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Mass General Hospital - Marijuana Study
FYI- Jim Antonelli

From the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School

Dear WA Community,

As we embark on a new academic year, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for allowing me and my MGH team into the WA community over the past two years. I am continuously impressed with the studentsí engagement, curiosity, and openness. Working with and learning from them is truly the reason why I love my job as a psychologist.

To kick this year off, let me review a few questions I have received recently…

Q: Can I have a quick refresher about what this study involves?
  • The goal of this project is to determine whether marijuana use during teenage years negatively impacts a studentís ability to perform at his/her optimal cognitive potential.
  • To achieve this goal, we will be recruiting marijuana users AND non-users from across the greater Boston-area to participate in an 8-week research study.
  • During the study visits, students will complete several confidential tasks including interviews with trained staff, questionnaires (e.g., about mood, exercise, substance use), and tests of thinking abilities.
  • Written parental consent will be required for all students under the age of 18.
  • Participating does NOT mean your child uses marijuana ñusers AND non-users are invited!
Q: How many students have you enrolled thus far and what is the plan for the upcoming year?
A: We have enrolled 103 students across the greater Boston area, and many more will begin the project in the next few weeks. Many (but not all!) of these students have come from WA. In this upcoming year, we plan to recruit students from three to five different public school districts throughout the greater Boston area.

Q: Have you begun to analyze the data collected?
A: Yes! The results have been quite telling, but we have a long way to go before we fully understand the potential effects of marijuana on our teensí lives. Some of published and presented findings include:
  • Teens who use marijuana can stop when provided with the right support! Among those incentivized to stop smoking for 30 days, nearly 90% were successful in doing so! This is highly encouraging particularly when thinking about how we can develop better interventions for teens experiencing negative consequences from use.
  • Teens who use marijuana heavily often experience temporary symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using. These symptoms may include decreased appetite, irritability, headaches and disruptions to sleep. These symptoms last longer among teens with a history of mental illness such as depression or anxiety.
  • Certain personality traitsósuch as impulsivityóincrease the likelihood that heavy marijuana use will increase risk for marijuana dependence.
  • Marijuana use is associated with less efficient thinking abilities, particularly when teens start using marijuana at younger ages. This may be because the young brain is most vulnerable to marijuanaís effects. Encouraging students to delay use may be an effective strategy in minimizing negative consequences from use.
  • When teens stop smoking, mood and cognitive abilities improve. This may mean that marijuana does not have permanent negative effects, but may keep teens from functioning at their emotional and cognitive best while they are actively using.
  • Alcohol does not increase when teens stop smoking, meaning they are unlikely to be substituting one drug for the other.  
Our preliminary findings increase our confidence that this is a critically important issue for us to better understand, particularly as we move toward creating a legal marijuana market in Massachusetts. We need to understand if marijuana is healthy for our kids, who is most susceptible to negative effects, and how we can treat problems among those impacted.

This effort would not be possible without WA's continued support. THANK YOU. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at any point in time if you have any questions or concerns about this project.

With sincerest gratitude,
Randi M. Schuster, PhD
Principal Investigator
Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School

Westford Academy   •   30 Patten Road  •  Westford, MA 01886   •   Tel: (978) 692-5570

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