Think big, Weed do

URI offers a Cannabis Studies minor for students. PHOTO CREDIT:

A growing interest in cannabis studies has led the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy to include a minor field of studies in Cannabis. 

Stephanie Forschner-Dancause, professor of biomedical pharmaceutical sciences, helps coordinate the Cannabis Studies Program offered on campus. 

According to Forschner-Dancause, the program started out as a certificate program only offered to non-URI students looking to pursue cannabis studies. However, students receiving a URI degree expressed interest in these classes as well. 

The certificate program launched in the summer of 2020, said Forschner-Dancause, ever since,  the demand increased for cannabis studies classes for URI undergraduate students. As a result, the minor began, being offered as the fall 2022 semester.

In the program, students learn how to analyze cannabis-related products and become experts in medicinal plants and natural product development, according to the URI Cannabis Studies website

The minor is open to all URI students. 

Bayleigh Piorek, a third-year psychology major, has taken up the Cannabis Studies minor. 

 “I think it is an expanding field with a lot of job opportunities in the industry,” Piorek said. “I hope to use this minor as a tool when practicing psychology, as I would like to eventually get a degree in psychiatry, where I may be able to get a license to prescribe medical cannabis as well as other more traditional medications.”

Forschner-Dancause said the classes focus on both the medicinal and recreational sides of the plant. She explained that THC and CBD are the most studied chemical compounds found in the plant in their classes.

“There’s a lot of evidence in pain that it can help with chronic pain,” Forschner-Dancause said. 

According to her, the drug has been found to help with pain from something like multiple sclerosis or to help soothe anxiety, PTSD or even symptoms of seizures. 

“We actually have FDA-approved drugs, so we have pharmaceutical drugs that are based on the cannabinoids that are used in the treatment of nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy,” Forschner-Dancause said. 

She explained that, in the medical field, cannabis has been studied in many different ways and FDA-approval in using part of chemicals from the plant helps to understand the plant’s medicinal exponents.

One drug that has been approved is called Epidiolax, which is derived from the marijuana plants and used to treat seizures, said Forschner-Dancause. At this time, CBD is FDA-approved, and that is why bottles of CBD are now sold in stores, explained Forschner-Dancause. 

Another drug that is derived from the cannabis plant is Marinol, according to Piorek.

“Marinol is used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with HIV and chemotherapy,” she said. 

Piorek mentioned that there are endocannabinoids present throughout our bodies, which help to maintain homeostasis and have various activities in our immune systems. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers that help cannabis receptors in the body process to the nervous system. 

“The most interesting thing that I have learned about so far is that cannabis may help with a multitude of different disorders such as PTSD, neurodegenerative disorders, HIV/cancer-related weight loss, chronic pain, among many others,” Piorek said. “There are endless possibilities for this drug to expand upon in the medical field.”