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‘Her Brain Was Gone’: Parents Describe Horror of Daughter’s Marijuana-Induced Psychosis

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Cat Mayberry grabbed her backpack and ran out the door.

With no jacket, hat, or gloves, she ran through snow flurries on a cold Minnesota day. She ran down the street, and down the hill. She ran down the nature trail near her family’s home in Eden Prairie, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis.

Trent Mayberry, Cat’s dad, ran after his 20-year-old daughter. He caught up to her and grabbed her by her backpack, stopping her. They sat together on the frozen ground. Trent cried. Cat was scared but otherwise expressionless.

“Catherine, I love you so much,” he told his daughter. “We’re trying to help you.”

“You’ve got to let me go,” Cat replied softly. “Just let me go.”

Trent guided his daughter home, holding the straps of her backpack and using it to direct her, like a joystick. How could this girl, walking like a zombie, be the same girl who just a few years earlier had been a sunny honor student and varsity athlete with the world at her fingertips? Sure, she’d been using marijuana, but to Trent, it was just pot, basically harmless.

Trent sat Cat in the backseat of the family’s car with her mother, Jane, and drove her to a nearby Hazelden addiction treatment facility. Cat had agreed earlier to go, communicating mostly with nods. But when it came time to leave, she ran. And when her parents eventually got her there, she wouldn’t — or couldn’t — engage with the center’s staff.

“We can’t force people to be here,” Trent recalled a staff member telling him. “Your daughter won’t talk to me, hasn’t said anything. There’s just nothing we can do.”

Desperate, Trent and Jane took their daughter to the emergency room. It was there, in the fall of 2018, that they got the first real understanding of what was troubling her: schizophrenia.

For six years, Trent and Jane Mayberry had a front-row seat to their daughter’s spiraling descent into psychosis — her inability to communicate, her increasingly disheveled appearance, the piercings and tattoos. She heard voices. She had friends who likely weren’t real. Her descent ended in methamphetamine use and ultimately, a deadly overdose.

Both Trent and Jane are convinced that their daughter’s heavy marijuana use is to blame.

“I’m 100 percent certain that it came from cannabis,” Trent told National Review of his daughter’s psychosis. “If she never used cannabis, there’s a very high likelihood she would not have had these types of symptoms.”

Catherine Mayberry was born in June 1998, when inhaling marijuana was still potentially disqualifying for presidential candidates. Over her lifetime, shifting public opinion has increasingly backed legalization of the drug for medical and recreational use — a political position that has tended not to follow neat partisan fault lines.

In pop culture, marijuana users have tended to be portrayed as harmless slackers who just want to make a White Castle run or get high in their parents’ basement. The drug has acquired such a benign reputation in American culture that then-senator Kamala Harris felt comfortable joking about her history of use on a live radio broadcast while running for president in 2019.

When Trent and Jane testified about Cat’s experience before the Minnesota legislature in early March, the same relaxed attitude toward marijuana use was on display. Legislators laughed as former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura joked that the worst thing he’d ever done while high on marijuana was attend a Jimi Hendrix concert.

Democrats in Minnesota, who have won control of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, are fast-tracking legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. It has been one of their top priorities this year.

If they succeed, Minnesota would join the 21 states that have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, along with Washington, D.C., and Guam.

But the cultural makeover that led to widespread legalization has tended to hide a disturbing truth: Marijuana has never been the harmless drug that some advocates portray it as, and the high-potency versions available today can be dangerous, particularly for heavy users and young people whose brains are still developing. Several studies have linked heavy use of high-potency cannabis by young people to psychiatric disorders, including psychosis, with researchers increasingly concluding that cannabis has a causal role.

Trent and Jane Mayberry do not believe they can hold back the tide of legalization in their home state. But if Minnesota lawmakers are hell-bent on legalizing the drug with few safeguards, they believe they can at least provide a counter message and hopefully help educate the public along the way.

“We’re trying to at least tell people this is not the harmless drug that everyone thinks it is,” Trent said. “And we’ve got all the evidence in the world.”

“We’ve lived it,” he said, “We lost a kid to it.”

