By Guy Page
Steven Bourgoin, found guilty of the largest mass criminal homicide in Vermont – the deaths of five high school students in an October, 2016 car crash – had in his bloodstream high concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, veteran police reporter Mike Donoghue November 2017 in VT Digger.
Bourgoin’s police toxicology report has something in common with the perpetrators of some of the worst mass killings in recent U.S. and world history: he abused marijuana. Vermont Daily has requested but not yet received information from the Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia police departments about the tox screenings of accused mass shooters Ahmad Alissa (10 people died in a Boulder grocery store, March 23) and Robert Aaron Long (eight people in different Atlanta area massage parlors, March 16).
However, the marijuana connection in many other high-profile mass killers is documented – as is the increased incidence of paranoia, schizophrenia and violent behavior among habitual users of high-potency marijuana products.
The marijuana connection is explicit in media reports by reputable news organizations such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, NBC News and others. They show that the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Aurora Colorado theater shooting, the Charleston, S.C. church shooting, the armed trespass at the White House, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings, the Orlando Nightclub shooting, the Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre and other acts of terrorism in France, and the murder of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle all had a history of consuming marijuana. Here’s a list of actual and attempted mass killings, with media hyperlinks:
BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING – In the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, both Tsarnaev brothers were heavy marijuana users (Boston Globe, “Fall of the House of Tsarnaev”).
ORLANDO NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING – Killer Omar Mateen used pot (and other drugs, including steroids), according to the Palm Beach Post.
ARMED WHITE HOUSE TRESPASSER – Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who shot at the White House in November 2011, not only had a semiautomatic rifle when he went to the White House, he also had a briefcase. “A document in the case says that he was determined to express ‘anger towards the government regarding the continued criminalization of marijuana.’ He claimed marijuana ‘made people smart,’ the document said.” The New York Times referred to Ortega as “the lazy kid who used to smoke too much dope.”
CHARLESTON CHURCH KILLINGS – Dylan Roof, who killed nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015, and accomplice Joseph Meek were smoking marijuana (and consuming other drugs) when Roof shared his deadly plan with Meek a week before the killing, according to NBC News.
REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS SHOOTING – Jared Loughner, shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killer of six people during a January 2011 massacre in Tucson, AZ, was known to smoke marijuana (it kept him from being able to join the Army, according to Time Magazine). Twelve other people were injured during the melee.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD SHOOTING – Robert Dear, in November, 2015 shot and killed three people at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. He was a heavy marijuana user who moved to Colorado from North Carolina for easier access to marijuana, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
”AMERICAN SNIPER” CHRIS KYLE MURDER – Eddie Lee Routh, who killed Chris Kyle, the American Sniper, and Chad Littlefield, was self medicating with marijuana for PTSD. After smoking pot all morning with his uncle, he killed both men who were trying to help him. At his trial, a psychiatrist said he suffered from “cannabis-induced psychosis,” according to the New York Post.
PARIS TERRORISM – Ibraham Abdeslam, 31 years old, brother of Paris Terrorist attack mastermind Salah Abdeslam and himself a gunman, was a “jobless layabout whose favorite activity was smoking weed,” according to Metro News.
PENTAGON SHOOTING, 2010 – The New York Times reported that John Patrick Bedell was a 26-year-old heavy pot smoker when he drove cross country to the Pentagon and shot three security guards before they killed him in 2010.
JAPANESE MAN MURDERS 19 DISABLED PEOPLE WITH KNIFE – Satoshi Uematsu was high on marijuana on July 26, 2016, when he knifed to death 19 disabled people in a Sagamihara, Japan care home and injured 27 others. He had earlier been treated for marijuana-induced psychosis, the Japan Times reported.
CHARLIE HEBDO MASSACRE, 2015 – Cherif Kouachi, a shooter in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre in Paris, was a pot smoking delivery boy, according to the New York Post.
SHOOTING OF REP. STEVE SCALISE – while actual consumption of marijuana has not been reported, it is known that James Hodgkinson, shooter of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a June 2017 practice for a Congressional baseball game, wrote a 2012 letter to the editor saying “it is time to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana use, Politico reported.
Supporters of marijuana legalization may concede that many mass murderers consumed marijuana but still ask: “So what? No doubt these anti-social individuals had other substance abuse and mental, social, and criminal histories. And even if most high-profile mass murderers smoked pot, very few pot smokers commit mass murders.” All true. No-one would argue that smoking a joint turns everyone into a killer. It’s also clear that while some mass killings were committed by people who apparently only consumed marijuana, others were perpetrated by abusers of both marijuana and other deadly, mind-altering drugs.
Heavy use of marijuana can lead to psychosis. In the April, 2018 British Journal of Psychiatry, Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont advisor Dr. Sir Robin Murray, Kings College, a member of the British Royal Academy of Science and a leading, worldwide authority on psychiatry and substance abuse, writes:
“It is now incontrovertible that heavy use of cannabis increases the risk of psychosis. There is a dose–response relationship and high potency preparations and synthetic cannabinoids carry the greatest risk. It would be wise to await the outcome of the different models of legalization that are being introduced in North America, before deciding whether or not to follow suit.”
To paraphrase Sir Robin in plain, unscientific language – “Too much marijuana can make people crazy. So before we legalize it, let’s see what happens in America.”
Below are several more studies from highly regarded medical journals:
- In 2007 the prestigious medical journal Lancet recanted its previous benign view of marijuana, citing studies showing “an increase in the risk of psychosis of about 40 percent.”
- A seminal long-term study of 50,465 Swedish army conscripts found those who had tried marijuana by age 18 had 2.4 times the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia in the following 15 years than those who had never used the drug. Heavy users were 6.7 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital for schizophrenia.
- Another study, of 1,037 people in New Zealand, found those who used cannabis at ages 15 and 18 had higher rates of psychotic symptoms at age 26 than non-users.
- A 2011 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) of 2,000 teenagers found those who smoked marijuana were twice as likely to develop psychosis as those who didn’t. Another BMJ study estimated that “13 percent of cases of schizophrenia could be averted if all cannabis use were prevented.”
- In 2014, people who had cannabis use disorder made up about 1.5 percent of Americans. But they accounted for eleven percent of all the psychosis cases in emergency rooms—90,000 cases, 250 a day, triple the number in 2006.
- The National Academy of Medicine found in 2017 that “cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.” Also, that “regular cannabis use is likely to increase the risk for developing a social anxiety disorder.”
As ramps up its regulatory efforts around legalized commercial marijuana, avoiding pot-induced psychosis and violence is an issue Gov. Scott, the Legislature, and voters need to ask again.
Vermont Daily wishes to thank Roger Morgan of Stop Pot for some of the ideas, links, and content in this story. Stop Pot is a non-partisan grassroots campaign started by citizens concerned about the damaging health effects, both physical and mental, of marijuana. This news story was updated from a July 26, 2018 story published in Vermont State House Headliners.