Too High: Family lost son to suicide, cannabis
(FOX 9) - As fun, and fun-loving, as Randy Bacchus could be, his parents tried to teach him there were consequences to everything.
Including the marijuana he began smoking at 15.
"I really think he did it for social acceptance and to fit in," said his mother, Heather Bacchus.
"He was never an easy kid," said his father, Randy Bacchus Sr. "But he had a big heart."
After high school Randy Jr. moved from Minnesota to Colorado where his parents believe his use of recreational, high-potency marijuana, led him to develop what’s known as cannabis-induced psychosis.
Randy Michael Bacchus III took his own life on July 17, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. He was 21.
A Cautionary Tale
As the Minnesota legislature looks likely to legalize some form of recreational cannabis this session, his family shared their son’s experience as a cautionary story on the risks of high-potency cannabis on adolescents who may be struggling with their mental health.
After Randy Jr. was caught several times smoking pot in high school, his parents made sure he saw a therapist and went to a treatment program. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, on top of his previously diagnosed ADHC.
Randy told his parents, the marijuana helped with his anxiety. They were skeptical and told their son they thought he was self-medicating.
Rocky Mountain High
But when Randy Jr. moved to Colorado after high school, his parents thought the change of scenery helped, at first. Always industrious, Randy started a streetwear fashion company and held down a real estate job.
He had a medical marijuana card, but it hardly mattered in Colorado, where recreational cannabis was legalized a decade ago.
"We thought he was doing better. He seemed better. He had two personalities. One was the side we saw. The other was the side he was living," said Randy Sr.
The Cannabis Rabbit Hole
They saw the other side of their son’s life, finally, going through his laptop and phone after he killed himself. Randy was documenting his life, convinced, he was on the verge of becoming a rap star.
But instead of a look behind the music, his parents believe it shows his rapid descent down a cannabis rabbit hole: vaping, dabbing, blunts, edibles, you name it.
All of it with sky high concentrations of THC.
In his last nine months, Randy Jr. became paranoid, grandiose, and irritable; all signs that resemble a condition known as cannabis-induced psychosis, according to his parents.
"He thought that the FBI was tracking him, and that the mob was coming after us," Heather said.
He also told his parents his phone and computers were being tracked.
A Path to Psychosis
The videos, which his parents shared with the FOX 9 Investigators, show Randy Jr. consuming cannabis, apparently intoxicated, and at times almost incoherent.
The videos offer a vivid illustration of a young man struggling to get sober even as he’s reaching the bottom.
"I think I’m going to take a break from smoking weed, because I’m enjoying it a little too much," Randy Jr. sheepishly admits in one video.
It is followed by another video, where he has a wry smile as he lights a joint, and says, "About to be a little naughty. Yup."
The Latest Research
Marijuana research is notoriously imperfect because of the various ways people ingest cannabis, levels of potency, and variables related to mental health, socio-economic conditions, access to health care, and educational backgrounds.
But blow away the smoke, and the correlation between high-potency cannabis and mental health is becoming clearer.
A survey in Lancet Psychiatry last year analyzed 20 studies with 119,581 participants, examining the impact of high potency cannabis, which the survey defined as more than 20% THC in flower and edibles and concentrated extracts above 60%.
Over the last decade the concentration of THC has increased in commercial products, and concentrations exceeding 30% are not uncommon in states that have legalized recreational use.
The survey found regular users of the strong stuff were three times more likely to experience psychosis. Daily users of high-potency marijuana were five times more likely to experience psychosis, according to the research.
"So, it is clear that there is a correlation between cannabis use and some types of mental health outcomes," said Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, an addiction expert with Hennepin Healthcare, who was not involved in the study.
Correlation & Causation
"The question is, did people go to cannabis to self-medicate because they were already having mental health outcomes or did the cannabis cause the mental health outcomes?" Dr. Reznikoff asked rhetorically.
While cannabis-induced psychosis remains a relatively rare occurrence, Dr. Reznikoff said there is little doubt that people with pre-existing mental health conditions are at greater risk.
"It's almost not worth the debate because the correlation is so strong, and these folks are so vulnerable," Dr. Reznikoff said.
Not 1970s Weed
After testifying at the capitol, Randy’s parents wonder if the lawmakers understand the risk of high-potency cannabis, despite lawmakers’ pledges to support adolescent mental health and greater access to treatment.
Randy and Heather Bacchus said they are supportive of efforts to decriminalize marijuana and expunge past criminal records. But they do not believe recreational cannabis, with commercial dispensaries, should be legalized in Minnesota.
Changes in Adolescent Brains
Ken Winters has studied addiction for 30 years at the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry and is co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota.
"As we've talked to some legislators, we're finding that out, that they didn't realize that it's not the same as it was back in the seventies," Winters said.
Winters wants Minnesota lawmakers to consider upper limits on THC concentrations, and set the legal age at 25, when the brain has stopped developing. He points to a Denmark study that looked at brain scans of 800 children over time, what’s known as a longitudinal study.
"Low and behold, there were disruptions in the brain development of the cannabis using teens. And those disruptions were occurring in parts of the brain that are important for information processing and emotional regulation which has always been pointed to as harbingers of what can lead to problems with psychosis, depression, anxiety," Winters said.
Father: "I know he tried."
In his last nine months, Randy Jr. struggled to stay sober.
His father took him to a treatment center in Florida, where he lasted an hour, before going back to Colorado, and back to cannabis. Randy Jr. even checked himself into a Denver detox facility when he began having suicidal thoughts. But he was released the next day because there weren’t enough beds.
But there were also brief moments of clarity, when he was back to the son they knew.
"I would like to get sober for myself for the first time," Randy Jr. said in one video. "Maybe I’ll be able to smoke again one day."
"In the end, I know he really tried," Randy Sr. said.
"All these things that we didn't know. And part of me feels like a failure. But we did what we thought we could do, and we did the best we could. Still doesn't make it easy," his father said.
Final Text Messages
After midnight on July 17, 2021, Randy Jr. sent a text to his parents that sounded hopeful.
"I am done with the music," he wrote. "I’m quitting weed for good."
"I have been running from my past mistakes and I think it’s time that I own up and start living a good life," Randy Jr. continued.
Forty-three minutes later, at 2 a.m., he sent a final text.
"I love you and am sorry for everything," he wrote. "I wish I would have been a better person."
His computer browser history shows he then googled Jesus, three times, and took his own life, at 21.
He never saw his parent's text reply the next morning: "Life isn’t easy, things happen, we all make choices."
"Today is a fresh start. We love you too."