The University of Vermont's College of Medicine is offering a course on medical marijuana for the spring semester. Officially named "Medical Cannabis, Pharm-372," the course will cover the history of cannabis use, the current legal landscape, how the body responds to the drug and potential medical applications.
Offered by the Department of Pharmacology, Pharm-272 will be offered to a range of undergraduates, graduate students and continuing education students.
Karen Lounsbury is a professor of pharmacology at UVM and one of the course's two professors. She told Vermont Edition that that the medical cannabis course may be the first of its kind.
“There is no course like this. It's a topic we teach about other drugs of abuse, and we teach about other drugs that are used for pain, and used for disorders like inflammation and epilepsy,” Lounsbury explained. “But for some reason there's a taboo on teaching cannabis for its potential medical uses. So we want to change that.”
Vermont legalized medical marijuana in 2004, creating a registry for people with certain illnesses who could qualify to possess and take marijuana as part of their treatment protocol.
Right now, nearly half the states in the country, and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. This is despite the fact that federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.
And it's partly because of that federal classification that there have not been as many studies on the side effects, efficacy and interactions of marijuana and its components as there might be for other prescribed drugs.
"You can't get any federal funding ... in the United States to do clinical trials for medical marijuana. So there really isn't as much knowledge about the topic,” Lounsbury said. “We've been doing a lot of research ourselves in developing the class to try and find out some of those facts, find out what clinical trials we have, find out those that we need.”
To help rectify that knowledge gap, Lounsbury says graduate students in Pharm-272 will also be doing research projects “to develop potential proposals for … new clinical trials for medical marijuana.”
Lounsbury says the lack of access to reliable information on marijuana has drawn the attention of a wide range of students.
Participants in the course, which is almost full, enrolled for a variety of reasons. Some students are using the course as preparation for medical school, or to fulfill an advanced biology or psychology requirement. There are also a few members of the state Legislature participating in the course.
“We have two people who are auditing the course, and one who is taking it as a full-time course,” Lounsbury said.
Lounsbury says since announcing the course, they have heard from researchers from around the country who would like to be involved. The course could also inspire further research at the university on potential uses for medical marijuana.