Messing with Heads
In “Messing With Heads” young cannabis users in treatment for psychosis speak openly to reporter Janine Cohen about their experiences, while doctors and drug specialists explain what the new research means for young people’s mental health.
JOLAN TOBIAS: Maybe the initial stages of when psychosis started for me is very similar to what I ended up feeling like when I was smoking dope a lot. I went up to the emergency desk and I said, I said to the nurse& ellip; He said, “Now what’s your problem? You know “How can we help you?” And I said, “I think I am going to die and my head’s going to shut down and my heart’s going to stop. Can you help me, you know?”
JANINE COHEN: One in five young Australians smoke cannabis every week. And 10 per cent of those become addicted. Worse still, some end up in psychiatric hospitals with long-term chronic illnesses.
DANNY MOORE: Oh, imagine taking every single emotion, memory, experience – tablet it all into one, and those fighting each other to see who is the victor and that is what you’ll feel.
JANINE COHEN: Many are taking cannabis not long out of primary school. And the experts warn the younger you are the more damage it can do.
DANNI: I had really bad paranoia. You know, used to think I had to sleep with a knife under my bed “cause I used to think people were going to come in and bash me during the night or something, just for me mull or something, yeah.
JAKE: You start going psycho and abusing people, it just, you change into a totally different person and it’s just not good.
JANINE COHEN: Tonight on Four Corners – cannabis – the most popular illicit drug in the world, and why smoking it is no longer regarded as a harmless past time. There’s new evidence emerging that it may be causing some psychotic illnesses.
DR ANDREW CAMPBELL, PSYCHIATRIST: The drug came on the scene with a whole lot of other social values at the time. It was associated with freedom, independence, a youthful culture. It was emerging out of a very conservative sixties.
PROF. WAYNE HALL, INSTITUTE OF MOLECULAR BIO-SCIENCE, QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY: And people would often share joints, whereas the pattern we see now is people smoking water bongs, meaning they’re getting a much larger dose of the drug, and often doing it in very heavy users, 10 to 20 times a day as against a person sharing a joint with several other people a couple of times over the weekend.
JANINE COHEN: These days most cannabis is grown hydroponically and it’s much stronger than the bush marijuana of the seventies.
The main chemical in cannabis that creates a high, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is much more concentrated. It encourages the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which initially stimulates pleasure but can later cause negative side-effects.
DR ANDREW CAMPBELL, PSYCHIATRIST: What people have developed is a variety that only grows two or three feet high, is mainly heads and a very little leaf, so when you buy $25 worth of cannabis these days you’re mainly getting heads. You don’t get the leaf which is much lower in concentration of cannabis.
DR BRENDON MURPHY, PSYCHIATRIST: I think that the quality of cannabis is different than it used to be 15-20 years ago. It used to be a relatively minor innocuous drug and now it seems to have been morphed by genetic engineering into quite a toxic drug.
JANINE COHEN: For years, people thought cannabis was a benign drug. But now those working in the field know better. They are seeing the withdrawal symptoms – the cravings, anxiety and mood swings.
DAVID MURRAY, DIRECTOR, VICTORIAN YOUTH SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICE: I think they’re coming to it much earlier than perhaps with the case of our generation. And they’re also smoking a lot more over the course of a day and smoking every day, so they’re taking in an enormous amount of cannabis. So their pattern of drug use becomes chronic and addictive rather than social and recreational.
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias knows how addictive and dangerous cannabis can be. At 15 she casually started smoking, but three years later was addicted.
HEATHER TOBIAS, JOLAN’S MOTHER: In her first year at TAFE, her father had a heart attack and Jolly she really went into shock. She was in a terrible state. She couldn’t deal with it at all. She couldn’t face him. She was an absolute mess.
Jolan Tobias, a talented artist and musician, came home to Wonthaggi in country Victoria. Not longer after she got into a troubled relationship and started smoking heavily.
