My nephew John started smoking marijuana with his friends at age 12. His parents, both health professionals, met with parents of other kids involved to express concern. These parents said things like, "What's the big deal? It's just a little pot."
My brother and sister-in-law sought help for their son over time, but like many parents, they found it difficult to deal with John's natural debate skills and independence. By age 16, he believed he knew more than his parents did, and he was staying out late most nights. In addition, he believed that he didn't need to finish high school, often missing class because of vague abdominal complaints.
When at age 17 his oppositional-defiant behavior disrupted the family, John was sent to a youth rehabilitation facility. There he became a healthy, happy kid while off drugs and even got his high school equivalency diploma.
But within weeks of returning home, he was using multiple drugs with the same old delinquent friends. My nephew died in his bed at home at age 19 of an accidental multiple drug overdose, including marijuana and oxycodone. He had been thinking about a career in anesthesiology and was studying the brain that night; by his bedside lay a hand drawing of brain regions.
I was in the clinic when another brother called me with the news. We have a close family made up of health and law enforcement professionals, educators, and clergy. We all struggled with the loss of this sweet, funny, and intelligent boy.
A privileged child living in a loving home, John began his self-destruction with an addiction to marijuana. As an obstetrician-gynecologist in Colorado, a state that has approved medical marijuana use, I see increasing use among patients who believe that pot is safe. In fact, where I live, pot is a "medicine."
The number of our state's registered users and dispensaries is skyrocketing. Colorado approved medical marijuana in 2000; by 2008 we had 9,000 registered users. As of June 2011, we had more than 120,000 registered users, and the state registration Web site was closed due to overwhelming numbers of applications.
What's more, suppliers of pot to medical marijuana card holders are designated as primary care givers (yes, appallingly close to the term primary care providers). Additionally, the bulk of medical marijuana recommendations are written by a small number of doctors who make huge incomes without practicing within accepted standards that the rest of us must follow (performing diagnostic work-ups, counseling on the risks and benefits of possible treatments, and following up on effectiveness and side effects of treatment). All these developments compelled me to learn more about cannabis and its use in Colorado. What I have learned has outraged and alarmed me.