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Accredited US Universities Begin to Offer Cannabis Training

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Recent years have seen budding legal cannabis businesses burgeon into a multibillion dollar industry in the US, which is only projected to continue growing as more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis. Several business and educational sectors have expanded concomitantly to fill in the demand created by the rapid growth. Catering to the demand for increased education, numerous accredited US universities have started to offer courses or seminars related to cannabis, ranging from legal and business aspects to medical applications. 

A brief review of cannabis university training 

The nascent industry is raising challenging policy and legal questions, particularly due to the interplay between the state and federal levels, in addition to the lack of banking and tax infrastructure available for cannabis operations. Among the universities making offerings in the legal department are Vanderbilt UniversityOhio State UniversityOregon State University, and Hofstra University, where erudite learners examine the trials and tribulations of one Cannabis Inc. as it navigates the legal and business landscape. The University of Denver in Colorado, in a state which has had legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, offers a triumvirate of topics, including a business courselegal and policy courses, and a journalism course on reporting on the growing cannabis industry. 

On the medical front are UC Davis of the University of California system, which offers a course on the “Physiology of Cannabis,” and the University of Washington, which offers training modules for continuing medical education (CME), titled “Medicinal Cannabis Education for Clinicians” and “Medicinal Cannabis – Best Practices”. 

Cannabis testing and extraction training

Although undoubtedly important, most universities have opted to focus on the legal and medical aspects of cannabis. One facet of the budding cannabis industry that has not received much attention from courses offered at accredited US institutions is cannabis analytic chemistry. This important and still under-represented area focuses on cannabis testing and extraction with scientific rigor to ensure consumer safety and truthful product labeling. This is of particular relevance to medical marijuana, which is administered to patients that are potentially already weakened by a medical condition who require a high-grade of material containing medically effective cannabinoids free of contaminants such as mold and pesticides

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One school tackling this issue is the University of Vermont, which offers a series of course options aimed at various audiences. Included are a webinar series freely available online, a “Cannabis science and medicine professional certificate” with CME training modules, and a 3-credit course open to both continuing education and graduate students “Pharmacology 200: Cannabis Past, Present, and Future.” The professional certificate, which is described as intended for “for physicians, dispensary personnel, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physician assistants, edible creators, regulators, and budtenders”, covers a broad umbrella of topics, counting “production and safety” of cannabis. In addition, their Pharmacology 200 course also covers “cannabis analytic chemistry.” While only a subtopic rather than an entire course, the University of Vermont is taking steps in a good direction, bringing this important topic to the attention of its students.

Another school undertaking cannabis analytic chemistry is Northern Michigan University in Marquette. This school has adopted a science, evidence-based approach from a botanical perspective in an entire 4-year degree named “Medicinal Plant Chemistry.” The program builds a foundation in chemistry and plant biology in natural products, including from cannabis as well as other plants, and students can specialize in either advanced chemistry and biology (“Bio-analytical Track”) or, one geared towards business (“Entrepreneurial Track”). The program’s advanced courses CH 420 and 421 are offered by the department of chemistry and emphasize the types of natural bioactive compounds, extraction and sample preparation, instrumental analysis, and good laboratory practices (ISO/IEC 17025). Research is also encouraged in the program, culminating in a research seminar. 

It is no coincidence that the program’s analytic courses are offered by Northern Michigan University’s department of chemistry. The techniques covered by CH 420 and 421 are well-known to the profession of analytical chemists, who for decades now, have been employed in the pharmaceutical and food industries. There, they develop and implement robust, validated, and standardized protocols to test pharmaceutical drug and food standards to ensure safety for consumers. 

Dry labbing and other challenges

At present, the practice of dry labbing in the cannabis market, in brief, claiming characteristics without results from a wet analysis in an analytical laboratory. And, poor testing protocols, in general, can lead to mis-marketed and unsafe products. Associations and regulatory bodies are implementing measures to decrease the incidence of dry labbing; however, financial constraints can also limit the accuracy of wet tests that are performed. Consequently, standardized, reliable, and accurate analytical methods are still desperately needed to monitor cannabis safety and labelling claims. 

While the remarkably rapid growth of the legal cannabis industry suggests a growing demand for this new infrastructure, it may have been overlooked that some of this infrastructure is already in place in analytical chemistry laboratories. The cannabis industry doesn’t need to build from the ground up with dedicated “cannabis colleges” or instruments and laboratories. Existing and trained analytical chemists from established and mature industries like food and pharma, can translate and adapt to the cannabis testing field. Likewise, students wishing for a career in the budding field would benefit well from a traditional degree in analytical chemistry. Using their experience and tested scientific methodology, analytical chemists are well placed to devise protocols to meet the demands for more rigorous testing in the cannabis industry, performing roles they have filled in other industries for decades.