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November 15, 2019

Maryland offers nation's first master's in medical cannabis

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    Amid shifting attitudes and laws toward medical marijuana, University of Maryland has launched a Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program, the first graduate program of its kind in the nation, Martin Austermuhle reports for NPR's "Shots."

    New resource guide: Medical marijuana in the health system

    The two-year program, which is mostly conducted online, has four required courses and two science classes. Students can then choose from electives for the remainder of their courses.

    The inaugural class was originally supposed to be a class of 50, but the university increased the size of the class to 150 after receiving applications from more than 500 potential students. The class has students from 32 states and the District of Columbia, as well as international students from Australia and Hong Kong.

    Will this be a trend?

    The move comes as more jurisdictions legalize medical marijuana. So far, almost three dozen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the practice, and that number is expected to grow, according to Austermuhle.

    However, even as attitudes toward medical marijuana use change and more patients seek out the drug as an alternative treatment for various conditions, knowledge of medical marijuana is still "largely informal," Austermuhle said. That's in part because the drug is illegal at the federal level and in some states, which has limited research on the subject.

    "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," said Leah Sera, a pharmacist and director of the program at University of Maryland.

    According to Austermuhle, some universities offer individual classes on marijuana and at least two colleges have established undergraduate degrees in medicinal plant chemistry, but University of Maryland is the first to offer a master's in medical cannabis. 

    Staci Gruber—an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who is leading a research project on medical marijuana at McLean Hospital—said the popularity of University of Maryland's program proves that more research on medical marijuana is needed.

    "I know some say, 'Oh, it's just a moneymaker for the institution,' but it's because people are asking for it. People are interested in learning more and knowing more," she said (Austermuhle, "Shots," NPR, 11/9).

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