JOLAN TOBIAS: Pretty much in the morning I would get up, reach across to get a bong. Have one of those or a couple of those. Get up have a coffee. Maybe have some breakfast then I would jump in the car with friends and …
JANINE COHEN: Stoned?
JOLAN TOBIAS: Yeah.
JANINE COHEN: All of you?
JOLAN TOBIAS: Yeah all, all stoned and go and visit someone else who would then make us coffee and make a mix and we’d smoke a few more pipes and that continued through the day until it was bedtime pretty much. A good friend of mine, Glen, had like, he witnessed quite a lot of things and he was, he was sort of nagging at me, “What are you doing this for?” you know?
GLEN TURNER, JOLAN’S FRIEND: It just sucked the life straight out of her, and you could almost see it with every one that she’d suck in – part of her life was sort of disappearing out the, you know, into the air as well. You know it was a tragedy to see somebody so young and having so much to live for, basically it made her give up I think, and that’s what she did. She just became an absolute shell of a human being at one stage. I said, “What is the really good thing about dope, Yolly?” And obviously they can answer. I said, “It’s destroyed your creativity, your everything.” I said, “You’re sitting there and you’re just hopeless.”
HEATHER TOBIAS: I was concerned when she was smoking it heavily because she did her behaviour did change. Her artwork changed.
JANINE COHEN: What happened to her artwork?
HEATHER TOBIAS: It became very disturbed and almost, yeah, almost demonic.
GLEN TURNER: So we sort of developed a plan and I just sort of worked on her self-esteem, and many fights and throwing things and other things and then getting her up in the mornings and she used to panic. I used to drag her out of the fold-out couch and throw her on the ground. I actually picked her up and threw her in the swimming pool one morning to get her up and she was furious, because she was fully dressed and wasn’t terribly happy about the whole thing. Her mother was just such a great stalwart. She would not let Jolly disappear.
JANINE COHEN: Heather Tobias found her daughter a safe house away from her destructive lifestyle. Eventually, she overcame her cannabis addiction, returning to Melbourne to do honours at the Victorian College of the Arts. Life was great for a couple of years. Then without any exposure to cannabis, she started having the same weird thoughts and feelings she had when she was stoned.
JOLAN TOBIAS: I think that something that for me that marijuana did was sort of open my thoughts into another area and how it made me feel, “cause it, it does change you, how you feel and how see, perceive things to be and I think once that happens is kind of you don’t really turn back from that, yeah.
HEATHER TOBIAS: I rationalised everything that she brought to me and it wasn’t until she started to talk about voices in – with the hotel where she lived, hearing somebody downstairs in the middle of the night talking about her, and then I started to become a little concerned.
JOLAN TOBIAS: The paranoia had completely switched to – it was actually reality for me. There was a whole heap of people talking about me but you know it was, wasn’t happening – but for me it was. I heard it. I could hear it. I got to a public phone just outside the pub where I was living at the time and I rang Mum.
HEATHER TOBIAS: She spoke about people able to see her imagination and that, and I said, “What do you mean? That they’re reading it from your paint?” No, no, they could see through her eyes, see her imagination, and that really, you know, made me think, “Hang on.” There’s something very wrong here. I couldn’t rationalise that.
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias’ delusions escalated quickly. She confided in a friend that she had a compulsion to jump out of a second-floor window. Her friend took her straight to St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
JOLAN TOBIAS: I just remember saying to him whatever you do stand at that window and don’t let me go through it because I had this sort of compulsion.
HEATHER TOBIAS: When I walked up into the casualty at St V’s, she grabbed hold of me and it’s like I was not going to get away from her forever. The first thing she said to me was, “I can’t, I won’t be able to live on my own anymore Mum. I’m terrified I’m going to die. You know I should have gone to I should have gone to God and not being Jesus,” or something along these lines, and I thought, “Hang on.”
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias became one of the most severe cases ever admitted to this specialist adolescent hospital. The average length of stay here is two to three weeks. Jolan’s first admission lasted four months. Like most people with psychosis, she had auditory and visual hallucinations. Paranoia, conspiracy theories and religious delusions are also very common.
