Are you concerned about your teen’s cannabis use?
Do you wonder what effect the drug will have on their developing brain?
According to NIDA for Teens, We still don’t know whether smoking marijuana causes lung cancer like tobacco does, but strong evidence shows that it does other bad stuff: It interferes with thinking and memory, it can lower your IQ if you smoke it regularly in your teen years, and—as a result of these and other things—it can set you up to miss achieving your full potential in life.
I recently met Maggie Swann, who is a mum from the UK and was intrigued with her story about her son’s experience with cannabis. Cannabis use feels so widespread these days and affects our teens in many ways that are not positive for their healthy growth. That’s why I felt it was important to share Maggie’s experiences about how her son’s cannabis habit affected him as well as other family members.
Without further ado, please meet Maggie!
Maggie, can you please introduce yourself to the readers who may not know you.
Hi, my name’s Maggie Swann and I live in the UK. I have a 21-year-old son, a teenage niece and a wonderful partner and family who have been an absolute rock during the most desperate and difficult stage of my life.
I was almost fifty years old before I became involved with the drug culture that has such a hold over the younger generations. I had very little understanding of drugs until my then 18-year-old son got in serious trouble with the police through his involvement with cannabis. What followed was a traumatic and turbulent two years where I experienced a side of life I found hard to comprehend.
I was physically threatened and verbally abused by the child I’d given birth to and thought the world of, I became exposed to the underworld of drug culture in the region where we live, and I witnessed my son spiral into depression so deep that the threat of suicide became a daily worry. What shocked me was how common the problem is.
Once my eyes were opened to the issue of drug abuse amongst children and young adults, I began to find signs everywhere; snap bags in the park, the aroma lingering around people in the shops, aggressive behavior in the streets and the pale vacant faces of youngsters wasting their valuable lives.
Whenever I did pluck up the courage to speak about the problems I was having with my son, I found that the majority of people I spoke to had their own story to tell. They either had somebody in their family who was on medication for psychiatric problems due to cannabis smoking or they knew somebody who was in a similar situation to me, or they were having similar drug related issues with their own children.
The problem is enormous and until families start speaking out and educating each other through their words and experiences, the issue will only get bigger!
I have such an enormous appreciation for the myriad professionals and volunteers who work so hard to encourage these young people to overcome their addiction and get their lives back on track. It is such a worthwhile cause. There is so much potential being lost to addiction and so many lives being ended far too soon due to the violence, or depression and suicide triggered by the use of cannabis.
Tell us about your book “Get real mum everybody smokes cannabis” and why you wrote it.
The book is a true story, my story, as I was thrown into a world I knew little about. I didn’t intend to create a book; writing was just my way of coping with the situation. I wrote chapters as the story was unfolding and, at the time of writing it, I didn’t know what the outcome to the story would be. It was an incredibly emotional thing to do, and some days I’d be sitting with my laptop in the early hours of the morning with tears streaming down my face.
Writing everything down meant I had to re-live it, and acknowledge that it really happened. But it did happen and I hope by writing it down in this way I’ve captured the essence of what it was actually like to live with somebody so psychologically affected by cannabis use.
The title Get real mum, everybody smokes cannabis was chosen because it summarizes how flippant the younger generation is about the use of cannabis; it’s becoming an everyday commodity, and that is a frightening prospect. I’m horrified when people make a joke about cannabis or treat it as though it’s just a harmless way to unwind. It isn’t; it has a psychotic effect on a sector of the community, especially the young, and being on the receiving end of that behavior, verbal or physical, is a very distressing situation to be in.
In the early days after my son’s arrest, I was advised to contact a counselor who could help steer us in the right direction and help my son out of the horrendous mess he was making of his life. It was the counselor’s suggestion that I start to write down my feelings and concerns as I was struggling to cope with the volatility of my son and the aggression and verbal abuse I was being subjected to.
He encouraged me to write and over the months that followed, the manuscript grew to quite a size. Rather than just concentrate on the negative situation, I decided to put the experience into context, so I added episodes of our life that brought the jigsaw together. I wanted to give the full picture and give a balance between positive and negative.
The book was my private solace, and it took a lot of trust for me to hand it over to the counselor so he could read the draft of my private thoughts and my account of the situation he was helping me deal with. When he suggested that it could be helpful for other parents who found themselves in the same situation, or wanted to learn more about the psychotic effects of skunk cannabis, it gave me the incentive to complete the manuscript as a book.
Coincidently, the counselor was working at that time with the Amy Winehouse Foundation, who also thought my book could be helpful for parents and families, so they kindly offered to write the forward to the book.
To have such a well-known charity endorse my book was a tremendous honour and I’m very grateful to Dominic Ruffy, Programme Manager at the Amy Winehouse Foundation for taking the time to support me in this way. The tragedy of Amy Winehouse epitomises what a devastating effect addiction can have on young lives. Amy was at the peak of her success and was battling hard to overcome the addiction that was ruining her short life, when she was so tragically taken from us. What a waste of a phenomenal talent.
Addiction affects rich and poor, young and old, highly paid professionals and the unemployed. It is working its way through the population and needs stopping in its tracks wherever possible.
