All-Encompassing Degree Program Highlights University’s Cannabis Expertise

Dr. Brooke Worster talks about new offerings which bring cross-disciplinary experts, students and professionals together in an evolving field.

When the University first launched graduate certificates in cannabis studies back in 2017, it was the first institution to do so. That trailblazing trend now continues as the Institute of Emerging Health Professions (IEHP) and the Jefferson College of Health Professions recently announced plans to offer an innovative Master’s in Medical Cannabis Science and Business degree.

Starting in the 2021-22 academic year, the degree program will encompass a trio of stackable graduate certificates in the following areas: cannabis medicine, cannabis science and cannabis business.

This provides a natural path for someone already working within a health profession, but wants more of a background in cannabis, or those interested in pursuing careers on the business or scientific research sides.

Dr. Brooke Worster

Dr. Brooke Worster

Dr. Laura Pontiggia, IEHP’s director of academic programs, notes that faculty includes many world-renowned cannabis experts and highlights Jefferson’s standing as one of just seven education providers for the commonwealth’s Department of Health training program.

Among those experts is Dr. Brooke Worster, the program’s director and an associate professor, who notes that the Jefferson program is the only one which brings those three aforementioned areas of study under one specific degree umbrella.

Dr. Worster recently spoke about the unique nature of the program, as well as its inherent opportunities for students to conduct research in an emerging field and for a variety of professionals to expand their knowledge base.

How is this program different from other MS cannabis degrees?

Ours is different because of the collaborations with the School of Business (MBA), as well as with external sites to Jefferson on the business, toxicology and laboratory studies sides. With Sidney Kimmel Medical College and the College of Nursing involved, we offer a broad scope of the entire cannabis industry. The other programs are more focused on science, medical, or laboratory pre-clinical trials, as opposed to the entire sphere which we cover.

What are the student research opportunities?

There are abundant opportunities. The master’s research capstone enables students to put a unique, personalized spin on the areas on which they want to focus. They also have mentors to guide them through the process at Jefferson.

As the new program director of the MS degree, what are you most excited about?

I am really excited about this opportunity for students in a rapidly expanding field. As we’ve seen this program grow and morph into what it has become, we offer a broad swath of educational opportunities that students and professionals can come in and get meaningful collaborative education out of their time.

It helps us understand what participants and patients want. It takes us outside the ‘medical bubble’ we live in.
–Dr. Brooke Worster

There are not many programs in the country, in any field of study, where you could see people from law enforcement, government officials, nursing students, post-doctoral students and others come together. All are really interested in tackling the equations put before them from their individual lenses. It offers a unique perspective on so many different levels.

As one of the first universities conducting medical marijuana research in the state, how are the current studies doing?

They are going really great. I am thrilled that we have the ability to collaborate with the industry in a unique way, and one that is different from what happens in other states across the country. Pennsylvania created legislation which allows academic medical centers to partner with medically integrated dispensing groups to run clinical trials with dispensaries. We couldn‘t have done anything on campus because of the federal trappings.

We are able to gain insights into what’s feasible from clinical trial personnel. It helps us understand what participants and patients want. It takes us outside the “medical bubble” we live in.

We have really successfully begun to see the effects of different cannabis products that go to the market. From synthetic options to the FDA approved, very limited strain from the University of Mississippi, we see research in the real world. It’s messy, but it’s very cool.

What other exciting cannabis initiatives at Jefferson are you looking forward to?

The two big buckets here are further collaborative research options and further educational options.

As we lay the pathway for social, interprofessional work, it allows us to really look at the process from very particular angles for research.
–Dr. Brooke Worster

We are also creating a course for the undergraduate student population. That will start allowing undergrads to explore the socio-political background to cannabis: what has happened so far and how that has been shaped within society. That is also starting in the fall, in synchronous and asynchronous settings, once a week. A lot of it will be debates, pro and con, as well as an overview. This will be more from the sociology perspective, not medical perspective.

As we lay the pathway for social, interprofessional work, it allows us to really look at the process from very particular angles for research.

From law enforcement and social justice perspectives, we can look into the impact of cannabis decriminalization on arrests, on people’s ability to expunge their records and get employment, and explore the relationship to rates of incarceration or recidivism, especially in BIPOC populations traditionally heavily impacted by this.

All of this is in its infancy, and we have the structure in place to do it with partnerships, but this is an important first step.

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