Graduate program to capitalize on UM expertise
The University of Mississippi has created a new online graduate program focusing on medical cannabis and dietary supplements, leaning on the university’s long-standing reputation for expertise in both fields.
The new degree program builds on the expertise and research excellence found in the National Center for Natural Products Research and National Center for Cannabis Research and Education, both housed in the School of Pharmacy.
“Our goal is to create one of the best programs, if not the best, to serve the industry, and it really builds off our strengths,” said David Colby, the program’s organizer and a professor in the school’s Department of BioMolecular Sciences.
Organizers of the new Master of Science in Dietary Supplements and Medical Cannabis program, housed in the pharmacy school, expect to receive full accreditation in November or December. Officials plan to accept students into the program following accreditation.
Whether students aspire to influence government regulations, advance research, lead product innovation or excel in the dietary supplement or medical cannabis sectors, the new program will equip students with a multidisciplinary foundation for a successful career.
“With these industries growing in our state and our country, this program is designed to ensure the workforce is well-trained and has the knowledge and skills to be effective and contribute to these industries,” said Donna Strum, dean of the School of Pharmacy.
“This new online program promises to open up a world of opportunities for those looking to advance their careers in these industries.”
The internationally renowned National Center for Natural Products Research primarily serves the dietary supplements industry, while the National Center for Cannabis Research and Education, created in 2021, is built on the back of the National Institute on Drug Abuse cannabis program that has been at the school since the 1960s.
As Mississippi has recently joined the growing list of states legalizing medical cannabis, the university will contribute to the highly regulated medical cannabis industry. This encompasses dispensaries, growers, researchers and product developers by providing a thorough education.
The dietary supplements industry is also booming as consumers seek out products promoting well-being and the support of overall health.
No other institutions in the state offer such a program and only a handful exist nationwide, though Colby said even those are operating in a different space educationally.
“They’re mostly focused on training pharmacists and health care professionals how to manage patients on medical cannabis and how to help train patients who want to know about therapeutics,” he said. “We want to train them in the chemistry, the biology, and the toxicology.
“We’ll be teaching about plant genomics and formulation and manufacturing, as well as regulation. We want to train people who want to work in those industries, not necessarily a pharmacist who wants to recommend the correct cannabis product.”
The program will officially launch in the fall of 2024 and offer rolling admissions.
The pioneering two-year program is only the beginning, Colby said. Plans call for the school to eventually provide curriculum not only to graduate students, but also to undergraduates and pharmacy students who wish to study these fields online.
The school plans to launch a one-year graduate certificate in dietary supplements in the fall of 2025, followed by a one-year certificate in medical cannabis in fall 2026. The following year, the school plans to unveil a Doctor of Pharmacy-Master of Science dual degree program that mimics its successful Pharm.D.-MBA dual degree program.
“Many of our pharmacy students get summer internships at dispensaries, and we’re seeing pharmacies that now offer cannabis and have a dispensary actually in with the pharmacy, so this makes sense,” Colby said.
The university anticipates strong undergraduate interest in the program. When the pharmacy school recently launched a course in medical cannabis as an elective, Colby was blown away by the response.
“It was limited to 30 students, and there were 50 on the wait list,” he said. “It’s the only time I’ve had more people on the wait list than enrolled and the only time I’ve literally had students beg me in the halls to get into a class.”
The Hearin Foundation has provided just under $145,000 in support for the new program. The university’s Division of Outreach and Continuing Education has also provided funding.
For more information about the program, visit https://www.online.olemiss.edu/ms-ds-mc/.
By Natalie Ehrhardt