Proof-reading the text again and again was incredibly draining and emotional, but necessary. I wanted to produce a book that was aimed at parents but would also be interesting to a wider audience so that they too could become a little more knowledgeable about the culture of drug use amongst the young.
I feel very strongly about the need to raise awareness of the devastating effects of cannabis abuse, so I’m now working on producing teaching materials for schools, based on the book, so that teachers and parents can work with vulnerable children and young people to educate them about the possible consequences of getting involved with cannabis.
What overall message do you hope to share with readers?
I just want to raise awareness and get people talking about the issue of addiction so that fewer families have to suffer in silence, embarrassed and ashamed of their child’s behavior or devastated by their loss through depression, violence or the suicidal thoughts triggered by cannabis abuse. Millions of families are affected around the world and many have no idea where to turn, or what to expect if their child gets into trouble. I want my book to give a small insight into one family’s journey through addiction and the legal system.
Although I was aware that my son had tried cannabis, I had absolutely no idea that he had been smoking the drug for years; since the age of fourteen. I wasn’t even aware of the tell-tale signs; the mood swings, the aggression, the new-found ‘friends’, the steep drop in academic performance.
I put all this down to him being a teenager, with all the physical, emotional and hormonal changes that brings. Even the phenomenal amounts of food we got through didn’t ring any bells. I didn’t know about ‘the munchies’, so I just put it down to my son growing and having a healthy teenage appetite!
One evening I just got a knock on the door and my whole world changed. My son had been arrested for possession of cannabis with intent to supply. He was being held in a cell, miles away, and I had no way of getting in touch with him or finding out anything at all. He was just eighteen, but in the eyes of the UK law, he was an adult.
Over the following months I became subjected to a level of abuse and threats from my son I would never have believed possible. And my way of dealing with it? I kept it to myself because I was in denial that this behavior was coming from my child, and because I was ashamed. I believe that millions of parents across the globe are doing exactly the same thing as I did.
I want to open people’s eyes to the dangers of drug use amongst teenagers and to the devastating potential consequences of their actions. I was horrified by my own ignorance of the subject, and want to highlight the issue so that other families might be a little better equipped to cope. If my book can be useful by raising awareness of the subject for families who are suffering, then I would be absolutely delighted.
What effect do you feel cannabis has had on your son?
In the early days I thought my son was going mad. His mood swings were extreme and the violence he showed towards me was frightening and distressing. I adored my son and he treated me like dirt. I couldn’t believe he was my child. The strange thing is that he doesn’t really associate himself with those actions. It’s as if that behavior was the actions of somebody else.
He still has a raging temper, but now it smoulders under the surface. We can reason with him now, and sometimes he stands still to listen rather than taking the opportunity to storm out and smoke. I still have to make an enormous effort not to rise to any verbal challenges he throws at me. In the early days, I’d just react and the argument would spiral out of control until he stormed off, slamming the door in his wake. Unknowingly I’d given him a reason to go and smoke; I was facilitating his need to smoke cannabis; it was my fault! It was always my fault; never his.
The biggest personality change in my son was his ability to lie without remorse. It’s an addict’s coping mechanism. From my point of view it was the hardest thing to cope with. I’d always brought him up to be honest, and in the early days I would believe anything he told me. However, over time I learned to believe nothing he told me, and I still have to be skeptical with anything he says.
It’s getting better but it will be a very long time before I am able to trust him totally again, and that for me is very sad.
But the story has a positive ending and over the past few months my son has really tried hard to pull things round. His efforts are paying off, he’s making tremendous progress, but he has a lot of catching up to do!
What advice do you have for parents who are concerned with their child’s drug use?
I would advise parents to educate themselves on the subject of addiction. Hopefully they will never need the knowledge but if they do, they are fully armed. Find out what the signs are and watch out for them.
I would advise them to keep the channels of communication open and to never give up, no matter what happens. A number of people, including family, told me that I should throw my son out, cut him off, wash my hands of him; they said he’d made his choice and had to live with the consequences of that choice. In my view that’s the easy option.
It takes a lot of strength to ride the storm of addiction, but it’s worth it. I believe that parents have to keep thinking of the good times ahead, and firmly believe that there are going to be good times ahead.
If I’m honest I never fully believed that we would ever be celebrating my son’s graduation, and with a good grade degree. I was very happy to settle for my son still being alive. Whatever he does in the future is a massive bonus for me, because I spent so long just trying to keep him positive enough to want to keep living.
My son is my world and I know that’s the case with millions of families around the world. Never give up on your children, even if you feel you’re at the end of your tether. Also I cannot praise the work of counselors highly enough. I owe so much to mine and know that, without him, the outcome might not have been so positive.
Maggie is generously giving away two copies of her book to readers, so please leave a comment to be in the running for a copy of the book!
Maggie Swann is the author of Get real mum, everybody smokes cannabis, which she wrote to highlight the issue of cannabis addiction amongst the teenage population. Her son, aged 18, became embroiled in the legal system though his involvement with cannabis and the book serves to document the family’s struggle with the aggression, paranoia, depression and threats of suicide that are so common among cannabis users.
Congratulations to the two winners of Maggie’s book: Pat Nichols and Bill White!!
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