Original article no longer available
By CAROLINE IGGULDEN
April 4, 2008
As Prime Minister Gordon Brown considers upgrading cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, a heartbroken mum tells here how her son’s life was totally destroyed by his habit. Kate Summers watched in despair as happy-go-lucky Guy’s life spiralled into a cycle of madness and pain through smoking skunk – a strong version of the drug. She then found him hanging in his bedroom. He was just 18. Here, she tells how her family’s life was shattered in just a few months.
KATE SUMMERS will never forget returning home with her husband one evening to find their son Guy looking like a haunted shadow of his former self.
He was weak and trembling as he stood in the corner of the living room.
Kate, 41, said: “It was approaching his 17th birthday in 2003 and we had let him have a party. We had gone out for a few hours and left them to it.
“We expected to come home to find the house in devastation – but not this.
Guy Summers … tragic
“Apparently a couple of people had turned up to the party that he didn’t want there and Guy had flipped.
“His behaviour had even frightened his closest friends. It was strange because Guy had always been so laid-back. It was frightening.”
Tragically, what Kate and Jeremy, 49, a butcher, didn’t realise then was that the chilling incident marked the start of their son’s dramatic downward spiral into mental illness.
Kate, a care home manager, said: “Guy had always been such a happy-go-lucky lad. He was everybody’s mate – a real boys’ boy.
“Don’t get me wrong, he could be a little rogue at times, but he was confident and outgoing. He was bright too. Cannabis changed all that.
“If reclassifying it as a Class B drug again puts just one person off smoking it, it would be a worthwhile move.”
The drug was downgraded to Class C in 2004.
Kate added: “I couldn’t work out what had caused Guy to react in such a way at his party.
“We stayed up talking it through that night. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he asked. ‘I’m going mad. I can’t cope with people around me. I don’t want to feel like this. Help me,’ he begged. I was beside myself.”
The next day she took him to see their GP, who referred him to a psychiatrist. He told her Guy was displaying a drug-induced psychosis.
Kate said: “I was shocked. I knew Guy had smoked cannabis but we had told him about the dangers and I thought it was a teenage phase that would pass.
Innocent … Guy aged 18 months
“I also always thought it was preferable to him rolling around drunk on the seafront.
“As a student, I had dabbled a couple of times with the drug myself.
“But I don’t think the drug back then was anywhere near as strong as the kind of skunk that Guy had smoked.
“I know what happened to Guy won’t happen to everyone who smokes a joint.
“But I didn’t realise it had got to the stage where he was doing it on a daily basis.
“He smoked his first joint when he was 16 and he stopped as soon as he got the diagnosis, meaning he only really did it for five months.
“Unfortunately, the damage was done and couldn’t be reversed.”
Guy was given antidepressants, advised to continue seeing a psychiatrist and was monitored with phone calls and visits at home.
But instead of seeing an improvement in her son’s condition, Kate watched helplessly as he gradually retreated into himself.
She said: “He changed into a totally different person. He withdrew from his engineering course at college but it was like he withdrew from life.
“He stopped seeing his friends and, at times, even became distant from us. He just used to sit in his room with his black beanie hat on and write songs.
“His guitar was his life. He would play it all day and scrawl messages on bits of paper about the pain he was in.”
It took a toll on the whole family, including Guy’s older brother Chris, now 23, and younger sister Grace, 15. Kate, from Sidmouth, Devon, said: “It was so hard for them to see him transform into a different person.”
She began to realise the tragic possibilities of his condition when he twice overdosed on his antidepression medication.
He even spent periods in the Cedars mental health unit at Wonford House Hospital in Exeter for his own safety.
He had begun to hear voices and Kate would often catch him talking to himself.
She said: “I used to ask him who he was talking to and he would say, ‘It’s the voices.’ He told me the not-so-good voice and the nasty voice would argue and, if the nasty one won, he would harm himself. It made me so frightened.”
In the summer of 2004 Guy’s condition seemed to improve. But he gradually deteriorated again.
On February 2, 2005, Kate accompanied her son to his weekly visit to his GP. On the way home she asked: “How are you feeling?”
He said, “Terrible,” and stared blankly out of the window.
Kate dropped him at the family home and went to collect his prescription.
She said: “When I got home I called out his name and went into his room. Then I screamed. Guy had hanged himself from the metal frame of his cabin bed with a scarf.
“Frantically I tried to lift him off but I wasn’t strong enough. I called an ambulance and the paramedics arrived in minutes. They lifted him down and managed to find a pulse.”
Tragically, Guy was brain-dead by the time he reached hospital. Doctors advised that the most he would ever be able to do again was blink and cough.
The following day his parents made the heartbreaking decision to allow staff to switch off the life support machine.
Kate said: “I always hoped that Guy would get better. But in my heart of hearts I somehow always knew he would try again and again to take his own life.”
An inquest ruled that Guy’s death was caused by cerebral hypoxia – lack of oxygen to the brain – and hanging.
Kate now hopes her son’s experience will make politicians realise why it is necessary to reclassify cannabis as Class B.
She said: “I never had any idea that such a severe psychosis could be brought on by the drug.
“All I know is that, if cannabis was ‘safe’, then it couldn’t have done what it did to my son.”