Popular Vermont College Course on Medical Marijuana Faces Challenges

Popular Vermont College Course on Medical Marijuana Faces Challenges

The University of Vermont is offering a course on medical marijuana, but professors say they are struggling to teach on the subject, citing a lack of science on the drug. [1]

The school is not the first to offer classes on medical marijuana law and policy, but Vermont’s is likely the first one to offer a full course on the topic, the Association of American Medical Colleges and Universities says.

“What we’re trying to do with this course is to sort of demystify this whole subject matter, to try to treat this like any other drug, like alcohol or amphetamines or opioids,” said Vermont pharmacology professor Wolfgang Dostmann. “Just demystify the whole thing and say what it is, what is going on with it, how does it work.”

Vermont is one of 23 states where medical marijuana is legal for conditions like glaucoma, HIV and cancer, although pot is still illegal under federal law.

Students of the Massachusetts Medical Society, an accredited institution, have the option of taking medical marijuana courses, including one on pharmacology, but the classes are limited by a lack of research on the subject.

It’s hard for professors – especially those who teach about medical marijuana – to provide accurate information to students, said Monique McHenry, a member of the Phytoscience Institute, when marijuana clearly offers profound symptom relief. But scientists don’t know which elements of the drug, or what amounts of it, work best for patients.

“Is it the percentage that you find in weight? Or is the amount of THC in relation to other cannabinoids, such as [cannabidiol]? Or does it involve other plant compounds, like terpenes? And we’re just not really sure of those answers right now,” McHenry said.

“Patients [of the dispensary] have reported to us that, with access to high-grade medical marijuana, they’ve eliminated the need for opioids as part of their pain regimen. This was fascinating to us. I hadn’t seen much in the literature on this, so we’ve started doing clinical trials to see which strains of marijuana help people get off opioids,” Dr. Kalev Freeman, an emergency room doctor at the University of Vermont Medical Center and member of the Phytoscience Institute, said.

This is a perfect example of professors lacking important data, as a study published last month suggested that high-grade marijuana could damage the corpus callosum – the white matter that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain and carry signals from one side to the other.

So far, nearly 90 graduate and undergraduate students have signed up for the Vermont class, which will begin in the spring. Professors have had to expand the classroom twice. The general public is also welcome to take the class, including members of the Legislature, as well as law enforcement officials and those in medicine. [2]

The course will cover cannabis taxonomy; medical chemistry of cannabinoids, the chemicals found in marijuana; physiological effects of the drug; emerging therapeutic applications; and the historical, political, and socioeconomic influences on marijuana legislation.

Students will also learn about what’s happening with medical marijuana in that state.


[1] Associated Press

[2] Vermont Public Radio