PATIENT: “I am The Way, The Truth and The Life. No-one can get to the Father except through me. And if you have the child of a faith…of a child, then you will open the gates of Heaven for you, for you to enter and for Him to bless you. Amen. That’s all I have to say. Know…who…I…am.”
DR BRENDON MURPHY, PSYCHIATRIST: Jolan had a lot of classic symptoms of schizophrenia, she had disordered thinking, she had unusual beliefs and had auditory hallucinations. She reacted to these as any young people who has a schizophrenic illness would – with disbelief and chaos and disorganised behaviour.
GLEN TURNER: It’s like something out of “The Exorcist’, you know, where at one minute Jolan’s a caring living sort of a person, and the next minute, she becomes a terribly deranged person, you know, where everything was wrong. She hated me at one stage. She hated everybody. She, you know, thought her parents were out to get her, you know, and lock her away and never be seen again.
HEATHER TOBIAS: As she was getting a bit better, I would take her out for the day once she had day leave … I took her into the city. Suddenly she grabbed hold of me said, “Mum, Mum the walls are moving, the walls are closing in on us. Didn’t matter what you said, you know, she was convinced. It must have been terrible to be inside her head. I mean, it would be just so painful to experience this and not know your reality, to be so uncertain of what was real and what wasn’t.
JOLAN TOBIAS: I feel like I’ve lost four years definitely of my life when I was really unwell and couldn’t function and couldn’t do anything.
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias had no idea she was predisposed to schizophrenia. There’s no family history. In fact about 80 per cent of people who get schizophrenia have no immediate family member with it. There are many other things that may make people vulnerable to a psychotic illness& ellip; Physical stresses such as problems during the mother’s pregnancy as well as childhood trauma, including physical and emotional abuse. And then there’s illicit drugs. High on the list is cannabis.
DR BRENDON MURPHY, JOLAN’S PSYCHIATRIST: If you consider that we all have a vulnerability to develop psychosis and the vulnerability’s a mixture of genetic vulnerability and environmental stresses, and picture for example a bucket of vulnerability. And the bucket can be filled with genetic vulnerability or environmental stresses and once you fill the bucket you spill over into a pyschosis. Now, someone with a high genetic loading for example for schizophrenia with a strong family history will need very little in the way of environmental stresses to precipitate a psychosis. You needed quite a bit with Jolan to fill the bucket to have precipitated the psychosis and we know Jolan’s told us that she smoked cannabis on a daily basis for many years and without a doubt, I am sure that would have contributed in a major way to the development of her psychosis.
JANINE COHEN: Is there any possibility that if Jolan had never smoked cannabis that she may well never have got schizophrenia?
DR MURPHY: Absolutely.
JANINE COHEN: After four months, Jolan Thomas left hospital but in the following 15 months relapsed seven times and was readmitted.
GLEN TURNER: Her mother was the pillar of strength that refused to give up in any way, shape or form on Jolly. Heather just refused to and she basically picked Jolly up and kept picking her up and kept picking her up and kept picking her up.
JOLAN TOBIAS: She was basically there saying this you know, you’re not going to live like this and you, she was there from for all the time until, you know, I managed to find my feet.
JANINE COHEN: Did you ever drop your bundle?
HEATHER TOBIAS: I couldn’t. I couldn’t. There was just no option to do that. I was determined, absolutely determined that her life was going to be as good as it possibly could be and I wasn’t going to give in no matter what, no matter who I had to fight, no matter what. Hmm.
JANINE COHEN: The fight paid off. Jolan Tobias has been well now for four years but has to work hard to stay that way. She constantly exercises, stays away from stress and takes anti-psychotic drugs. She also performs regularly in a women’s circus.
HEATHER TOBIAS: The circus has been wonderful. I think she’s coming out, she’s coming out of it. Once this has happened, of course, you’re always going to be anxious that it doesn’t happen again and there’s no, of course, there’s no guarantees. There are no guarantees at all.