‘She Was Perfect’

When the Mayberrys look back on their daughter’s life, they remember the little girl who loved swimming in the ocean on family trips to Florida and Hawaii, and who joyfully swung off a rope into the reddish-tinged water of the St. Croix River at her grandfather’s home in Wisconsin.

They remember a girl who loved jumping on a trampoline, playing Dance Dance Revolution with her mom and younger sister, and playing catch with her dad.

Cat was born to parents who were barely adults themselves. Trent, who was born and raised in Minnesota, met Jane, a native of Scotland, on a family vacation to Europe. They were both 19. They were 20 when Catherine arrived.

Catherine was a happy kid who made friends easily, her parents recalled. She played piano. She danced. She won awards for her art. She played softball. In elementary school, she was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder but managed it with medication.

In high school, she made the varsity tennis team, helped found a badminton club, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. She was slender, pretty, and ran with a good group of kids.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better kid. From zero to 18, she was perfect,” Trent said.

Jane said there was no evidence of any demons in Catherine’s life at that point, just the typical teenage academic stresses.

As a high-school senior, Catherine was accepted into the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences, her dream school. She planned to study neuroscience. She also started dating a young man, who her parents suspect helped to introduce her to marijuana.

Catherine Mayberry lived at Comstock Hall at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2016. Her parents believe that this is when she started regularly using marijuana. (Courtesy of Trent and Jane Mayberry)

By that summer, Trent and Jane knew Catherine had at least some experience with the drug. They once caught her driving high. When she started college, they noticed that some of her dorm mates seemed stoned when they visited.

But her parents weren’t too concerned. They had both partied pretty hard as teenagers, and Trent said he experimented a little with marijuana when he was young.

“My attitude was, ‘Ah, she’s in college, it’s not that big of a deal,’” he said. “Of course, I didn’t know anything about psychosis or schizophrenia, or how cannabis could completely rewire a young person’s brain.”

‘A Complete Addict’

Trent and Jane said they first grew concerned when Catherine returned home for winter break. She seemed depressed and complained that she was being teased. She wouldn’t elaborate.

“And then I noticed in her room, it wasn’t even that well hidden, like a big bag of marijuana,” Jane said.

That spring, Catherine decided to change majors. “She decided that science and chemistry and biology was too much,” Trent said. But it didn’t matter. There’s little evidence she went to class.

“I think she was still enrolled, but she basically got a zero GPA,” Trent said.

Catherine, who used to take pride in her appearance, was increasingly unkempt, her parents said. And she was increasingly unreliable.

“We would go to pick her up or arrange times to meet, and she would be sleeping in her dorm on the floor and wouldn’t respond to texts,” Trent said.

She dropped out of college that spring.

That summer, Trent and Jane took the girls on a trip to Scotland. Trent said they had to help Catherine pack because she seemed so baked.

In Scotland, Catherine was zoned out and often wandered off without telling anyone. At times she appeared to be laughing to herself, her parents said.

Catherine Mayberry’s parents grew increasingly concerned about her mental health during a trip to Scotland in 2017. She struggled with simple things, like packing her suitcase, started wearing an old, oversized windbreaker, wandered off without telling people where she was going, and was often seen laughing to herself. (Courtesy of Trent and Jane Mayberry)

Back in Minnesota, Catherine’s condition worsened. She began to smoke openly, discussing her love of marijuana with her young sister, and even arguing that acid was “no big deal.” She started wearing heavy eyeliner, a knit Rastafarian hat, and a crusty, food-covered poncho that she referred to as her “drug rug.”

And she no longer wanted to be called Catherine. She was Cat.

One day, when Cat returned to her parents’ home, they saw her stash a backpack behind a garbage bin outside. Jane went out and got it. It was filled with marijuana paraphernalia.

“It was like a head shop in a backpack,” Trent said. “When we showed her this stash and then said we are throwing all this away, her reaction was of a complete addict. She acted like we were cutting off her arm.”

On another day, during a drive with her family to pick out a Christmas tree, Cat said, “I can hear voices speaking to me,” her parents said.

“You are probably hearing voices because you are using too many drugs,” Trent recalled saying.

Cat increasingly struggled to communicate. Her parents said it was if she was “catatonic.”

