The University of Mississippi, commonly known as Ole Miss, will begin offering a masters degree program for medical cannabis research.
According to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, Ole Miss will begin offering the program in late 2024. The online-only program through the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy will focus on the development of medical cannabis products as well as dietary supplements, both of which have experienced an increased pool of users in recent years both in Mississippi and across the country.
Director of online graduate programs in the biomedical sciences department, David Colby, told the Clarion-Ledger that the program will be more focused on students who want to learn about dietary supplements and how they’re made, including but not limited to medical cannabis products.
“The purpose is to provide advanced training for people who are seeking employment or want to advance their current jobs in dietary supplements, which could be herbal products or medical cannabis,” Colby said to the Clarion-Ledger. “We’re more focused on providing the skills for people to be successful in the industry.”
Ole Miss has actually been involved in cannabis research since the 1960’s. According to the school’s website, Ole Miss first built a cannabis grow facility for research purposes in 1968. By 1976 the university was growing over 100 varieties of cannabis and they are known today as one of the leading American universities when it comes to cannabis research.
“We’re a national leader in dietary supplements and medical cannabis,” Colby said. “And now we’re going to fully build a curriculum across our university to serve our students.”
The new program will be separate from the already-established Ole Miss growing facilities and is intended for people who may already be in the medical cannabis or dietary supplement industry as well as newcomers to either field. It focuses more on the design aspect of these products than the consumption or use of them, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Colby told the Clarion-Ledger that he expects the new program will have a large presence of people who are employed in lower level positions in the developing medical cannabis industry or in the long-established yet ever-evolving dietary supplement market who are looking to find a leg up on the competition or acquire technical skills that may lead to career advancement.
“Since it’s entirely online, we do expect that we will have students that are partially or fully employed, particularly maybe even already fully employed in the industry, but they want to move ahead. So perhaps they’re operating in an entry-level position and they want to move into something with regulatory affairs or something with formulation and manufacturing, or look at more analytical chemistry or [research and development],” Colby said. “They will be able to do that with this degree.”
The program is split into two parts: with one year of study dedicated to learning about dietary supplements and the second year dedicated to medical cannabis. According to the Clarion Ledger, each part of the program has five required courses and is 30 credit hours in total.
The respective legs of the program will each cover history, pharmacology and toxicology of medical cannabis and dietary supplements, but the cannabis portion of the program looks at the additional factors of policy and law, formulation and manufacturing, chemistry and standardization, and plant genomics.
Ole Miss Professor Hayley Prescot, who serves an instructional assistant professor of biomolecular sciences and will be teaching part of the dietary supplements section of the new program, told the Clarion Ledger that these steps toward educating people who work in these fields will hopefully result in a greater understanding of these products from the people who buy them.
“I think by educating the workforce, it will eventually lead to a more informed consumer,” Prescott said, also indicating that her “hope was to be able to answer the ‘why’s’ around a lot of herbal medicine.”
Ole Miss told the Clarion Ledger they are awaiting full accreditation for the new program which they expect to come later this year. The first courses of the new program are currently slated to begin in the Fall semester of 2024.
Mississippi launched their medical cannabis program in January of this year and the market size has increased month over month since, with $4.4 million in medical cannabis products sold in July alone, according to MjBiz Daily. As of August 23, Mississippi cannabis retailers had sold $15.7 million worth of medical cannabis products.