Ole Miss joins the ranks of pioneering universities like the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, which in 2019 pioneered the first master's degree in medical cannabis science and therapeutics.

In the heart of Mississippi, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is making waves in the evolving landscape of cannabis education.

The institution, with a history rooted in medical marijuana research since the 1960s, is poised to expand its legacy by introducing a groundbreaking master's program dedicated to medical cannabis and dietary supplements.

Scheduled to launch in the autumn of 2024, this innovative two-year online program, housed within the University of Mississippi's School of Pharmacy, reflects the growing importance of these industries in the United States.

As the legalization of marijuana gains traction across states, educational institutions are recognizing the need to provide comprehensive curriculums that cater to the burgeoning cannabis sector.

Ole Miss joins the ranks of pioneering universities like the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, which in 2019 pioneered the first master's degree in medical cannabis science and therapeutics.

The movement is widespread, with numerous community colleges and universities across multiple states now offering degrees and classes in the field, anticipating a surge in demand for skilled professionals.

David Colby, the director of online graduate programs in the biomedical sciences department at Ole Miss, emphasizes the uniqueness of their program's mission.

"The purpose is to provide advanced training for individuals pursuing employment or looking to advance their careers in dietary supplements, including herbal products or medical cannabis," he explains.

The program is tailored for both industry newcomers and professionals aiming to progress within their roles.

Unlike similar programs nationwide, the Ole Miss initiative distinguishes itself by concentrating on equipping students with the skills to design products rather than focusing solely on the usage of cannabis products.

Colby clarifies, "We're more focused on providing the skills for people to be successful in the industry," highlighting the university's national leadership in dietary supplements and medical cannabis.

The online master's program, designed for partially or fully employed individuals in the industry, aims to cater to those looking to ascend in their careers. Colby envisions students transitioning from entry-level positions to roles in regulatory affairs, formulation, and manufacturing, analytical chemistry, or research and development.

The curriculum is split into two parts, with the first year dedicated to dietary supplements and the second year delving into medical marijuana.

Each leg comprises five courses covering general history, pharmacy, toxicology, policy and law, formulation and manufacturing, chemistry and standardization, pharmacy and toxicology, and plant genomics.

Expected to receive full accreditation by the end of the semester, the program has already garnered approval from the Institution of Higher Learning.

Hayley Prescott, instructional assistant professor of biomolecular sciences, anticipates the program laying a solid foundation for a more knowledgeable workforce. "We're hoping to educate the people who are already in the industry or those that want to enter into the industry," she states.

Prescott's emphasis on separating fact from fiction about dietary and herbal supplements aligns with the program's mission to foster critical thinking and create informed consumers.

This educational initiative comes at a time when interest in alternative and complementary medicines, including marijuana, has surged, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mississippi's passage of the Medical Cannabis Act in 2022 has heightened interest in the program on the Ole Miss campus, reflecting a broader national trend.

Colby notes a significant increase in enrollment whenever the pharmacy school offers courses on medical marijuana, citing a growing curiosity and acceptance of cannabis-related studies.

A Gallup survey indicates a substantial uptick in marijuana use across the country, with 50% of Americans reporting having tried it at some point.

About 17% of respondents currently use cannabis, nearly double the percentage since 2013. Colby views the master's degree as the initial step in a comprehensive curriculum, with plans for additional programs centered around natural products and medical cannabis.

Ole Miss stands as a trailblazer in cannabis education, contributing to a nationwide effort to meet the demands of the expanding cannabis industry.

Other institutions, like the University of Arizona, Northern Michigan University, City College of San Francisco, Cal Poly Humboldt, and Colorado State University at Pueblo, are also actively shaping programs to prepare a workforce for the evolving cannabis landscape.

As the cannabis industry grows, educational institutions ensure professionals have the knowledge and skills to thrive in this dynamic field.

Ole Miss's forward-thinking approach positions it as a leader in this academic frontier, poised to impact the future of cannabis-related studies and industries.