They attempted an intervention at her apartment in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown neighborhood. When she figured out what was happening, she grabbed a marijuana pipe and ran away.

When Cat got kicked out of her apartment, she moved back in with her parents. They sent their younger daughter to live with friends to avoid being around her increasingly erratic sister.

“She was leaving the stove on, she was going out of the house at all hours of the night, leaving the door open,” Jane said.

As time went on, Trent and Jane said they felt scared and powerless. They told Cat to stop using drugs, but she was an adult, and there was little they could do, legally, to make her change.

“We felt like we’re going to get a call and she will be dead in a ditch,” Trent said. “The only thing in my mind was, how could she be acting like this just over marijuana? It’s just marijuana.”

Marijuana and Psychosis

While marijuana has gained a cultural reputation as a relatively benign and nonaddictive drug, scientific research over the years has painted a less rosy picture.

Marijuana is, in fact, addictive. It impairs judgment and coordination. It can impair memory, and some studies have linked it to declines in IQ. Students who smoke marijuana tend to have poorer educational outcomes than peers who don’t use the drug. Although most marijuana users don’t move on to harder drugs, studies in rats have shown that THC exposure is associated with an altered reward system in the brain that increases the likelihood that an animal will self-administer other drugs when given the opportunity.

And there is an increasingly clear link between heavy marijuana use and psychosis.

While some researchers have suggested that link could be due to “reverse-causal mechanisms” — that is, people predisposed to psychosis seeking out the drug — the most recent science is pointing to a more direct role for cannabis causing psychosis, and even full-blown schizophrenia.

“My answer in 2023 is definitely different than even five years ago, where I was much softer on the causality. I now use the phrase ‘has a causal role in the development of psychosis and other behavioral disorders,’” said Dr. Ken Winters, a Minnesota-based clinical psychologist and researcher with the Oregon Research Institute. In the early 1990s, Winters founded the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse at the University of Minnesota.

He pointed to a recent population-wide study out of Denmark that found the proportion of cases of schizophrenia associated with cannabis-use disorder has at least tripled over the last two decades as marijuana has become more potent and as more people use the drug. In 2019, the Lancet, the British medical journal, published the results of a large study from across Europe and Brazil that found heavy users of high-potency marijuana were up to five times more likely to develop a psychotic disorder than nonusers.

“That’s a huge strain on the mental-health system,” Winters said. “And then, of course, there’s hundreds of thousands of individuals and families that are devastated.”

Winters said modern marijuana is much more potent and harmful than weed smoked when he was young in the 1960s and 70s. Comparing marijuana from then with marijuana today is akin to comparing beer to hard alcohol, he said.

Winters is an opponent of legalizing marijuana for recreational use but is open to discussions of decriminalizing it and using the drug for medicinal purposes. He said there are three big risk factors involving marijuana.

“If you use the high-potency version of THC, it greatly increases the health and safety risk of the user,” he said. “If you use it regularly, or chronically I call it, that also increases your risk for health and safety problems. And the third [risk factor] is, the earlier in your youth or in your life that you start that pattern, then you greatly accelerate the safety and health risk.”

In 2021, an estimated 30.5 percent of high-school seniors reported using marijuana in the last year, as did an estimated 17.3 percent of tenth-graders and 7.1 percent of eighth-graders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It’s not clear yet what percentage of young people who regularly use high-potency cannabis will ultimately become addicted or develop psychosis. While some people are genetically vulnerable, users don’t have to be predisposed to develop mental illness, Winters said. Trent and Jane Mayberry said they have no history of schizophrenia on either side of their family.

Cat’s risk of becoming addicted to marijuana may have been elevated by her childhood ADHD, which is considered a risk factor for substance abuse later in life, Winters said. He said there is no reason to believe her ADHD meds could have caused or elevated her risk for psychosis. And she was off that medication by the time she started college, her dad said.

‘Her Brain Was Ruined’

After her schizophrenia diagnosis in the winter of 2018, Cat Mayberry was admitted for inpatient care at a hospital across the Mississippi River from her freshman dorm.

Catherine Mayberry, left, and her father, Trent, and mother, Jane, in 2018, soon after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her parents believe it was triggered by her heavy use of high-potency marijuana. At this point she struggled to communicate and often had a flat, expressionless look on her face, her parents say. (Courtesy of Trent and Jane Mayberry)

She could barely talk at that point, and was put on antipsychotic medication. After a couple of weeks, she was well enough to speak but hadn’t really turned a corner with respect to her mental health, her parents said. She said she wanted to leave. The hospital couldn’t force her to stay. And to her parents’ dismay, she didn’t meet the threshold for civil commitment.

At her parents’ home, she walked around with headphones on, blasting music into her head — including a “song” of Yoko Ono howling (“oohahahahahaha”) and screeching.

“That one she played over and over and over,” Jane said. Her parents believe she used the music and the noise to try to quiet the voices in her head.

She also reconnected with some of her marijuana friends. Even they were disturbed by her behavior, and they called Trent and Jane when Cat wouldn’t leave their home.

The antipsychotic meds did nothing to improve Cat’s mental health, but instead made her feel numb and resulted in her packing a hundred pounds onto her previously petite frame. She went back into inpatient and outpatient care two more times. It didn’t help.

“Her brain was ruined at this point. We sensed it,” Trent said.

Trent and Jane worked through the byzantine mental-health system to get Cat placed in supportive housing for people with severe mental illness. They got her into an apartment in 2019, and in 2020 they got her into Rising Cedar, the best supportive-housing facility in the Twin Cities. Cat had her own room, and she had two rescue cats, Holly and Lorilai, to care for. She’d lost her old friends, but she talked with her parents about a friend down by the river. They suspect that person was a figment of her imagination.

She started getting into body art. She got piercings in her cheeks, nose, tongue, lips, and ears. She dyed her hair red. She got tattoos of an eyeball and a skull wrapped in a snake on her legs. Her parents paid for a tattoo as a birthday present. It’s all she wanted.

At Rising Cedar, residents had the freedom to come and go as they pleased. And, not surprisingly, some of them came back with drugs.

“That’s also where she got introduced to meth,” Trent said.

He said they could tell she was hooked on harder drugs when she started losing weight, tossed all her furniture into the trash, started cleaning, and told her parents they needed to get rid of the cats, because “I might do something to them.” Cat made little effort to hide her contraband — packets of drugs, tinfoil, a small torch, and pipe, her parents said.

At one point, Cat came to believe — mistakenly — that she’d been kicked out of her apartment. Her parents found her in an alley, living in a tent with a homeless person.

Trent and Jane came to realize there would be no happy ending for their daughter. They believed that Catherine Mayberry, the girl they’d known for the first 18 years of her life, had already died, killed by a raging marijuana addiction that destroyed her brain. Cat was still alive, and they loved her as best as they could.

“She was so far gone, but you’re a parent, and you can’t not love your daughter,” Trent said.

Last September, Trent and Jane took their younger daughter back to Scotland. Cat stayed at her apartment in Minneapolis. The trip helped to strengthen the family, Trent said.

At St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Jane wrote out a prayer for their younger daughter on a piece of paper and left it on a prayer tree. Trent wrote one for Cat.

“God, if you can heal Catherine’s brain, please heal it,” he recalled praying. “But if you can’t, take her up to Heaven with you.”

On October 1, they texted with Cat, said hello, and sent her a picture from Scotland. Cat asked how their day was going. “I’ve just been writing and working,” she wrote, adding a happy emoji.

It was their last communication with her.

Back home in Minnesota, Trent and Jane reached out to Cat, but they couldn’t get her on the phone. They asked the Rising Cedar staff to check on her.

Late in the evening on October 8, the center’s staff found Cat on her couch, dead, with a glass pipe and a packet of meth that had been laced with fentanyl. She was 24.

Her death was likely relatively quick, Trent said.

“I look at it as, God answered our prayers,” he said. “We knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time. It happened at a point where our family was as strong as it could possibly be.”

Trent Mayberry took this photo of his daughter, Catherine, in August 2021, about a year before her death from an overdose of methamphetamines laced with fentanyl. (Courtesy of Trent and Jane Mayberry)

‘Time to Legalize’

In November, Democrats in Minnesota won back control of the state Senate with a slim one-seat majority. With control of the governorship, and both chambers of the legislature, legalizing recreational pot in Minnesota became a priority for the state’s top Democrats.

