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Westford Academy To Host Study On How Marijuana Impacts Learning

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What impact does marijuana have on the learning capacity of high school students? It appears that is a question science does not yet fully know, but Westford may provide the answer.

Doctors Anne Eden Evins and Randi Schuster from Massachusetts General Hospital came before the School Committee on Monday night requesting permission to begin a study at Westford Academy looking into how marijuana use impacts cognitive ability

Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli (left) next to the two doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital
Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli (left) next to the two doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital

They received unanimous approval from the committee, contingent upon provisions by the town’s legal counsel.

The study will include 50 non-smoking students and 100 smoking students who are weaned off marijuana to determine whether a change in habits will increase their cognitive capacity.

Approximately 40 to 80 of the students will be needed to finish the study, with students in the study receiving up to $600 in vouchers for things like iTunes or Chipotle to refrain from smoking marijuana for a month coming from three grants already given by Harvard University.

According to the pair of Doctors, who work with the daughter of Stony Brook School Guidance Counselor Sue Hanly, the hypothesis of the study is that marijuana use by students can have an impact on scholastic ability days, if not weeks later.

The pair came to Westford due in part to Hanly as well as Westford’s reputation for having a large number of ambitious students looking toward the future, which they believe would play a role in stopping casual smoking if it was proven that marijuana could harm aptitude.

This study would be the first one of its kind in Massachusetts, although the doctors are hoping the study could serve as a template to pursue larger studies in grants they are currently seeking.

Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli told the committee that after a significant amount of questions he posed to the doctors, he is in full support of the idea due to his opposition toward marijuana use and the possibility that the study could provide evidence that marijuana is harmful.

“This is a chance for Westford to step up to the plate with a study that other communities can emulate,” he said.

The doctors told the board that today’s marijuana is 20 times more potent than that found in the 1970s, but that policies are slowly being made to legalize marijuana due to the lack of scientific data pointing out the health risks of smoking.

“Public opinion is that at worst, this is a harmless herb and at best this is a medicine to treat problems,” said Evins. “In fact, we believe this is making things worse. We want to understand the science as well as the impetus.”

This process will begin early in the next school year with an opt-out form for any parents who do not want their children to participate in the study. The children of any parents who do not sign the form will be given a two to five minute anonymous questionnaire in the first part of the study.

From that pool, the 150 students will be chosen with voluntary consent by the students and parents.