Marijuana and mental health: How pot can affect your brain

Some say marijuana made their lives worse, while others say they just can't live without it.

“I need help. I can't stop smoking pot,” Debbie Hemphill says.

Her story of addiction is not one of youthful indiscretion or getting hooked on high drugs. It's a story of marijuana and middle age regret. 

“Really and truly every two hours I was smoking marijuana for years.” 

Hemphill is a mother and wife who ran her own business. She says she was spending $6,000 a year on weed. 

“You look at the bud I was smoking before I went to treatment it was laden with THC and just was literally mind-numbing.” 

"It's amazing how weed has evolved into what it is today as far as the potency," said Woodrow Jefferson, who works with the Turning Point program. 

At the treatment center, which caters to African-Americans, marijuana has always been part of the picture. What's changed for some is that it's now their drug of choice. 

“We see more young men who are addicted only to marijuana-- 18, 19, 20 years old-- which was unheard of,” Jefferson said. 

“Marijuana addiction attends to be a lot more mild than other forms of addiction,” says Dr. Charlie Reznikoff. He sits on the medical cannabis task force. “Cannabis does cause a withdrawal. People who smoke regularly will notice. If they stop for three days, they'll feel irritable.” 

But it's the psychological dependence which can be most difficult. He points to NFL players who would rather pay millions in fines than stop smoking weed. 

“You use marijuana in a way it impacts, personal, work life financial health, and otherwise might cause some harm and yet you persist in using it,” said Reznikoff.

There are some people who should be especially cautious, like adolescents whose brains are still developing. 

Marijuana can impair learning and the development of social skills. New research shows those with mental health issues may be at particular risk. 

Psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and maybe other mental illnesses like depression can have psychotic components-- they could be hospitalized with hallucinations. 

The other thing about marijuana is how it impairs memory especially the processing of short term experiences into long term memory 

“When you're 62 like me there's no going back,” Hemphill said. 

During her wasted decade, Hemphill’s daughter, a talented musician and artist who also struggled with marijuana, committed suicide. Instead of memories she's left with mostly shadows.

“There are certain things I can't recall and I have no one to ask and for me, there's a lot of regret around that,” she said.