“I believe 2023 will be the year we legalize adult-use cannabis,” Representative Zack Stephenson, a House Democrat who filed a bill to legalize the drug, said in early January. “Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota,” he said. “Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves.”

Democratic state senator Lindsey Port, who filed a companion bill in the upper chamber, told a local government panel that “the prohibition of cannabis is a failed system” that “has had incredible costs for our communities, especially communities of color.”

Stephenson and Port did not respond to phone calls and emails from National Review to discuss their proposed legislation. Their bills are now well over 300 pages long.

Governor Tim Walz has also prioritized legal weed. “It’s time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota,” he tweeted. “I’m ready to sign it into law now.”

Republican leaders have urged their Democratic colleagues to slow down, and to consider safeguards.

Some opponents of the legislation say Democratic efforts to license marijuana sellers will likely be toothless because of an exemption in Minnesota law that allows produce growers to sell directly to customers. Health organizations in the state have called for lawmakers to set the legal age to buy and use marijuana at 25, when the brain is fully developed. Others have called for potency limits and mandated packaging language warning users of the potential health threats, including the threat of developing psychosis. Democrats have shown little interest.

“They’ve failed to address pretty much anything when it comes to public safety, keeping it away from minors,” said Republican state senator Bill Lieske, a libertarian-leaning freshman lawmaker who is crafting an amendment to insert some safety measures into the legalization bill.

Lieske is optimistic that some safeguards could still be written into the bill. He’s heard that state senate Democrats are still short of the votes needed to pass their legislation. “I think they need more [Republican] votes than they are letting on,” he said.

Trent and Jane Mayberry said the experience with their daughter has greatly strengthened their Christian faith. “You’d think, ‘how could you guys have faith through all of this?’ And I’d tell you, the only way we can get through it is because we have faith,” Trent said.

In early March, Trent and Jane were scheduled to testify in front of lawmakers about their daughter’s experience with marijuana. Before they could speak, lawmakers opened the floor to Ventura, the one-time pro-wrestler, turned governor, turned marijuana advocate.

Wearing a Navy Seals T-shirt, Ventura told lawmakers that as a former governor who “started this,” they should expect him to go over his two allotted minutes. He spoke for over eight with no interruptions. He talked mostly about marijuana as medicine that stopped the seizures his wife used to have. The Mayberrys said that was off point in a discussion about recreational pot.

Ventura also pushed back on efforts to limit the drug to adults 25 and older.

“All I’m lecturing you on is this: Government, get consistent,” he said. “Come up with the age, whatever it is, and then stand by it. Don’t have it be 18 here, 21 here, and I’ve even heard talk of 25 for cannabis. Give me a break.”

“I can tell you this unconditionally, I’ve behaved far worse on alcohol than I ever have on cannabis,” he said. “The only bad thing I did on cannabis, I went and saw Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.”

The crowd laughed and applauded. The hearing’s chair, Democratic state senator Foung Hawj, laughed, too. He called Ventura “very eloquent and very captivating.”

When Trent Mayberry spoke, he had two minutes. Then a bell went off. He called it “insulting.”

The Mayberrys don’t see themselves as anti-marijuana-legalization activists. Catherine got hooked when recreational weed was illegal, Trent noted. Rather, they see their mission as being devoted to education. If high-potency marijuana is going to be legalized in a grand national experiment, people at least need to be aware of the dangers.

“Neither Jane nor I are out there beating the drum, saying, ‘Hey, Jesse Ventura, you can’t have cannabis, or get rid of medical cannabis,’” Trent said. “All we’re doing is trying to help people understand our painful story so they can at least make their own decision.”

He said the schizophrenia his daughter developed from cannabis was “worse than death.”

“Her life was gone. Her brain was gone,” he said. “She was still our daughter, still loved her dearly, but she was a different person and could not come back.”

“People can say, yeah, she died from a fentanyl overdose, but that’s not what really killed her,” he said. “That’s what killed Cat. That’s not what killed Catherine.”

“Catherine was killed by cannabis.”


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