James Holmes killed 12 and injured countless others in the Aurora movie theater massacre back in 2012. A week ago he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Our condolences to the families who lost love ones in this mass shooting. At the same time we cry for the families of the victims, we must also appreciate the tragedy felt by the parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes.
Arlene Holmes described her son as a human being gripped by severe mental illness. A neighbor had reported Holmes’s habit of smoking pot by the trash cans.
The relationship between marijuana and mental illness is complex. No one is destined to become schizophrenic. Environment, including drug use, plays about a 50% role. Holmes’s behavior transformation began in middle school, coinciding with a move to San Diego, so he may have started to use pot at this point. It was 2-3 years after medical marijuana was introduced in California, an event that markedly increased incidences of marijuana getting into the hands of children. If Holmes had never started to use marijuana, perhaps the massacre at Aurora theater never would have happened. (Read about other cases of Modern Reefer Madness.)
Amazingly, Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, the year this theater mass shooting happened. There is still much to learn about how marijuana triggers psychotic symptoms which can develop into schizophrenia, as well as how it makes the course of the disease much more difficult to treat.
Other Californians in the News
In recent years, two other marijuana users from California committed heinous crimes. Ashton Sacks who killed both parents and injured his brother in California in February 2014 was a heavy marijuana user. He had made previous suicide attempts, but blamed his parents for messing up his life. He was supposed to be attending community college in Seattle, but didn’t attend classes. Instead he smoked marijuana and played video games. He may have been motivated by money, and the role of marijuana in his life may help to his moral deprivation, or mental illness.
John Patrick Bedell was another Californian who smoked marijuana as a teen and young man and thereafter exhibited signs of mental illness. Bedell became the Pentagon Shooter.
These incidents give cause to speculate that Elliot Rodger, whose psychotic killing spree in an idyllic California university town, could also have been triggered by marijuana use. News accounts mention a “water pipe” in the group house where he and 3 other students lived. Water pipes or bongs are used to smoke marijuana. Elliot was suffering from depression and paranoia, which are symptoms of pot use. Prior to killing 6 victims, Rogers wrote a lengthy manifesto and posted a number of YouTube videos which depict his unbalanced mental state.