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Heidi A. Swan Mental Health Risks of Marijuana Use

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  • "Storytelling In Prevention Education".

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  • 2017 A NIGHT IN JAIL: A story about drugs and mental illness, inspired by true events

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With marijuana legalization spreading, it is critical everyone understand there are mental health side effects to using this drug. With the sharp increase in potency of THC, the psychoactive ingredient, it is urgent there is an understand the side effects can be correspondingly acute. This is nothing short of a matter of public health.

I oftentimes am told I am the first person to discuss these risks. Few I've met have heard about the increased risk of marijuana to psychosis and schizophrenia. I have first-hand experience with this because this happened to me and my brother.

In my presentations, I weave the our very personal stories with the scientific data.

I have been interviewed by and NBC-Los Angeles about my work. Legislatively, I have shared our stories at the state level and provided recommendations for regulations. Locally, I was appointed to our Cannabis Advisory Group. My work has also brought me to D.C. to speak with drug advisors to Senator Dianne Feinstein and then-Senator Kamala Harris. I cautiona about the science surrounding the harms of this drug. The dearth of knowledge is contributing to the tragic growth of homelessness.

As an educator, I taught continuing education for professional fiduciaries and lawyers. I have consulted for Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, Bob Schwarz.

Additionally, I co-wrote the first fictional story illustrating the negative consequences of teen marijuana use. It is called A Night in Jail.

More details:

As a teenager, I experienced Cannabis-Induced Psychosis (a diagnosis in the DSM-5). I used marijuana occasionally, my brother used it regularly. He has schizophrenia. Together, we co-authored the first, and only, fictional story which illustrates Cannabis - Induced Psychosis. Entitled A Night In Jail, the story is inspired by my brother’s true life as a mentally ill homeless drug addict who went to jail eighteen times. This gritty cautionary tale has been adapted into a play and produced as a student-led short film.

Other presentations of note: keynote speaker for Alcoholics and Substance Providers of New York State, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Teaching Cannabis Awareness and Prevention Virtual Conference (co - chaired by Stanford’s Bonnie Halpern), Community Coalitions of Virginia, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Long Beach and Solano County, and many other organizations.

In partnership with Behavioral Health Services (a contractor with Los Angeles County Substance Abuse Prevention and Control), I co - sponsored several in-person and virtual events; participants included: the actor Stephen Lang (of Avatar), Dr. Stephen Taylor (NBA Medical Director), Dr. Ken Finn (editor of first medical textbook about cannabis as medicine), Dr. Erik Messamore (Professor at NEOMED, Pharmacologist), Dr. Christine Miller (long-time Schizophrenia Researcher), Dr. Aaron Weiner (Addiction Specialist), Darren Prince (agent for Magic Johnson and Dennis Rodman) and Dr. Jeremey Martinez (Associate Medical Director Co-Occurring Disorders, Homeless Outreach LA County Dept of Mental Health).

A former actress, I am known for voicing Jill Valentine, a character from the Resident Evil franchise.


Most people think teen marijuana use is harmless. But the science shows it can actually do long-term, and sometimes irreparable, damage to a person's brain.

Our former Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, warned about the risk of teen marijuana use on August 29, 2019. He said:

Frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with:

  • Changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation. Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence27.
  • Impaired learning in adolescents. Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction28.
  • Increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts29.

Risk for and early onset of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases30.

  • Other substance use31, 32. In 2017, teens 12-17 reporting frequent use of marijuana showed a 130% greater likelihood of misusing opioids23.

Marijuana’s increasingly widespread availability in multiple and highly potent forms, coupled with a false and dangerous perception of safety among youth, merits a nationwide call to action.

Heidi wants to educate youth so they can have the best chance at a lifetime of mental wellness.

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