Pretty Little Killers: The Marijuana Connection

This story is taken from a 4-part series in Parents Opposed to Pot, and is re-used with permission

Three years ago, two 16-year-old high school girls stabbed and murdered another friend, after sneaking out during the night to smoke pot.  The killing took place happened on July 6, 2012. Three girls, Skylar Neese, Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy, lived near Morgantown, West Virginia, and went to University High School. Skylar lived in Star City, right outside of Morgantown. The murder took place in nearby Pennsylvania.

Can we possibly understand how it happened so that other parents don’t go face the kind of suffering Skylar’s parents faced?

Rachel Shoaf, Shelia Eddy and Skylar Neese
Rachel Shoaf, Shelia Eddy and Skylar Neese

The three girls had much in common as only children of adoring parents. They were excellent students, but Skylar was definitely the smartest. Rachel was a talented actress and singer.  During freshman year of high school, these girls were inseparable.

Families who had lived in the area for generations mixed with the international student body at West Virginia University.  It was not a sheltered environment.

What’s different about these girls? At age 14 and 15, they were smoking weed very often.  Living near a college town, they probably had access to today’s turbo-charged, high-THC pot. Shelia seems to have smoked the most and had the most access to weed.

What’s the Motive?

Rest in Peace, Skylar Neese, 1996-2012

Pretty Little Killers , a bestseller by Daleen Berry and Geoffrey C. Fuller, mentions that Shelia mainly used weed as her drug of choice, but also used cocaine and Roxicet derived from oxycodone. The book’s authors could not find evidence that Skylar and Rachel used drugs other than pot and alcohol.  Shelia knew that weed was bringing her down.

The book mentions a possible motive was that Skylar knew Rachel and Shelia had a sexual relationship and threatened to tell others. Authors Berry and Fuller aren’t convinced this is the real reason.

Weed is perhaps is the single influence that, if taken totally out of the picture, could have stopped the tragedy. A family friend of Rachel Shoaf, who had known her since she was an infant, was shocked that the teen with ‘potential, morals’ turned into murderer.

Shelia Eddy used marijuana the most often and it’s likely she was psychologically addicted to it.  In early 2013, before she was apprehended for the crime, Shelia Eddy posted several tweets about getting stoned. Prophetically, she even stated: “this generation is fucked. imagine what it’ll be like when our kids have kids.” Isn’t she referencing the damage to young brains on pot?

To test or prove a theory of pot’s influence on teen violence, scientists can’t ethically give marijuana to 14-16-year-old subjects to track the changes going on in teens’ undeveloped brains. It has been shown the marijuana has a connection to, if not an influence on, teen violence. In Mesa County, Colorado, last November, a 15-year old shot and killed his best friend.  He was a heavy marijuana user.  Jaylen Fryberg who shot 5 students at a high school in Washington was a 15-year old marijuana us. . Marijuana use was also a factor in the life of a 14-year-old boy who recently stabbed his teacher.

Any changes to a brain assaulted by marijuana at that age are faster and more dramatic than at age 25 and older.   From a  Feinberg Northwestern School of Medicine study of 18-25-year olds, the evidence is clear: “The younger the individuals were when they started chronically using marijuana, the more abnormally their brain regions were shaped.”

Weed is known to negatively affect IQ and memory, leading to an 8-point drop in IQ for those who begin smoking at age 13 and continue for 25 years. Skeptics may note that the killers, Shelia Eddy and Rachel Shoaf, remained excellent students after they began smoking weed freshman year. However, the loss of intellectual ability is likely to pose a bigger problem for students who struggle in school.  Also, it may take longer than 21 months of smoking pot to seriously affect IQ. In these girls, the consequences of marijuana came in the form of moral degeneration. It took less than two years.

Today we’re learning more about the brain and have sophisticated imagery tools to understand how drugs change the brain. Columbia University released a new study on marijuana and the brain just a few weeks ago.  A study from Harvard and Northwestern Universities published last year showed that moderate use by 18-25-year-olds brings about organic brain changes.  We can infer that the young brains of Shelia and Rachel had been manipulated a great deal by 21 months of marijuana use.

The connection to psychotic breaks and marijuana is established. The connection to marijuana, psychosis and murder is frequent. Eddie Routh, Stephanie Faye-Hamman who stabbed her husband and the Clackamas Town Center shooter appear to have been suffering from marijuana-induced psychosis when they became violent. There isn’t any evidence that Eddy and Shoaf were psychotic or suffering from delusions when they killed Skylar Neese.  Their minds had become very twisted just the same, and we can see that early marijuana use, at a young age, was to blame.

To ignore the connection between weed users and violent behaviors is a horrible mistake, especially in young teens whose brains change the fastest from using marijuana.

To prevent incidents of teen aggression, suicide and murder, we need in-school drug education showing how THC affects youthful brains. The education should begin very young and follow students into the preteen years.

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