Photo C/O Grant Holt

By: Neda Pirouzmand

The university has banned the consumption of cannabis on campus, but the McMaster Centre for Continuing Education, Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research and Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medical Cannabis Research have combined efforts to pilot a new “Science of Cannabis” program.

Science of cannabis is going to be a three-course program that will meet the needs of health and community professionals, educators, civil servants and individuals with personal interest.

The first course of the program, Fundamentals of Cannabis Science, begins on May 13 and will run until July 21.  

Lorraine Carter, director of the CCE, emphasized the evidence-based nature and relevance of the program.

“The fundamentals course is an important introduction to the general history and science of cannabis, and sets the stage for subsequent courses focused on therapeutic interventions and the risks associated with cannabis use,” said Carter. “In all, grounded in contemporary evidence and delivered by McMaster’s leading experts in cannabis research, the program is an exceptional learning opportunity.”

Michael Amlung, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at Mcmaster, will be teaching the “Fundamentals of Cannabis Science” course.

As a faculty scientist, his research focuses on cannabis misuse.

Carter saw a perfect opportunity to partner with James MacKillop, director of the PBCAR and co-director of the DeGroote Centre for Medical Cannabis Research, in the creation of the program.

“The CCE is always looking for program ideas that are timely and relevant to adult, undergraduate and graduate students,” said Carter. “With the legalization of cannabis this past October and awareness of the exceptional research in cannabis happening here at McMaster University, the chance to partner with Dr. McKillop’s research team was a natural partnership.”

The CCE offers flexible workshops and courses for students to build upon past skills, obtain a professional designation or pursue new learning opportunities.

These include crisis and mental health training, data analytics and web design.

According to Carter, despite its smoking ban, McMaster should consider pursuing programs similar to science of cannabis in its future.

“More and more students are looking for programs in specific topics and skills areas. Programs that are shorter than a degree such as a three-course certificate and that are offered online are especially appealing,” he said.

Carter explains that online courses garner over 80 per cent of enrollment in the realm of continuing education.

“The accessibility and flexibility of online courses is something that today’s learners value a great deal,” said Carter.

McMaster is following closely behind the heels of the University of Ottawa and Ryerson University in the timely introduction of cannabis-focused education.

Ryerson University launched a cannabis course called “The Business of Cannabis” last year and the University of Ottawa was the first Canadian law school to offer cannabis law courses for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Class sizes for the “Fundamentals of Cannabis Science” are limited and the second course of the program has yet to be revealed.

Depending on its success, the science of cannabis program may add more courses and update content as cannabis news and research develops.

 

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Canada is currently plagued by an opioid crisis. Opioids such as fentanyl are drugs that are commonly used to relieve pain. These drugs, however, can be extremely addictive and their misuse has led to thousands of overdoses and deaths.

In 2017, 88 Hamilton residents died from opioid overdoses. So far into this year, Hamilton Paramedic Services has already responded to 161 incidents of suspected opioid overdoses. In comparison to other cities within the province, Hamilton has the highest opioid-related death rate.

While there is no publicly available data on the demographics of opioid use in Hamilton, in general, young adults aged 18 to 25 are the most vulnerable to opioid misuse. As the rate of opioid misuse increases annually, it is imperative that students are aware of the availability of naloxone.

Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of opioid overdoses until medical emergency services can arrive. As of March 2019, Public Health and the Naloxone Expansion Sites in Hamilton have distributed 2496 doses of naloxone, with 285 people reported as being revived by the drug.  

McMaster University’s student-led Emergency First Response Team and McMaster University security officers carry and are trained to use naloxone nasal kits in case of emergency situations. While Mac’s security officers only recently began to carry the kits, EFRT responders have been carrying them since August 2017.

Fortunately, EFRT has not had to use any of their kits since they began carrying them. While this may imply that opioid-related overdoses have not occurred on campus, this does not guarantee that students are not at risk at opioid misuse.

As EFRT responders and McMaster security cannot always be available to respond to students’ needs off-campus, students should be more aware of their ability to carry and be trained to use naloxone kits.

While the Student Wellness Centre does not carry the free naloxone kit, the McMaster University Centre Pharmasave located within the McMaster University Student Centre does, in addition to the Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies located near campus. To obtain a kit, all students must do is show their Ontario health card.

The fact that this life-saving drug is so readily available to students on and near campus is amazing. It is disappointing then that the university hasn’t done a sufficient job in advertising this information to students.

Students should be given naloxone kits and mandatory opioid information and response training at the beginning of the academic term. At the very least, this information can be distributed during Welcome Week along with other orientation events.

The opioid crisis is one that affects us all, especially here in Hamilton. McMaster University should help fight this crisis by ensuring that their students are equipped with the knowledge to recognize an opioid overdose and have the necessary tools to help reverse them.

 

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