Researchers trying to understand what triggers psychotic episodes in some users say it’s a myth marijuana is risk-free.
Dr. Romina Mizrahi, a psychiatrist and director of the Focus on Youth Psychosis Prevention Clinic, says young people who use marijuana before the age of 16 have a higher risk of having a psychotic experience. (KEITH BEATY / TORONTO STAR)
By MARINA JIMENEZ Foreign Affairs Writer – Mon., June 6, 2016
At first, the voices he heard in his head were pleasant. But then, they turned malevolent. Jean Thibodeau, a 19-year-old University of Toronto student and avid pot smoker, became convinced he was possessed by the devil. He could see blood gushing down his chest and feel a deep gash in his neck. “I remember thinking, I’m going to die,” said Thibodeau in an interview.
His roommate became so concerned he took him to the emergency department of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“They told me I was having a psychotic episode brought on by cannabis,” said Thibodeau, who requested that the Star use his grandmother’s surname as he is still recovering from the breakdown.
“I was shocked. We live in a society where there is such a culture around smoking dope that people think it is cool to be a stoner. Nobody ever talks about the pitfalls.”
Researchers have established a link between cannabis and psychosis among young people, although they cannot predict who will be triggered, or why.
Youths who are especially at risk are those with a family history of mental illness, or who have suffered sexual or physical abuse. Thibodeau, who went to private school and has a supportive, intact family, doesn’t fit any of these categories.
“When people start smoking before the age of 16, there is a higher risk of having a psychotic experience. We know that early use is dangerous,” said Dr. Romina Mizrahi, a psychiatrist and director of the Focus on Youth Psychosis Prevention Clinic at CAMH. “The brain continues to develop until the age of 25.”