A pot research bonanza


Massachusetts, despite its Puritan “blue laws” past, showed more of its blue state liberal leanings through a 2016 ballot question that made it one of 10 states to legalize recreational marijuana. Now, given its status as a world center of biomedical research, it seems only fitting for the state to also become a mecca of research on marijuana’s health effects.

That research effort got a significant boost with the announcement that a wealthy graduate of Harvard and MIT is donating $9 million to be shared by Harvard Medical School and MIT for research studies on marijuana’s effects on the brain and behavior.

“The lack of basic science research enables people to make claims in a vacuum that are either anecdotal or based on old science,” Charles R. “Bob” Broderick, the donor, told the Globe. “For generations we haven’t been able to study this thing for various sorts of societal reasons. That should end now, as well as the prohibitions that are falling around the world.”

It’s believed to be the largest private gift ever made to support marijuana research.

Broderick is hardly a neutral observer driven by a pure quest to expand scientific knowledge. As he told WBUR, he has made tens of millions of dollars investing in the legal marijuana industry in Canada.

But both universities say Broderick will have no say over the research projects carried out with his donation, and they vow to publish findings from studies, whether they point to benefits, harms, or no effect of pot.

The strong interest now in research on marijuana underscores an important — and sometimes overlooked — point in the era of sudden embrace of legalized pot: We still know very little about the range of marijuana’s potential health effects.

A recent book by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson sounded the alarm over marijuana’s dangers. Berenson, who spoke earlier this year to CommonWealth about his book, says the rush to legalization has ignored evidence linking marijuana use to schizophrenia.

Berenson highlights the findings of a 2017 report by a national panel of research experts in making his claim. But the evidence — and the report issued by the scientists — is a lot murkier than he would have readers believe.

While pot use is strongly linked to schizophrenia, researchers say it’s unclear whether it causes mental illness or is simply more heavily used by those suffering from the condition.

“The relationship between cannabis use and cannabis use disorder, and psychoses may be multidirectional and complex,” says the 2017 report, making it hard “to determine causality and/or directionality in associations between substance use and mental health outcomes. This is a complex issue, one that certainly warrants further investigation.”

That’s just one of the questions Boston area researchers hope to explore with the new funding.

The uncertainty over the interaction of marijuana and schizophrenia is compounded by the suggestion in some studies that marijuana may enhance cognitive performance in some people suffering from the illness, while other research raises questions about a role of cannabis in causing the onset of the disease, particularly in younger users.

One question to explore, MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli tells WBUR, is “whether there’s a sweet spot” in terms of the mix of cannabis constituents that confers benefits, but not harm, with regard to schizophrenia.

For now, unlike cigarettes or alcohol, whose effects have been widely studied, pot products bought at Massachusetts outlets come with a label warning that reads, “There is limited information on the side effects of using this product, and there may be associated health risks,” illustrating just how much remains to be learned.



The former head of the state environmental police, fired last year over allegations of ticket fixing, says he was booted because he flagged misconduct in the agency and plans to file a whistle-blower lawsuit. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts unions urge state lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow them to charge non-members for handling grievances and arbitrations. The bill was crafted after the US Supreme Court held in its so-called Janus ruling that unions could not require non-members to pay union fees. (State House News)

Former Senate president Stan Rosenberg, who grew up in foster care, pens an op-ed decrying instability in the state’s foster care system and calling on state government to do better by these kids. (Boston Globe) A Globe editorial says the Baker administration has more work to do to fix the beleaguered Department of Children and Families.

The rollout of the state’s new law mandating paid family leave is coming with some hitches. (Boston Globe)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito speaks to Franklin High School students about the dangers of sexting and a bill she is backing to update laws dealing with the practice. (Milford Daily News)


Wellfleet has agreed to buy a beach and tidal flats for $2 million currently owned by shell fishermen. (Cape Cod Times)


Attorney General William Barr, who is scheduled to testify this morning on Capitol Hill, is facing criticism after reports that Robert Mueller complained to him that his four-page summary of the special counsel’s report “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the special counsel’s findings. (Washington Post)

Since his diagnosis with ALS three years ago, Ady Barkan, a 35-year-old lawyer from California, has become one of the foremost voices from the left pushing for greater access to health care. (WBUR)


In an interview with Boston Public Radio, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg suggests the US Supreme Court should be expanded to 15 members with five of them nominated by the other 10, and he spoke favorably about a wealth tax. (WGBH) At an event later in the day in Somerville, Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran, called for stronger gun control laws. (Boston Herald)

Peter Lucas compares the presidential candidacy of Congressman Seth Moulton to John Kerry’s 2004 White House bid. (Lowell Sun)


PayByCar of Boston launches a system to pay for gasoline using your vehicle’s EZ-Pass transponder. (Telegram & Gazette)

T-Mobile has filed a lawsuit against the town of Barnstable in U.S. District Court in Boston less than a month after the communications company was denied approval to install and operate six cell antennas in the South Congregational Church on Main Street. (Cape Cod Times)


A large group of education activists say the search for a Boston schools superintendent didn’t measure up in terms of community engagement. (CommonWealth) Support appears to be coalescing behind one of the three finalists, Brenda Cassellius, the former state education commissioner in Minnesota. (Boston Globe) Joyce Ferriabough-Bolling says it’s time to return to an elected school committee in Boston. (Boston Herald)

Hampshire College lays off 24 staffers and cuts the budget for faculty, meaning many teachers will become part-timers or have to take a leave of absence. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Clive McFarlane doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Worcester Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda’s ability to address the concerns of minority students.

Seventy-five percent of the Weymouth residents who voted in a special election Tuesday approved a debt-exclusion override to pay for the town’s share of the cost of the new middle school to house students in sixth through eighth grades. (Patriot Ledger)

About 200 students at Andover High School staged a walkout to protest the dismissal of hockey coach Chris Kuchar who was let go by school administrators over what Kuchar called “petty politics.” In 2016, Superintendent Sheldon Berman asked for Kuchar to be fired over the treatment of Berman’s son, a hockey player, but the decision to dismiss Berman this spring was made by others. (Eagle-Tribune)


A spokeswoman for receiver KCP Advisory Group told The Standard-Times on Tuesday that nursing homes Bedford Gardens and Rockdale Care in New Bedford could have a target closure date of this Friday. The homes are owned by Skyline Healthcare.


Castle Rock starts filming season two in Orange. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial suggests the best way to save the Berkshire Carousel, currently located in Pittsfield, may be to give it to North Adams.


The Massachusetts Gaming Commission slapped Wynn Resorts with a $35 million fine and required CEO Matt Maddox to pay $500,000 and take on an executive coach if the firm wants to open its Everett casino in June. Some commissioners felt Maddox should be declared unsuitable, but ultimately the group felt his problems were due to a lack of competency rather than suitability issues of honesty, integrity, and good character. (CommonWealth)

Saugus, which prohibits pot shops, sued the Lynn City Council for greenlighting a marijuana retail store on the Saugus-Lynn line. (Daily Item)


At WGBH, Harvey Silverglate argues that Judge Shelley Joseph committed no crime and predicts the case against her and former court officer Wesley MacGregor will be dismissed.


ESPN will no longer publish its print magazine. “Our data shows the vast majority of readers already consume our print journalism on other platforms,” the company said.