes without getting help is one day deeper in a hole
As an aside there is a ton of research on
Omega 3 supplementation and positive outcomes of First episode psychosis Even if your child isn’t in treatment or on meds please at least get him to agree to omega 3 supplement it does help
Each state has robust Early intervention of psychosis programs if inpatient isn’t an option
Best of luck
I know reentry to college comes with anxieties of temptation all around. Thank God for your sons commitment to sobriety
Many colleges have collegiate recovery programs. It’s sober living communities with substantial peer and theraputic support at some colleges even sober dorms / houses
My beautiful son died January 31,2021 only 23 years old.
My only child. He was a avid competitive hockey player from 7-18 years old. Graduated Christian Valor HS. Went to CU Boulder and joined a fraternity.
A moms worst nightmare. Alcohol,Marijuana, then Dabbing lead to cocaine then fentanyl. Ultimately died from a overdose. He is forever is forever in my heart. I miss him deeply every day. I am grateful for this website ❤️
I’m living this nightmare. I hate marijuana. I hate drugs. They ruined my marriage, and took my child when he tried to escape his pain with marijuana. I don’t understand why we don’t fund better mental health and addiction support systems to save our youth.
I’m with you. I had the exact same frustration when I couldn’t get insurance to help me and couldn’t figure out what to do, and there was no one to help. One of the reasons Johnny’s Ambassadors exists today! I’m so sorry you lost your son, too. We have a private Facebook group I will invite you to if you friend me at wwww.facebook.com/laurastack.
Narcotics anonymous will work if you work it. 12 step programs do work and are very effective.much better and cheaper than high priced therapy. Nt that some may need that bt AA NA CA WORK IF YOUR SERIOUS. YOU NEED GREAT SUPPORT SYSYEM THAT FAMILY CHURCH MOSTLY CANT PROVIDE.IN THE PHONE BOOK EVERYWHERE.
My son just turned 14. He is smoking and vaping. He purchased a pen this week (while we are on vacation) through social media. I know street drugs of any sort can be laced with Fentanyl. Kaiser’s addiction medication branch requires he give his consent to schedule meetings, and he has declined treatment. The sadness and anxiety and worry are overwhelming. I went to my first Mar-Anon meeting today.
He’s so young. Take away all his privileges – you have major leverage. Have him sit down and watch some podcasts. I know he’s young but hearing the unintended Connor smoking may scare the heck out of him. Each state has early psychosis outpatient treatment and some states have high risk for psychosis prevention programs
Thank you Laura and all of the others who have shared your experiences. I am so sorry for your losses. I spent almost 20 years working with a Juvenile Drug Treatment Court and now work with adults at a tribal treatment center. Dabs are definitley NOT your mama’s marijuana and we professionals see a lot of what you are talking about with the psychosis. One thing I have noticed over the years is that NO ONE defends their use more than a marijuana user! They continue to pander the myths that marijuana is harmless, natural, etc. There is nothing natural about pouring butane over marijuana rhizomes and lighting it with a crack torch! They have a hard time connecting their symptoms to their THC use and there is such pushback when it is pointed out. I’m so glad that you are sharing such important information by sharing your personal narrative. The more people that hear what you have to say, the better. Maybe even some users will be more open because of the personal nature of your story. Thank you for your work!
Wow! I have learned so much in a short time here. First, I am saddened by all the loss and I am grateful my 37 year old son is still with us. However, he too started at a young age and tried many things including alcohol. He is currently in the pysch ward in the hospital and little did I know that cannabis, even in the “legal” limit in vape pens were actually hurting my son. I am trying to learn as much as I can, however my son has to be willing to make the change and commitment to a clean life. I have read some of his writings from over the years, while he was either in treatment centers and/or jail for alcohol overuse. Little did I know until much later in life that mental health illness is also part of the equation. He wrote that he believed he had mental illness, which made him drink or smoke etc…to calm the brain. Sadly, once he is in the hospital, he knows how to manipulate and denies any problems etc so the Dr’s believe him. We are trying to find a place that will detox and address him on an individual level, however he doesn’t want to be a financial burden so he denies our help. I pray alot! I resort to lots of reading to educate myself and you all have been a wealth of information. I will never give up and I feel sharing with others is a step toward helping the families of the addicted persons heal. Thank you for starting this organization.
PS, I have been using CBD products and ate a piece of chocolate that I thought was only CBD, however it had to of had tons of THC. Within 10 minutes, I was severly “intoxicated” and dry mouth and head spinning. I couldn’t eat and my chest felt like it was crushing and my breathing was labored. My throat felt like it was constricting. Within 90 minutes, I was vomiting profusely and I thought to myself, “do people really like feeling like this and why”. It took 48 hours before I truly felt “normal”. Needless to say, I hope I never experience that and pray others will learn from it.
I am so sorry to hear about your tragic loss of your beautiful boy. I have suffered drug induced psychosis and thankfully recovered – I have been well for many many years. This is the first time I have read about heavy past use being a cause even if you are not smoking – I thought it meant you got high and then somehow spun out of control while smoking. I shall be reading your work. I was getting on with my life- but recently felt the call to speak out about recovery to help tackle the stigma around this to help people like myself, but particularly to help young people feel more hopeful and less ashamed- what I didn’t realise I had some old pain to process around having kept this secret due to stigma. I am testament that there is hope. It would of cause made my life a lot easier if I had never of smoked it. Personally my family was middle class but not very supportive unless yourselves and I needed to be offered counselling- I was self medicating with hash. Your work is super important and making a difference.. Thankyou. x
I unfortunately can relate. My son is only 13. I’m not sure exactly when he started dabbing. He hung out with friends after school and I later learned that he was dabbing. He believes he is a targeted individual. He believes he has something controlling him and that we are all in on it. He also won’t take his antipsychotic meds that he now needs. He can’t function normally. This has been paralyzing for me. This is the first time I’ve heard of anyone else going through this same thing. I still don’t know what else to do. For now he’s home and safe at home but he doesn’t go to school or hang out with friends anymore. I’m honestly scared to send him back in those environments. I’m just stuck, he’s stuck. I’m at a loss.