JOHNNY’S STORY

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 schizophrenia or other mental illness, and even when the cannabis is withdrawn, the psychosis doesn’t go away.

This is what happened to my beautiful boy. When he died, the toxicology report showed he had ZERO drugs in his system. His note said 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.

Original Facebook post >>

12 Replies to “JOHNNY’S STORY”

  1. 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.

    1. 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. 🙁

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. Hi Laura,
    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.
    Best,
    Olive

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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

  5. 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 ❤️

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