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Inspiring the next generation of medical cannabis leaders



An American university is aiming to inspire the next generation of experts with the nation’s first pioneering medicinal cannabis masters programme.

At the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, 400 students aged from their 20s to their 70s tuned in virtually to listen to renowned Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam, PhD – also known as no less than the ‘grandfather of cannabis research’.

The audience comes from a wide range of backgrounds, from medicine and science to business, law and patient advocacy. But they all share an interest in shaping the future of medical cannabis.

These students are among the first to enrol on the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics programme, which launched last year and is the first of its kind in the nation.

Over 500 people applied to join the programme last year from across the country, with many more expressing an interest for future courses.

Developed by the dean of the School of Pharmacy, Natalie D. Eddington, it was born in light of a clear lack of understanding and awareness of medical cannabis, particularly among health professionals.

“Over the last several years, a number of studies have been published surveying health professional about their knowledge of medical cannabis and their confidence in educating patients about it,” said Leah Sera, PharmD, associate professor of pharmacy practice and science at the School of Pharmacy and director of the MS program, speaking to Cannabis Health.

“We identified that there was an educational gap, and we thought that we could help fill that gap by developing a graduate level programme at our pharmacy school.”

Dr Sera makes a point of enrolling students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, with the idea that they will go on to further the field of medical cannabis in their own areas of expertise – whether that’s scientific research or informing Government policy.

“Our hope is that by enrolling a very diverse cohort of students and giving them a similar foundation of knowledge about cannabis and its therapeutic uses, they will go back out into the different fields related to medical cannabis and pursue careers in a number of different professional spaces.”

She continued: “About half of our students come from clinical, medical or science backgrounds and may be interested in going back to their own clinical practice or pursuing research into cannabis therapy.

“But we also have public health professionals, attorneys, entrepreneurs, business professionals and patient advocates, who may go on to develop policies related to medical cannabis on the local, state, and perhaps federal level.”

The students don’t handle any cannabis as part of the programme, but instead focus on the chemistry of the plant.

“We don’t teach students how to grow cannabis,” added Dr Sera.

“We’re focusing on the things that as a pharmacy school we feel we are experts in, such as the pharmacology of how dosage forms are designed and the evidence that supports what we know about how cannabis can be used in certain medical conditions.”

The programme’s inaugural John W. Holaday Lecture – the School of Pharmacy’s newest endowed lecture – took place online on Monday 5 October, with Dr Mechoulam, one of the world’s pre-eminent cannabis scientists and recipient of several Israeli and international scientific prizes.

Mechoulam and his research team were the first to isolate and identify several major plant cannabinoids, including THC, the major psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant.

“I am honored to deliver the inaugural John W. Holaday Lecture for the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program,” he said.

“High quality academic programs such as the School of Pharmacy’s MS degree are sorely needed to further the field of cannabis research. I hope my remarks inspired the students to continue down a path of discovery, curiosity, and advocacy.”

Dr Sera said the students – both new to the field and with a background in medical cannabis – had been impacted by Dr Mechoulam’s work and she hoped they would be inspired to follow in his footsteps.

“It was a thrill and honor to have Dr Mechoulam serve as the inaugural speaker for the John W. Holaday Endowed Memorial Lecture,” she commented.

“He is one of the preeminent cannabis scientists in the world and so much of what we know about cannabis goes back to research that he has done in terms of identifying the cannabinoids that the active chemicals in the cannabis plant.”

Dr Mechoulam spoke about some of his early cannabis research, as well as some more recent studies on how different cannabinoids can be used to treat different diseases.

Dr Sera added: “It was wonderful to have him speak to our students about the history and the future of this exciting field.”


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