Higher Education: SU’s Cannabis Studies program gives students experience in the emerging market

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s. Junella Chin was initially resistant to trying medical cannabis for her spine disease, but now she credits it for making her career possible. She suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a condition that causes the bones of the spine to fuse together. Without cannabis, you wouldn’t be able to work as a doctor all day.

“I was so ill that I would have dropped out of medical school or found something else,” Chen said. “I was really hesitant, really, but he slowly got my health back and I started to learn more about the science of it.”

Twenty years since Chen started using medical cannabis, she shares her story and teaches students about the cannabis industry through cannabis studies at Syracuse University. program. SU offers a minor in cannabis studies for students along with a degree for those outside the university through the School of Professional Studies. Dr. Chen teaches cannabis health and science at SU as part of the credit program.

One of the biggest issues with cannabis, she said, is consumer information. Changing laws around cannabis use across the country, including recent legalization in New York, have made it relevant, she said, but people don’t know much about it.

“It’s important to study (about cannabis) … I look at college students as a priority, because then they can go into cannabis law, they can go into cannabis medicine, they can go into cannabis chemistry,” Chen said. “This is where we have to plant the seed. No pun intended.”

Jim Gaffey, executive director of management and strategy in the School of Professional Studies, introduced the Cannabis Studies program in 2021 at SU. After the legalization of marijuana in New York, Gaffey decided that SU would play a role in the growth of the industry.

“We wanted to make sure that (the cannabis industry) is something that can be grown in New York State responsibly and sustainably,” said Jaffe. “We felt that Syracuse University, in its history of providing education, could play a role in helping shape the industry from an educational perspective.”

Before teaching at SU, Chen attended California Medical School. When the state legalized medical cannabis in 1996, it monitored its use as a treatment for symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

Chen was initially reluctant to use cannabis for her spine disease because she feared the stigma would harm her career, but successfully complemented her other treatments.

I was like, are you kidding me? Chen said. “I’ve basically kept it under the radar.”

After the treatment relieved some of her pain and helped her regain mobility, she became interested in the science behind botanical medicine. As a physician, she was interested in other applications for her treatment.

Chen said, “I thought if medical cannabis can help me, and I’m studying to be a doctor, why can’t I help other patients do it?” “So I made it a career to teach patients about botanical medicine.”

When SU ​​reached out in 2021 about starting a program to educate students about the cannabis industry, Chen was thrilled. She is now studying about harm reduction, drug epidemics and the science behind medical cannabis.

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Chen also serves as Vice Chairman New York State Office of Cannabis Management Advisory Board. The council is trying to dispel misconceptions about cannabis, such as the belief that it is a “magic bullet” and should only be used in extreme cases such as cancer treatment.

“Our main goal is to provide awareness and reduce harm, to make sure that the public and vulnerable populations are protected,” Chen said. “As a professor at Syracuse University and New York University, my main goal is to get people good information.”

One such person is Noah Aznoyan, an MBA student at SU studying marketing and entrepreneurship. He is currently taking a cannabis science class with Chin under Minor Cannabis Studies and is taking her class on medical cannabis.

Aznoian plans to pursue a career in consulting in the cannabis industry. The SU program helped him develop better research methods, and he helped co-teach and be a research assistant for several semesters to learn how to apply his knowledge in industry.

Two years ago, Aznoyan met Chen after reading her book “Hemp and CBD for Health and Wellness,” and reached out to learn from her experience. He has been working with her recently to gain a better understanding of how to bring effective medical applications to patients.

“I really got into the industry here at university,” Aznoyan said. “It’s really exciting.”

A common misconception about cannabis, Aznoyan said, is that it is a miracle drug that cures everything. It has specific health benefits that can be used in different applications, he added, but more work needs to be done to educate the consumer.

“I think there is a lot of stigma around cannabis use in the United States,” Aznoyan said. “What Chen is doing here for Syracuse is very valuable because people are so uneducated about how it works in the body and how it works in general.”

With New York legalizing recreational marijuana, Aznoyan said, the industry has become a growth market. He said the state has a large number of medical marijuana consumers, making it an industry influencer across the country.

“For Syracuse as a university to have a role in informing and educating those who will be in and around the industry here in New York is wonderful and very valuable,” Aznoyan said.

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