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias’s cannabis habit and subsequent schizophrenia may have been a coincidence. But there’s new research showing how cannabis can damage the teenage brain. This is a normal brain. The pink areas show blood flow. The blood flow as seen here is greatly reduced in both the schizophrenic brain as well as the cannabis damaged brain. It’s recently been discovered that the brain is not fully wired until a person is in their early to mid twenties. And that’s where the risk lies for teenagers smoking cannabis.
Professor Vaughan Carr is two years into a study.
PROFESSOR VAUGHAN CARR, SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR, NEUROSCIENCE INSTITUTE : The idea is that there may be some similarities between the effects of cannabis on the brain and what we seen in schizophrenia. I think that the odds are better than 50-50 that cannabis use in sufficient quantities beginning early enough in life may produce some cases of schizophrenia in people who otherwise would not have developed it, but that’s my gut feeling. Roughly one in five adolescents overall are cannabis users in reasonable quantities.
JANINE COHEN: And what percentage are those at risk?
PROFESSOR CARR: Well, I would have to say that all of them are at risk but the earlier the onset of cannabis use and the greater the frequency of use, the higher the risk.
JANINE COHEN: Jolan Tobias thinks she put herself at risk by smoking lots of cannabis. But whether it caused her illness or simply triggered it, we will never know. Experts say we need more Australian studies, but those at the coalface claim they are seeing the evidence now.
DR ANDREW CAMPBELL: The big point of debate is whether this cannabis is uncovering a psychosis that was going to happen anyway, or whether it’s causing psychosis in someone who wasn’t going to develop the problem at all.
JANINE COHEN: And what’s your view?
DR ANDREW CAMPBELL: My view is that it is bringing on new cases of psychosis. I shouldn’t be – I see a lot of people with long standing psychosis and if I see 10 people in a day, seven of them will have used cannabis on a daily basis at the first time of onset of psychosis.
JANINE COHEN: A recent Dutch study backs up what Australian doctors anecdotally are seeing. The large study found exposure to cannabis during adolescence and young adulthood increased the risk of psychotic symptoms later in life by six per cent. The more they smoked the greater the risk of further symptoms – hallucinations and hearing voices. The risks increased fourfold for those who were already vulnerable to psychotic symptoms.
For most of his career, Sydney psychiatrist Dr Andrew Campbell has been treating people with psychosis. He says very young teenagers smoking cannabis is a relatively new phenomenon. To track this, he wants better records kept on the prevalence of psychosis in Australia.
JANINE COHEN: Now the experts say that if cannabis was inducing psychosis, we would see an increasing amount of psychosis with the intake of cannabis in the community, but the experts say we are not seeing that.
DR ANDREW CAMPBELL: Yeah, and I’m well aware of that argument and that comforts a lot of people but I don’t think we’re counting. Where people are counting the evidence is now coming out that there is an increasing risk of psychosis in increasing rates – particularly in young men. That’s coming out of the Netherlands, its coming out of Italy, there’s some reports, I’ve heard about anecdotally from America which has the same problem.
PROFESSOR WAYNE HALL, INSTITUTE FOR MOLECULAR BIO-SCIENCE, QLD UNIVERSITY: But certainly there are enough case histories in the literature of individuals who had no preceding history of psychosis before the cannabis use, who did develop marked psychotic symptoms with very high does of cannabis – often given for medicinal or other reasons. So it is possible that it could produce psychotic illness in people without vulnerability, but the evidence I guess to date has been clearest in people who have the vulnerability.
JANINE COHEN: What makes someone vulnerable to psychosis?
PROFESSOR HALL: Well, I think that’s not something that’s incredibly clear at the moment.
JANINE COHEN: Cannabis smoking carries a much higher risk the younger you are and the more you smoke.
This centre is one of the world leaders in the early detection and treatment of psychosis in adolescents.
