Growing Interest In Medical Cannabis Masters Course At UMB
February 17, 2021 in General News
The first term of the Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program at the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMB) began in September, 2019 with 150 students. The 2-year program is part of the curriculum at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. It has experienced substantial growth in the past 18 months. In this article, I will provide details about the program, explain how it started, discuss their plans to expand the program, and spotlight two of the students in the current program.
MS in Medical Cannabis Science Program
The program was designed to accommodate students with or without a background in science or medicine. The goal is to give students the expertise they need to support patients and the medical cannabis industry, contribute to existing research, and create well-informed medical cannabis policies. It combines online learning with face-to-face interactions with cannabis industry experts. It is located at Shady Grove in Rockville, MD. Here is a link to the website.
How The Program Began
Natalie Eddington, dean of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, was instrumental in getting the program up and running. She first became interested in the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids after reading a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on cannabis medicine. It focused on the use of medical cannabis to manage pain and to treat the side effects of chemotherapy and other health conditions.
Eddington’s further research revealed that fewer than 10% of medical schools in the US offered cannabis courses. She recognized the importance of providing training for medical, nursing, and pharmacy students on treating patients with cannabis. As a result, the dean presented a proposal for a program that focused on cannabis science and policy as well as on patient care. Approval for the program was required from the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Office of the Maryland Attorney General.
The expected enrollment for the program which began in September 2019 was 50 students. The response to the program was overwhelmingly positive as over 500 students applied from across the US, Hong Kong, and Australia. 150 students were accepted into the program; nearly 70% are women and their ages range from 23-73.
Applicants are required to have a Bachelor’s Degree and they must either already work in the cannabis industry or demonstrate an occupational interest in entering it. 75% of the incoming students had no prior experience in the cannabis industry.
There was an increase in enrollment for the 2020-22 program to 250 students. Pharmacist Leah Sera, program administrator, and course manager views the increase in applications and enrollment numbers as an indication that the program is meeting an academic need.
Due to the pandemic, courses are held entirely online on the learning platform, Blackboard. Faculty prerecords lectures and students interact with one another in online discussions and group projects. Independent writing assignments are also included in the curriculum. Students are not required to log in at any specific time. The program was designed to appeal to those from different backgrounds, not just those with science or medical degrees. Dean Eddington selected the elective courses to meet the different career goals of the students.
On top of their online classwork, students are required to attend a biannual symposium at the Rockville campus. This year it was held virtually due to the pandemic. The silver lining of the situation was that organizers took advantage of the opportunity by inviting speakers who might not be able to appear in person. Case in point was the appearance of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, “Father of Cannabis Research,” who is based in Israel.
The program managers have received very positive responses from academics and cannabis industry participants that the establishment of the program has validated cannabis as a medical treatment.
Dean Eddington is looking at a future where cannabis is federally legal, allowing for the expansion of topics they are currently unable to offer. At the moment, no courses are available where students can touch the plants such as cannabis cultivation. A plant genomics course is offered, but due to federal law, the use of live plants is not permitted.
Course manager Sera is confident that cannabis reform laws will be passed in the not too distant future. This will allow the school to expand its curriculum and to create research and internship opportunities. She thinks it is just a matter of when, rather than if it happens.
One of the students in the program is Catrena Almonte, an Army National Guard Chaplain. Her job involved counseling soldiers with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injuries. Her frustration with her inability to help them led her to look for alternative treatment options. Her research brought her to some very positive studies on medical cannabis as a treatment option for those conditions. She wanted to learn more, so she applied and was accepted into the program.
Almonte’s group project team is designing medical cannabis educational materials for physicians all over the world. They were able to find solutions for identifiable, real-life inconsistencies in the cannabis industry. After graduation, she plans to continue her education at UMB by pursuing her Ph.D. in neuroscience, with a focus on cannabinoids. Her ultimate career goal is to provide advocacy support for active duty and military veterans.
She credits networking with other students and as she puts it “rubbing shoulders” with cannabis industry experts with giving her the confidence to take her cannabis education to the next level.
Second-year student, Jacquie Cohen Roth, owned a medical publishing company prior to entering the program. She founded CannabizMD.com, a consultancy company, in 2017. As an Annapolis-area resident, her mission is to educate, build, engage, and grow an ecosystem that supports Maryland’s fledgling medical cannabis industry. This includes cannabis operators, healthcare providers, regulators, researchers, scientists, policy influencers, and ancillary service providers. She has found the scientific knowledge she has learned through the program to be invaluable in helping her keep up with industry experts.
Maryland University of Integrative Health Cannabis Science Graduate Program
The second graduate-level program in cannabis science began in September 2020 at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. Here is the link to the article I wrote about the program.
washingtonpost.com, Medical Cannabis Master’s Program at University of Maryland Sees Growth Since Launch, Tracy Mitchell Griggs, Dec. 18, 2020
pharmacy.umaryland.edu/academics, MS Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics Course Descriptions