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Colorado launches first state-approved cannabis degree similar biology and chemistry double-major

A university in Colorado will offer a cannabis-related degree program with students studying the science and manufacturing of the drug in a ‘rigorous’ program that has been compared to double-majoring in biology and chemistry. 

Colorado State University is expected to launch the Cannabis, Biology and Chemistry program this fall at its Pueblo campus, after receiving approval from the state last Friday.

The program would focus on the science necessary to work in the cannabis field and emphasize natural products and analytical chemistry, while students work out of a lab licensed to grow industrial hemp. 

The school’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences already offers an undergraduate minor in Cannabis Studies that focuses on cannabis and its social, legal, historical, political, and health-related impact on society.  

But that course – similar to ones at Stockton University, New Jersey and SUNY Morrisville, New York – prepares people for social work, public health, and the law. 

The new course joins the likes of other four-year programs at Northern Michigan University, and Minot State University in North Dakota which offer bachelor’s degrees in Medicinal Plant Chemistry. 

‘It’s a rigorous degree geared toward the increasing demand coming about because of the cannabis industry,’ College of Science and Mathematics dean David Lehmpuhl told The Denver Post. ‘Hemp and marijuana has really come to the forefront in a lot of economic sectors in the country.’

In 2012, Colorado was the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana for private use by people aged 21 or over.  Medical cannabis and industrial hemp are also legal in the state. 

By the end of last year, total marijuana sales within Colorado passed $7.6billion and the state collected more than $1.2billion in taxes, licenses and fees.

In 2019, Colorado had 2,917 licensed weed businesses, and 41,076 individuals were licensed to work in the industry.  

‘A lot of the products that people are selling from the cannabis plant, if they can be genetically produced, become more profitable,’ Lehmpuhl said about the booming industry.   

The curriculum at the university about 115 miles (185 kilometers) south of Denver, will be split into studying natural products and analytical chemistry.

Students will work in a lab setting for both strands of the course.

Natural products coursework looks at the genetics of cannabis or other plants. Students can study the topic alongside additional courses in neurobiology, biochemistry and genetics, university officials said.

The analytical chemistry coursework will enable students to learn about chemical compounds, such as determining what kind of cannabidiol concentration should exist in a product. 

Students might work with CBD, officials said, however they won’t work with products containing high levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. 

THC was present in most of the fluid samples collected from the lungs of ill people last year as a mystery illness swept across the states in e-cigarette users. The chemical may act like grease in the lungs, damaging the tiny sacs that fill with air.

In most, if not all, of these cases, what begins as shortness of breath and chest pain progresses to coughing, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, fever and weightloss.

Patients with the most severe cases wind up in the hospital with severely damaged lungs that often appear to be infected with pneumonia.  

‘One of the things that motivated us to develop this program was this industry is sort of developed without oversight and regulation,’ Lehmpuhl said. ‘I think now it’s becoming clear when you look at even the recent vaping crisis that occurred that there’s a need for having trained scientists in that space.’ 

The Colorado State University system also has plans to open a new research center on the Fort Collins campus dedicated to studying cannabinoids this spring.

‘We’re not pro-cannabis or anti-cannabis. What we’re about will be the science, and training students to look at that science,’ Lehmpuhl said.  

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