The text from her son Randy that Heather Bacchus received at at 1:26 AM on July 17, 2021, seemed like good news.
“I’m quitting weed for good and want to surround myself with healthy and happy people,” he wrote. “This has been too much for me and for you guys.”
Less than an hour later, at 2:09 AM, a second text arrived.
“I love you and am sorry for everything. I love dad and the same to him. I wish I would have been a better person.”
It was his suicide note. That night, Randy killed himself.
His death followed a months-long struggle with psychotic episodes and paranoid delusions — something his parents, Heather and Randy Sr., say was triggered by years of heavy cannabis use.
The study links schizophrenia to cannabis use disorder: the inability to stop using cannabis despite the negative impacts it is having on the user’s life. And separately, the Centers for Disease Control say a third of pot-smokers are plagued by the disorder.
At the same time an NIH-supported study last year found young adult cannabis use is at a historic high, with 43% of 19- to 30-year-olds using within the previous year.
“We didn’t know that marijuana could cause that,” the St. Paul, Minnesota resident told The Post. Andy’s upbringing was happy. “We were a normal, healthy family. We did family dinners. We went to church regularly,” Heather said of life for him and his three sisters.
But he began casually using marijuana aged 15. Randy was diagnosed with cannabis use disorder within a year, then struggled with compulsive use through high school.
After graduation Randy, who his mother described as “an independent soul,” moved to Denver, Colo., where he got a job as a property manager.
But then, he started experiencing psychotic states: He heard music and voices, made grandiose plans for the future, believing he would be a famous rap star, and even landed in the hospital for frostbite after running barefoot in a snowstorm.
The telltale signs of cannabis-induced psychosis are severe paranoia and delusions, paired with compulsive marijuana use.
He met all the symptoms. Paranoid, he was fired for accusing employer of being in the mob and evicted after threatening a roommate he thought was watching him.
Randy’s parents tried desperately to get him help and checked into treatment, but things only continued to devolve until his final days.
Now, his parents — Heather and husband Randy Sr.— want to stop history from repeating itself.
“It’s just heartbreaking, Heather said. “People who are going through it don’t even know it. People need to wake up. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Randy’s parents are far from alone. They’ve found solace in the non-profit Johnny’s Ambassadors, which provides information and support groups for parents of children struggling with cannabis-induced psychosis and schizophrenia.
The organization was founded by Laura Stack, whose son Johnny also was derailed by schizoaffective disorder from severe THC abuse.
Over the course of high school, Johnny transformed from a loving teen with a 4.0 GPA to a verbally abusive and delusional person.
Just before Thanksgiving 2019, 19-year-old Johnny had dinner with his parents. He turned to his mother and said, “I just want you to know you were right about the marijuana. You told me it would hurt my brain, and it has ruined my mind and my life. I’m sorry, I love you.”
Three days later, Johnny jumped off a parking garage and died.
Laura, 53, swears she will never watch the security footage that captured her son’s death, but investigators say the young man who leapt did not look like someone in the depths of despair.
Instead, he was in the depths of delusion — and appears to have jumped believing he could fly.
After her son died, Laura put her successful career as a business author on hold to prevent more kids from succumbing to the same addictive spiral that claimed Johnny’s life.
Her organization’s support group currently has 605 parent members whose children are actively suffering.
Lack of public awareness means tragic ends like Randy and Johnny’s are not all that uncommon. But some parents are intervening before it’s too late, like Pamela Less.
She realized her son, Sam, was experiencing cannabis-induced psychosis after learning about it from Laura’s organization.
“I read her story, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, the only difference between her son and my son is that my son is still alive.”
She says dabbling with highly potent cannabis at 16 led Sam, now 21, to “just tank.”
“He thought doctors injected him with a green dye,” she recalled. “He said the Nazis were all over Colorado and were out to get him. We’re Jewish, so that was absolutely terrifying for him.”
He broke windows in the living room, put holes in his wall, stole his mother’s car, and even pulled knives several times — leaving Pamela feeling she had no choice but to kick him out of the home at age 18.
Sam ended up homeless and psychotic on the streets of Los Angeles, passing in and out of jail for petty crimes for three years.
“It was absolutely devastating. Weeks or sometimes a month would go by, and I never heard anything from him. So I was literally one of those people that really doesn’t know if their kid is dead or alive,” she said.
But Pamela was better able to understand her son’s unraveling thanks to Laura’s support groups. Armed with information, she’s now supporting her son in getting sober and turning a corner.
“I just finally asked, do I need to call morgues?”
Today, he’s out of custody and has been clean for a year and a half. His psychosis and paranoia has completely stopped in sobriety, and he calls his mother daily.
This week, Sam has a job interview, and in the fall he’s headed back to school at a community college in Los Angeles where he will study to become an addiction counselor.
“For the better part of three years, it was really, really bad,” Pamela said. “But right now there’s a lot of hope and progress.”
The Post spoke to one mother, in Orange County, Calif., who now lives with the fear her 16-year-old son will be diagnosed with schizophrenia. She learned how bad things were last November when the school principal called to say her son believed the FBI was after him.
“He is just this everyday, regular kid, but he started to demonstrate that morning these psychotic delusional thoughts and perceptions,” said the mom, who The Post agreed not to name.
Since then he has son cycled through hospitalization, psychiatric facilities, and intensive in-patient programs.
Although she knew her son smoked weed, she had no idea that he had secretly been vaping heavily — then, when he was in treatment, the housekeeper opened his sock drawer and found “a dispensary” of vape pens.
“I expected if he was going to be smoking it in on a daily basis in the morning, it’s something I would smell on him or smell in his room,” she said. “And it’s so tiny, they’re so easily able to hide it.
“My biggest fear is that my son, if he uses ever again, he’s going to develop permanent schizophrenia,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night in fear that he’s gonna get ahold of this stuff again and destroy his life.”
Her fear is familiar to Dr. Libby Stuyt, who spent three decades as an addiction psychiatrist running a 90-day residential treatment program at the state-run Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Pueblo.
Over the years, Dr. Stuyt noticed more and more schizophrenic-like symptoms among her patients.
“I was seeing people with the worst psychotic symptoms I’ve ever seen — worse than methamphetamine, worse than cocaine, worse than alcohol,” she told The Post. “I just kept telling people that I think this is a problem and they would tell me, ‘Oh, no, it’s just marijuana.’”
During her time in the profession, cannabis products became more potent.
But she feels vindicated as more and more studies like the latest linking cannabis and schizophrenia confirm her suspicions: “I wasn’t surprised with this new paper. The scientific literature is finally catching up.”
“Family history definitely can play a role, but we also cannot predict who this is going to happen to because it’s happened to many people with no previous history themselves or no family history,” Dr. Stuyt explained.
“Putting THC in the brain when it’s developing can totally disrupt the process,” she said.
That’s why Dr. Stuyt, despite being a proponent of legalization, believes stricter potency regulations, warning labels, and public service announcements are necessary: “There are no warnings. People are not warned about these side effects.”
Dr. Karen Randall has seen the same progression over her 25 years working in emergency rooms.
Around 2014, the Pueblo, Colorado-based doctor noticed an explosion of young cannabis users presenting with psychotic episodes. Today, she sees at least one case daily—and the youngest sufferer she has encountered was just 7.
“I really think the issues that we’re seeing now are being driven by high potency, the encouragement to use, and the public’s perception of lack of harm,” Dr. Randall said.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.