Just over a year later, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital returned to the Westford School Committee for a preliminary presentation giving findings from their study on marijuana use and how it affects students at Westford Academy.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dr. Randi Schuster told the committee that their early research shows students who quit use of marijuana catch up to peers who don’t use marijuana when it comes to cognitive tests. That research also showed that students who continued to use marijuana face progress slower or even regress on the same tests.
After approval was granted for the study last year and parents were given a chance to opt-out their child, just over 1,300 students were screened over two days in October for participation in the study.
That group was whittled down to 24: 12 non-users, and 12 students who indicated they had been marijuana users. In that group of 12 users, eight randomly chosen were given monetary incentives to quit and no instructions were given to the other four.
After a month of cognitive testing, the quitting group and the non-users were superior in planning, short-term memory, organization, working memory and learning. At times, the two non-user groups were improving at double or even triple the rate of the users and in learning, the user group regressed by six percent.
Her hope is to eventually discover what exactly how significant the impacts are when it comes to the impacts of marijuana use on the developing brains of children and if those impacts can be reversed.
She told the board that earlier studies had shown that the younger a child begins marijuana usage, the more likely they are to become addicted to the drug later on in life.
The small sample size in the preliminary study tempered some of the certainty in the results. IQ scores were for individuals in the non-user group were fairly similar to each other, but were higher than the averages within the quitter and user groups.
THC, the principal psychoactive chemical within marijuana, also varied within the urine samples of the quitter and user groups.
Schuster warned the committee that average THC levels within marijuana today are much higher than they once were, and newer more concentrated forms of marijuana such as Butane Honey Oil can be four to six times more potent than marijuana on its own.
She told the committee that perceived harm from marijuana is at a historical low among 15 to 30 year olds, and that efforts needed to be taken to reframe the debate toward portraying marijuana as a substance that can prevent one from reaching their top potential.
“People just don’t see this as a problem, so I think we need to talk about this in a way they’ll hear it,” she said.
Despite additional data showing that the quitters had improved moods after they quit, after incentives were withdrawn, every member of the quitter group began to start using marijuana again.
Individuals participating in the study were kept anonymous, with school officials unaware of which students were part of the study.
Antonelli told the committee that the study had been so low key that not one parent called in with a complaint.
Schuster plans to continue the study at Westford Academy in the fall and also begin comparable studies in other school districts as well as a study with subjects aged 18 to 25 in Boston.