CENTRE WORKER: “There are a couple of issues – the first is he is probably no different from when he left the ward and went into the ward so if there are any concerns. If Mum and Dad are not coping and there is violence he should strongly be reconsidered to be readmitted.”
JANINE COHEN: Here at the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre in Melbourne, or EPPIC as it is known, staff see the impact of chronic cannabis use every day.
JANINE COHEN: What percentage of the young people that have come through here who would been psychotic have used cannabis?
PROFESSOR PAT MCGORRY, DIRECTOR, EPPIC: Probably at least 70 per cent would have used at some point.
JANINE COHEN: Of those how many would have been heavy users?
PROFESSOR PAT MCGORRY: Um, well, we say about say 50 per cent have got a problem at the point they present and over time, over the early months of treatment up to a third will continue to have a problem with particularly cannabis. The proportion of patients using it that we see has gone up. Ah, I would say it’s doubled since the early “80s when we started to look at this group of patients
JANINE COHEN: This service makes contact with 2000 young people a year but it only has the resources to help less than a third of those.
JANINE COHEN: What’s the outcome for a young person who does not get the right care?
PROF PAT MCGORRY, EPPIC: Well, the outcome can be death. I mean 10 to 15 per cent of young people with a serious mental illness will die in the early years after diagnosis from suicide and other causes, so this is a potentially lethal situation. The scenario in terms of wasted lives is much more pervasive, I suppose. We can get 90 per cent of our young people symptom free with treatment, even with severe psychosis, but only 50 per cent of them are going to go back to meaningful vocational activity.
DR PETER BURNETT, EPPIC ADOLESCENT UNIT: After each episode there are a percentage of people who don’t recover and the best data at the moment suggested about close to 20 per cent of people won’t recover from their second episode and another 20 per cent from their third and so on.
JANINE COHEN: These people are part of the Youth Access Team – called into homes when the families are not coping. Often their young clients are psychotic or suicidal.
TEAM MEMBER: “He actually admitted to hearing auditory hallucinations which he didn’t disclose and he actually said I didn’t want to tell you and he was concerned what treatment might involve& ellip;”
JANINE COHEN: This team are on their way to visit a young man who has psychotic symptoms. He was in hospital but discharged himself after only one day.
TEAM MEMBER: “A lot of young people like to experiment with the chuff or so called marijuana or THC. A lot of our patients we do see unfortunately use marijuana and it just one of those things that we’re trying to educate people, as much or as good as possible about trying to minimise their use and usually at times it can trigger a psychotic episode.”
JANINE COHEN: This young man has been violent and delusional. At one point, his parents had to have him restrained by police. He has a major cannabis addiction.
TEAM MEMBER: “That was the point of the treatment mate is to have respite in hospital and to try and help you withdraw from the THC and support you through that. How have things been?”
YOUNG MAN: “I have been slightly aggressive and more lyrically aggressive than physically but I think that is mellowing out.”
TEAM MEMBER: “How long since you’ve had a smoke?”
YOUNG MAN: Um I’ve actually had a couple the night before last. I had about six cones which would equal up to about half a gram. I am trying to cut down the amount of cones I have each night.”
DR BRENDON MURPHY, PSYCHIATRIST: I think cannabis is quite ubiquitous, it’s almost a right of passage for young people nowadays to smoke cannabis, it’s almost de rigeur among our clientele to smoke cannabis so while more people who develop psychosis are smoking cannabis, it’s not that cannabis is as strong as amphetamines or cocaine, it’s just more, more widely available.
JANINE COHEN: Studies suggest nearly half of all young Australians have smoked cannabis by the time they reach 16. Ten per cent of teenage cannabis users smoke every day. Many of the teenagers David Murray sees have a cannabis addiction. He’s the director of the Youth Substance Abuse Service in Victoria.
We spoke to six teenagers at one of his drug rehabilitation centres.
JANINE COHEN: And Jake how old were you when you started smoking?
JANINE COHEN: And just how old were you when you had your first bong?
JANINE COHEN: Where did you get it from?
JUSTIN: Um, my brother.
