Pubdate: Sun, 13 Dec 2015
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press


BURLINGTON (AP) - As more states allow for the use of medical 
marijuana, the University of Vermont is offering a course in the 
science of the drug - and the professors say they are challenged by a 
lack of research on what has long been a taboo topic.

Other institutions have offered classes in marijuana law and policy, 
but the university's medical school is likely the country's first to 
offer a full course on medical cannabis, according to the Association 
of American Medical Colleges. Other medical schools have touched on the topic.

"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."

Twenty three-states, including Vermont, allow the use of medical 
cannabis for a range of conditions or symptoms from glaucoma to HIV 
and cancer, although the drug is still illegal under federal law.

The Massachusetts Medical Society, an accredited institution, is 
offering online medical marijuana courses including one on 
pharmacology, but it's also limited because of the lack of research 
on the topic.

Medical cannabis is clearly a hot topic. Nearly 90 graduate and 
undergraduate students have signed up for the Vermont class, which is 
to start in the spring, forcing the professors to expand the 
classroom twice. The class is also open to the general public, 
allowing members of the Legislature, or those in law enforcement or 
medicine, to attend. Advertisement

Alice Peng, a pharmacology graduate student who plans to go medical 
school, signed up because she's interested in the potential for 
marijuana to treat pain.

"I also do work in the cancer center in the hospital, and so I see a 
lot of cancer patients, and I would be really interested in seeing 
how it would help their chronic pain," she said.

But the professors say they are hampered by a lack of access to 
high-quality research.

"There's so much information out there that's just hearsay," said 
Vermont pharmacology professor Karen Lounsbury.

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.

Dostmann, whose expertise is in pharmacokinetics, or how a drug works 
in the body, and Lounsbury, who focuses on the body's physiological 
and biological response to a drug, will teach some of the course.

Students will also benefit from what's happening with marijuana in Vermont.

A university research affiliate and head of a Vermont medical 
marijuana dispensary will discuss the plant's biology. An associate 
business professor who is part of a Vermont think tank working to 
develop technology to research uses of medical marijuana products 
will talk about economic impacts.

Students may also visit the Legislature, which is expected to discuss 
legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Books exist on the science of marijuana, but they also cover topics 
like how to clean pipes or cook with the plant, not what the 
university wants to teach students. So Lounsbury and Dostmann plan to 
write their own textbook for future studies.

And if the class attracts stoners, the professors hope it will 
motivate them to study pharmacology. Above all, they hope they can 
raise awareness about a potentially useful drug.

"Without having enough clinical trials," Lounsbury said, "we won't 
really know whether this is applicable or whether it is a snake oil."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom