Julia Montag: Next semester’s courses stay relevant

Sunday, December 9, 2018 - 4:37pm

Julia Montag

Julia Montag Buy this photo
The Michigan Daily

PharmSci 420, a new University of Michigan course beginning Winter 2019, will explore all aspects of the medicinal use of cannabis. Legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan indicates voters are interested in the idea, yet contradictory federal laws limit our ability to explore it academically. The University of Michigan is known for its variety of classes that present experiential learning opportunities, and it maintains the legacy with the new cannabis course that meets student demands and ends the disconnect.

The endocannabinoid system is versatile and ubiquitous. In an interview with The Daily, pharmaceutical sciences professor Gus Rosania explained how THC receptors are involved with stress and sleep, appetite and gastrointestinal function, even pain and inflammation. The endocannabinoid system is also the part of our biology that responds to cannabis, and according to Rosania, it “is just not taught in our curricula because of federal prohibition.”

Rosania began planning the class four years ago; he was encouraged by colleagues and distinguished College of Pharmacy professors Gordon Amidon and James T. Dalton, who is also the College of Pharmacy dean. Most faculty, however, believed the course to be a joke.

“A medicinal cannabis course is as relevant and real as a course gets for our students,” Rosania said. The course will teach the science, concepts and laws that ultimately amounted to cannabis prohibition and legalization, and exists thanks to student input.

Student organizations, such as cannabis club Green Wolverine, played a large role in introducing the College of Pharmacy to the larger interest in and benefits of cannabis. Earlier this semester, the Green Wolverine Science Symposium promoted discussion in the realm of business and politics by hosting a dozen leading experts, including Rosania, to speak at the event. The club exists within the Ross School of Business, and the club’s members are eager to take their well-respected business degrees to the cannabis industry. Undergraduates in the club, Rosania said, “showed me how serious they were about learning and that there was an unmet need that really needed to be addressed.”

A majority of states, Michigan included, have legalized access to cannabis in one form or another, leaving only four states with no public access. In Ann Arbor, legalization has spurred talk about recreational dispensaries in addition to the 24 medicinal ones we already have. Still, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance, meaning our federal government does not justify its use as medicinally valid.

“A lot of what we teach has been mandated by the federal government and centralized accreditation entities,” Rosania said. “Clearly, there is a disconnect.”

The standard curriculum was, in Rosania’s words, “out of touch with reality.”

There are still open seats, and a diverse crowd of University students are already signed up to fill PharmSci 420’s first lecture room. Thus far, half the students are Pharmacy students, as the course is primarily designed to supplement the pharmaceutical sciences undergraduate program. The other half comprises undergraduates studying biochemistry, neuroscience, psychology, botany, engineering, computer science, public health … the list goes on. The only similarity among the enrolled is their interest in cannabis research.

“Our teaching needs to address the needs of our students,” Rosania said. PharmSci 420 does just that.

Other new classes for Winter 2019 meet student demands and keep up with the times, including a psychology course “American Addictions”, American culture course on virtual reality, and Comm 408: “Understanding Self-Control, Media Habits and Media Addiction”. Though not the first school to offer a cannabis course, the University already offers unique classes that keep our curricula relevant and constantly expanding. This past fall, the School of Art & Design created an inspirational and entertaining “Voting is Sexy” campaign for the midterm election, and LSA offered an art history course called “Emoji Worlds” that discussed the trend that changed the communication of emotion. Communications and history courses examined fake news, the School of Education addressed inequalities among the homeless and one course currently investigates cold cases regarding racial crime and injustice in Michigan.

Some may call the course a sign of the times, others may find it controversial. Regardless, the vision Rosania has in mind supersedes that of the federal government.

“My teaching is not paid for by Congress, the Supreme Court or the White House,” Rosania said, explaining that his mission is to address the educational demands of our students, and of the U.S. citizens that live here in Michigan. “I can only hope that it is the beginning of an educational revolution.”

Julia Montag can be reached at jtmon@umich.edu.