My son, Thomas Osborn, took his own life in 2016.
As far as I’m concerned, marijuana killed my son — and his is far from the only death that has been linked to marijuana use.
Despite my son’s death, I don’t oppose the legalization of marijuana, which otherwise would be available only through the black market.
But I believe that states that legalize it should also include strict guardrails to limit its harm.
Tom was a high-achieving student at Arapahoe High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial, and then at the University of Utah.
Tom probably started using marijuana at college. After two years, he dropped out.
When he returned home to Colorado, he got a medical marijuana card. (While the minimum age for recreational marijuana is 21 in Colorado, 18-year-olds can obtain medical marijuana cards.) Tom started to smoke marijuana heavily and was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana.
He was put on a two-year probation and stayed clean for the duration.
During that time, he had a good job that he liked, and was progressing. But when he got off probation, he quit his job and started smoking marijuana heavily again.
He was soon arrested again — this time for fleeing the police, probably during a psychotic episode.
We took him to various counseling centers and doctors, but nothing seemed to help. He was diagnosed as “schizophrenic while under the influence of marijuana” by one psychiatrist.
Soon after his second arrest, his psychotic episodes increased to a climax when my wife refused to give him money to buy marijuana. He stabbed himself with a kitchen knife in front of her to end his own life.
Tom always bragged about that he used “top-shelf” marijuana high in THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical.
He always assured us that he was using no other drugs, and we believed him.
A 2017 comprehensive review of research published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that marijuana use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses, with the risk increasing with amounts used.
A new study in The Lancet Psychiatry, a prominent medical journal, concluded that using marijuana on a daily basis, especially high-THC marijuana, raises the risk of psychotic episodes later.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says long-term marijuana use also can lead to depression, anxiety and risk of suicide.
When Tom didn’t smoke during his first probation, he was a pleasure to be around. We did things a father and son would do together. But when he went back to using marijuana it destroyed him.
We were anxious to get the coroner’s report. We really thought that he had to be using other drugs. The report showed very high levels of THC, but no trace of any other drugs.
Specifically, I encourage consideration of the following safeguards.
• Clearly define what constitutes marijuana-impaired driving and enforce the standard rigorously. Currently, states are taking what one expert called a “scattershot approach” to impaired-driving enforcement. Concerning Colorado research showed many users don’t think being under the influence of marijuana affects their ability to drive safely.
• Limit THC levels to reflect research that associates higher potencies with mental health conditions. These ultra-potent products bear little resemblance to the comparatively weak joints of earlier decades, like when I was in college. THC levels in marijuana buds and leaf have increased in Colorado since legalization, and the market also now increasingly sells much more potent concentrates, the state reports. Without limits on THC, kids are at a tremendous risk, especially with underage use.
• Set clear limits on using marijuana in public. While the ballot issue that legalized recreational marijuana prohibited open and public use, these restrictions are poorly enforced. It’s common to be exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke in public spaces. This public use also normalizes marijuana use for kids.
• Expand educational programs for youth and parents on the effects and uses of cannabis, and the risks of new stronger marijuana products.
As marijuana legalization continues to spread across the country, many will continue to assume that pot is not addictive and will not harm anyone. We need to highlight the risks –- and work to prevent them — before we lose more lives.
Kent Osborn, who lives in Centennial, wrote this in honor of his late son Tom. Kent is a retired web developer and basketball and baseball official.