The University of Maryland is now offering a master’s degree in cannabis that is being billed as the first in the nation. In the...

The University of Maryland is now offering a master’s degree in cannabis that is being billed as the first in the nation. In the two-year program, students will study the basics of medical marijuana, including the clinical uses and adverse effects of cannabis. Course work will also cover public health considerations and state and federal policy and legislation. Students who complete the program will earn the Master of Science (MS) in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from the university’s School of Pharmacy.

“The program blends online instruction with face-to-face experiences to provide students with the knowledge they need to support patients and the medical cannabis industry, add to existing research, and develop well-informed medical cannabis policy,” the university wrote on its website.

Leah Sera, a pharmacist and the director of the program, told NPR that the course of study is designed to help meet the needs of health care professionals and their patients.

“There have been a number of studies, primarily with health professionals, indicating that there is an educational gap related to medical cannabis — that health professionals want more education because patients are coming to them with questions about cannabis and therapeutic uses,” she said.

Preparing Students for an Emerging Industry

The university had originally planned for an initial class of 50 students, but when more than 500 candidates applied, the capacity for the program was tripled. One of the first 150 students, Summer Krieghauser, is working on her second master’s degree and is hoping for a new career in the cannabis industry.

“I didn’t want to quit my really great job and work at a dispensary making $12 to $14 an hour,” she said. “I really wanted a scientific basis for learning the properties of cannabis — all the cannabinoids and how they interact with the body. I wanted to learn about dosing. I wanted to learn about all the ailments and how cannabis is used within a medical treatment plan, and I just wasn’t finding that anywhere,” Krieghauser added.

Staci Gruber is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is leading a medical marijuana research project at McLean Hospital in Boston. She said that more research on cannabis is needed and dismissed criticism of degree programs focused on medical marijuana.

“I know some say, ‘Oh, it’s just a moneymaker for the institution,’ but it’s because people are asking for it,” said Gruber. “People are interested in learning more and knowing more, so [Maryland’s program] underscores the need to have more data.”

When the university announced the creation of the new master’s degree program in June, Sera said in a press release that its graduates will be well-positioned for opportunities in a rapidly growing field.

“Students who complete our program will have an unparalleled competitive advantage when it comes to pursuing or advancing a career in the medical cannabis industry,” Sera said. “These individuals will be well-prepared to support patients and the medical cannabis industry with the knowledge and skills gained from their coursework. They will also be able to add to existing clinical and scientific research on medical cannabis, and will be able to contribute to well-informed policies related to medical cannabis.”

Classes for the current semester’s degree program began on August 28. The University of Maryland is currently accepting applications for the Fall 2020 semester, which are due April 15. The program is open to applicants with a bachelor’s degree who work or wish to work in the medical cannabis industry. Students must be able to travel to the university’s campus outside Washington, D.C. once per semester for required symposia.

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