Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Catherine Mayberry was an honor student at Minnetonka High School. An award-winning artist. A varsity tennis player who also loved skiing and softball. A loving sister and daughter.
On Oct. 8, at age 24, she died from an accidental overdose of meth mixed with fentanyl. Sadly, her parents, Trent and Jane Mayberry, consider this her "second death."
In their view, they'd already lost her after she began using marijuana heavily in her late teens. As Catherine's mental health relentlessly deteriorated, the family discovered that a drug that many think is harmless in reality poses substantial risks for some users. Catherine was among those who develop psychosis after using the drug. She suffered from auditory hallucinations, delusional thinking, extreme anxiety and slowed mental capacity that permanently derailed her promising young life.
"This is what our family now refers to as 'Catherine's first death,'" Trent Mayberry said in recent testimony before the Minnesota Legislature.
It would be far easier for the family to grieve quietly than to share their pain. But with the state lawmakers on track to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana, the heartbroken couple is sharing their story to sound the alarm about a cannabis risk — the research-backed association between the drug and psychosis — that they only learned about as Catherine's life spiraled out of control.
The family's tragedy should not only inform the ongoing legalization debate but spur legislators to take steps to make the risks clear on cannabis packaging and to provide resources for those afflicted. It should also galvanize preparations within the state's medical community to better recognize this relatively rare but life-upending condition in cannabis users.
"It's our responsibility to share Catherine's story, painful as it is … to make others aware of what happened to her and try to prevent this from happening to other families," Trent Mayberry told an editorial writer in a recent interview.
Regrettably, his courageous testimony at the Capitol recently was overshadowed when former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura spoke at the same hearing. Ventura shared how marijuana has helped his wife overcome seizures and spoke at length against those advocating for 25 as the minimum age of use.
Ventura's testimony left little time for others. Trent Mayberry had to wrap up his testimony in exactly two minutes. Catherine's life and death deserved a fuller airing, which is why an editorial writer followed up with the family. The details are grim but important.
It's hard to imagine anything else the Mayberrys could have done to save their daughter. Catherine saw doctors and was hospitalized multiple times. Her parents sought addiction treatment at Hazelden, hired an "interventionist" and tried unsuccessfully to get her committed. But Catherine never got back on track, at one point sleeping on the street in a tent because she mistakenly thought she'd been evicted from an apartment community serving those with mental illness.
Mainline drugs for psychosis did little to improve her condition. Nor did the symptoms stop if she quit marijuana. In her struggles, she turned to alcohol and other drugs.
"I think 99% of Minnesotans don't understand that cannabis can have that effect on people. We want to change that," Trent Mayberry said. "People should come into this with their eyes wide open about how devastating the effects can be for a certain segment of the population, and we don't know who that is."
Research on marijuana lags behind legalization efforts but supports Mayberry's point: Some people are at higher risk than others for cannabis-associated psychosis. These include people with genetic susceptibility, a family history of psychotic disorders or a history of childhood trauma, according to a 2014 medical journal article.
Fortunately, research also suggests psychosis after use is rare. A large study published in 2022 indicates that an estimated 0.47% of people using marijuana sought emergency medical treatment during their lifetime for cannabis-associated psychosis. A smaller percentile, 0.19%, reported seeking emergency care in the past year for psychosis after cannabis use. The risk may be greater for young people, as well as those who frequently use marijuana or higher-potency THC products.
Those percentages are small but shouldn't be dismissed. As more people use marijuana, even a small percentage translates to a disturbing number of individuals affected.
Proponents of legalization rightly point out that alcohol use also carries serious risks. Most of us can name them: alcohol addiction, drunk driving, and serious, sometimes fatal health conditions such as liver cirrhosis.
But the Mayberry family's desperate quest to understand what happened to Catherine, and then help her, illustrates that marijuana's risks are not well understood by the public or even medical providers. Legalization legislation in Minnesota must recognize the trade-offs inherent in this policy change. A good start: strong warnings on package labels and resources to broaden treatment options for those who will inevitably be harmed by easing access to this drug.