JANINE COHEN: The first time you smoked dope what did it feel like?
DANNI: Like I threw up like anything mate. Pumped down six straight away and then I was just flat out on my guts. Felt like shit.
JANINE COHEN: Six cones?
DANNI: Yeah. Yeah. Well first like through a peace pipe and yeah the music was pumping. Yeah. Threw up heaps.
JANINE COHEN: And when did it become a problem for you, how old were you?
JAKE: Um, about 14 I started smoking regularly.
JANINE COHEN: What when you say regular is that every day?
JANINE COHEN: And would that be a joint or a bong?
JAKE: Oh, it’d be a bong definitely.
JANINE COHEN: One for breakfast?
JANINE COHEN: So what happened the next time you smoked?
DANNI: Oh felt good, felt happy. Felt like I thought I should feel. Yeah.
JANINE COHEN: Couldn’t feel like that without it?
DANNI: No, not really. Didn’t think I could anyway.
JANINE COHEN: What’s the bad stuff about having a pot addiction?
JAKE: Um, just all your money goes on that. Whenever you get money it just goes on pot, yeah. You know your friends aren’t really
your friends. They’re only your friends when you’ve got chuff when you got haven’t got it they don’t want to know you sort of thing.
AARON: My attitude is that, my attitude was that it was natural and you know couldn’t really do much to you but you soon find out that you’re addicted to it and you know you need it.
JAKE: When you haven’t got it you just, you know you start getting angry and depressed and down and you just need, you need to escape from it so you go and buy more.
AARON: You spend all your money. You could be saving up for a car or whatever you know? I could have bought a sick car by now you know if I had of stopped.
JANINE COHEN: Do you think it’s affected your education?
AARON For sure yeah. Like yeah. Definitely.
JANINE COHEN: What level of high school did you get to?
AARON: I only did year seven and I did two days of year eight so you know.
JANINE COHEN: Where would you be if you never smoked pot?
SAM: Still be at school. I only – didn’t even pass year eight.
DANNI: Cost me a lot, like had a lot of dreams, like I wanted to play sport from like when I was very young. Played a lot of sport, did a lot of basketball and cricket and whatever, and once I started using drugs, I just lost it all. Didn’t get anywhere.
JANINE COHEN: What about you Jake, what’s it’s cost you?
JAKE: My life pretty much. If I didn’t go near drugs and never used cannabis and other sort of drugs then I’d probably be a totally different person today, probably in some good office job or something you know. God, probably just finished year 12 right now but yeah instead I didn’t even finish year eight.
JANINE COHEN: Have you ever known anyone to get a bit weird on pot?
VASHTI: Yeah I know heaps of people.
JANINE COHEN: What happens?
VASHTI: Oh yeah they just freak out. Sit there, staring at people like that.
JANINE COHEN: You ever had any weird moments?
JANINE COHEN: What happened?
VASHTI: I don’t know.
JANINE COHEN: See things?
VASHTI: Yeah, I seen things. But that I don’t know if I was stoned there or what it was.
JANINE COHEN: What did you see?
VASHTI: People hanging from a bridge.
JANINE COHEN: It’s a bit scary.
VASHTI: Yeah, it freaked me out hard. That’s when I decided I had to stop.
JANINE COHEN: Some of the teenagers who go through drug rehabilitation have been abused or come from dysfunctional backgrounds. Cannabis was their way of coping.
DAVID MURRAY, DIRECTOR OF VIC YOUTH CENTRE: They find that drug use makes them feel better, that’s why they do it. They then also find that there are friends and peers who are doing the same thing. It becomes quite a social context for them and it just develops over time, heavy drug use of that type along with their level of disconnection and distress produces this addiction and chronic problems related to drug use.
JANINE COHEN: So you’ve learnt something?
JANINE COHEN: What have you learnt?
VASHTI: I’ve leant that I’m going to have to deal with my shit.
