Face to Face: Teaching About Medical Cannabis

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The September 23 edition of Virtual Face to Face with President Bruce Jarrell, the regular online discussion program hosted by the President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, examined the country’s first and only graduate degree focused on medical cannabis science and policy.

Panellists came to Jarrell Leah Sera, PharmD, MA, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP) and Director of the Program, and Andrew Coop, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of UMSOP.

Based in the Universities of Shady Grove in Rockville, the two-year, primarily online, program is aimed at anyone who has a bachelor’s degree and is interested in a career in the medical cannabis industry. The first year of 132 students graduated in spring 2021. The third year met for the first time three weeks ago. The class includes 244 students, ages 20 to 73, from the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and Costa Rica.

The Cannabis Sativa plant and its cousins ​​have been used by humans for many purposes throughout recorded history. The seeds were used for oil, the stems for fibers used in fabrics and ropes, and of course the leaves and flowers for relaxing and sometimes spiritual intoxication.

And it is for this reason that cannabis has long been a cause for concern and controversy. Although the plant has been used medicinally for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the modern medical community began to look seriously again at the potential benefits that could result from the hundreds of chemicals found in the plant. At the time, the use and possession of marijuana in the United States was prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Today, 36 states and the District of Columbia allow some medical cannabis use, and the medical cannabis industry is growing incredibly quickly, expected to reach between $ 50 billion and $ 60 billion by the end of the decade.

For example, Missouri opened its first pharmacy less than a year ago and now has 140 pharmacies across the state, with the industry employing 5,000 people there. Last week, Alabama hired its first executive director of the Medical Cannabis Commission and plans to begin growing next year. Here in Maryland, the state registered more than 123,000 certified medical cannabis patients as of late last year. And in August of this year alone, pharmacy sales exceeded $ 45 million.

The reason for such a big business is a big need. Medical cannabis is used to treat chronic pain, relieve nausea during chemotherapy, improve the appetite of people living with HIV / AIDS, soothe severe muscle spasms in MS patients, and much more. Many Americans fit into at least one of these categories. For example, the National Institute of Health estimates that about 40 percent of adults have chronic pain, and about 20 million of these people live with what is known as “high-impact” chronic pain.

Of course, the medical part of medical cannabis isn’t the only complexity in the equation. The laws and regulations surrounding cannabis form a kind of Gordian knot. Although 36 states have legalized medical cannabis and 18 states have legalized all forms of marijuana, the federal government still lists cannabis as a “Schedule I” drug, meaning that it has “currently no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.” That puts marijuana – even medical cannabis – in the same class as LSD and ecstasy. It also means that its sale, possession, or use could result in arrest and imprisonment.

This discrepancy between the growing acceptance of medical cannabis and the legal complications created by recreational cannabis may be due in part to a lack of understanding of the science of medical cannabis and its therapeutic uses. For this reason, UMSOP launched the nation’s first graduate degree in medical cannabis science in 2019. The Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics provides students with the knowledge and skills required to support patients and the medical cannabis industry, complement existing research in the field, and develop sound medical cannabis policy.

Check out the full face-to-face discussion, including questions from the audience, by following the link at the top of this page.