JANINE COHEN: This young man was manic while travelling with friends on a road trip. Danny Moore had no idea he was vulnerable to psychosis until he was admitted to hospital. That’s where he met and became friends with Jolan Tobias. Danny Moore, then 18, had been a very heavy cannabis smoker for three years. He had also dabbled with amphetamines.
JANINE COHEN: Why did you start?
DANNY: Well, why not really? It was something to do really ..hadn’t tried it before. Thought I might. Other people were & ellip; yeah gave it a go.
ANDREW MCINERNEY, DANNY’S FRIEND: Danny probably smoked dope for fun in the beginning and was just for him it was a way of seeing things differently.
JANINE COHEN: Danny Moore, an only child, comes from a middle class background. His mother was a school principal and his father, a university lecturer.
At 15, he got into a select school, University High at Parkville in Melbourne. And that’s where the trouble began.
Danny Moore started smoking cannabis with his classmates. Two years later he was addicted. His day would start with a hit in the shower.
JANINE COHEN: What, so mum and dad couldn’t smell it?
DANNY: Yeah. Yeah .That was the idea at the time. Then go to school if I made it there, have a smoke at eight before school started at nine. Another smoke at about 8.30 and I’d smoke pretty much walking into the door of the class. I might, between periods have a joint or a pipe. Recess, definitely have a smoke. Same again between classes, might have another smoke. Lunchtime have a few smokes. Usually wait until the end of the day. Have a smoke straight afterwards at a mate’s joint near school. Head off to the house, start smoking heavily till dinnertime, make an appearance at home.
ROD MOORE, DANNY’S FATHER: We knew that he’d been smoking but we weren’t certainly aware of the extent of it. We would find a bong in the house, it had been hidden away, that we knew that he associated with a group of students that were actually smoking cannabis and they were a very social group that he had at the school, often out to parties. Although I guess that didn’t really concern us because it seems to be happening across the board, young people are doing this thing at a younger age.
ANDREW MCINERNEY: We drifted apart because it I didn’t really in the end I didn’t really like the person he was becoming. I found it harder to communicate with Danny about certain things or just kind of on a real level, like everything had to be different and wacky and we couldn’t talk about some normal things and sometimes I, I’d try to talk to him about, you know, smoking weed you know becoming a problem and he didn’t like that too much.
JANINE COHEN: Danny Moore stopped smoking cannabis while studying for his year 12 exams and that’s when things started to get weird.
DANNY MOORE: Oh, just the world did a 360, like everything that I thought I knew well there’s a switch in reality, yeah.
JANINE COHEN: Was there any trauma in his family, anything that was causing him any grief?
ROD MOORE: His mother and I were in the process of separating and in his last year at school stayed together, so that he would actually get through his schooling before we actually sort of officially separated and I don’t know whether that had, that was an effect or not.
SIANN BOWMAN, DANNY’S CASE MANAGER, EPPIC: I think Daniel was susceptible to having an early psychosis and I think the cannabis helped that along and I think that the way he utilised the cannabis in coping instead of maybe other ways like communicating how he was feeling to his family in an open way or speaking to a school counsellor about what was going on in his life, may have been more effective than just blocking out everything by constantly being drug affected.
JANINE COHEN: Incredibly, Danny Moore made it through his high school exams and into university but then started to lose his grip on reality.
DANNY MOORE: It was hard to dislocate myself from one reality or another, so my own thinking was, I guess, I don’t know if transposed is the word, but into what very hard to explain, but instead of having the inside self and outside self, both had merged.
SIANN BOWMAN: There was one point that he was so manic, that his judgment was so impaired he felt that he could do extremely dangerous things that would have killed him, but he was so elevated and so grandiose and so unwell that he thought he wouldn’t die.
DANNY MOORE: I didn’t know who I was, who anyone else was or who they really were. I knew that this person had been my friend for a long time but didn’t know why they were my friend.
ANDREW MCINERNEY: Like there was one time he kind of tiptoed across the road in front of all the these cars and they all kind of screeched to a halt and he thought that was hilarious.
ROD MOORE: There were times when he’s perfectly lucid but other times when he was not, we could be sitting on the couch and he’d turn to me and say “what did you say?” and I’d say “I didn’t say anything Danny” and so I guess that’s when he was starting to hear voices, um he felt he was losing his mind and in a certain degree he was.
Rod Moore convinced his son to see a counsellor who referred him straight to hospital.
ROD MOORE: We were driving to EPPIC and Danny didn’t want to go – he was tearful, he was frightened, he felt we thought he was insane and that we were going to lock him up, that that was his reaction. He went to EPPIC and during that time the state of his mental health was really bad, mmm.
JANINE COHEN: What sort of things were happening?
ROD MOORE: Um the symptoms I was telling you about the voices, the lack of sleep were well to the fore.
JANINE COHEN: What was your greatest fear?
ROD MOORE: That it would be long term.
JANINE COHEN: Danny Moore left EPPIC’S adolescent hospital after two weeks and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There’s no known history of the illness in his family.
He’s had three more, smaller relapses before stabilising about a year ago.
Like Jolan Tobias , he says exercise, healthy eating and not being stressed is the key.
DANNY MOORE: I exercise a lot, probably a bit too much and it’s something to do though. It gives me an aim in life.
ANDREW MCINERNEY: Sport for Danny’s pretty important I think, especially now “cause he uses it to kind of control his moods and kind of he tries to he always been very fitness orientated.
SIANN BOWMAN: When you’re a young man and you’ve had a mental illness it’s been very confronting and there have been periods, significant periods where you’ve been out of control, as a way of coping you look for avenues in your life that you can control and, you know, he’s very gorgeous and spunky so you know being fit and fabulous is important.
JANINE COHEN: What about the pot smoking, do you think he’s stopped that?
ANDREW MCINERNEY: Yeah, doesn’t smoke marijuana anymore.
JANINE COHEN: And do think he’s given up the dope smoking?
ROD MOORE: Yep.
SIANN BOWMAN: What I’ve noticed is that people who have a mood disorder or an early psychosis and they persist with cannabis use, their recovery is longer, more difficult and more defeating, internally. So he’s a smart guy and he knows that he can’t smoke dope which is why he can be fabulous in the future.
JANINE COHEN: Smoke dope anymore?
DANNY MOORE: Ah, no & ellip;.yeah, on and off. Not on and off. Occasionally, I should say.
JANINE COHEN: If you continue to ignore the health advice and smoke cannabis, what is the outcome likely to be?
DR PETER BURNETT, EPPIC HOSPITAL: Then you have a greater risk of developing chronic symptoms.
JANINE COHEN: Of never being& ellip;
DR PETER BURNETT, EPPIC HOSPITAL: Of not recovering.
JANINE COHEN: So you’re not concerned about triggering another episode?
DANNY MOORE: Aaaah no, insofar as & ellip;
JANINE COHEN: You’re sure you’re not playing Russian roulette ?
DANNY MOORE: No. no. no. I mean I’ve had I think five or six years since my first episode.
JANINE COHEN: But you’ve had smaller little episodes when you’ve been a bit manic haven’t you?
DANNY MOORE: Hmm, that’s correct.
JANINE COHEN: Cannabis remains the drug of choice for many teenagers. Most will try it with school friends, or at a party with few, if any, problems. The trouble begins when teenagers smoke it often and heavily. The consequences can be long lasting and even irreversible particularly for those with a vulnerability. And who knows who is vulnerable?
ANDREW MCINERNEY: In light of Danny’s experience if people are going to smoke marijuana do it moderation because it is not always something you can reverse. When you’re young you really need to think about that, like when you mess up at school you get another chance. You get a second chance at pretty much everything when you’re younger, but if you smoke too much marijuana, sometimes there is no turning back.
JANINE COHEN: Why are you here?
VASHTI: Why am I here? “Cause I can’t stop smoking dope. Got rid of everything else, and then just the last little bit, can’t stop smoking dope.
Please note: This transcript is produced by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcript.