Cannabis plant

Cannabis plants.

Northern New Mexico College will add Introduction to Medical Cannabis for Health Care Professionals to its extensive course list. 

The eight-week introductory course for health care professional students will be taught by Ellen Trabka – who is chair of the Nursing and Health Sciences at the college – and will run from Mar. 20 through May 12.

“It’s developed as an academic course so students in our nursing program can take the class and it’s completely asynchronous through the learning management system blackboard,” she said.

Trabka said 25 students can sign up and only 11 have enrolled so far. The course costs $885 and is an online, upper-division course.

“The purpose of the course is really to educate health care professionals about how cannabis works in your body and the physiology of it and the pharmacology of it,” she said. “It’s a medicine. It’s an herb. People are using it to treat health care conditions, yet we don’t have any formal experience with it or formal medical education because it’s been illegal and a Schedule 1 drug. The purpose of teaching this course is to provide education so that healthcare professionals have a knowledge base to coach patients on how they could use cannabis.”

The course description states lesson topics such as: the physiology of the human ECS, cannabis pharmacology, safety considerations, special populations, and legal and ethical considerations. 

Trabka said she developed the curriculum while considering her own education. She has been a nurse for over 35 years and a nurse educator at the college for nearly 21 years. She only recently obtained a certificate in medical cannabis care from the Pacific College of Health Sciences, after her Northern New Mexico College colleague, Mateo Frazier, asked her to create a course that addressed the cannabis medical issues.

“Most health care professionals have very limited of any formal education around medical cannabis, myself included. I never had any formal education. I had maybe one or two sessions at a conference around medical cannabis, but I never had any background to teach the classes. That’s why I completed the certificate program through Pacific College of Health Sciences,” Trebka said. 

She intends for the class to answer questions about side effects, how the drug affects vulnerable populations and how to provide safe and effective care to patients. 

Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug, which the United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies as a drug that has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. This is why the drug is still federally illegal, although many states – including New Mexico – have legalized it medically and recreationally. 

There are many legal and ethical concerns surrounding the drug because of its classification, and Trabka said she intends to discuss that in the course.

“Whether you support or oppose legalization of cannabis, it’s legal right now in New Mexico for medical purposes,” she said. “Our patients are using it in record numbers, and so we need to know how cannabis works in the body and how it interacts with other medications that patients are taking.”

The main focus of the course will be foundational knowledge of the subject, according to Trabka.

“This course is really for health care professionals who have a background in science, chemistry, physiology, anatomy and pharmacology,” she said. “They’ve got a background knowledge on how medications and drugs work in the body. That’s really essential to understand the content that I teach in the class. Then we’re going to cover things like how is cannabis dosed, how is it administered, what are the side effects and what are the contraindications.”

The National Cancer Institute defines contraindication as anything that is a reason for a person to not receive a particular treatment or procedure because it may be harmful. 

There are many topics that can be discussed surrounding the medical use of cannabis, and Trabka said there may be a second class, if there is sufficient interest.

The course is open to healthcare professionals, including registered nurses, nursing faculty educators, nursing students, medical doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others with proof of licensure/credentials. The course will introduce the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and provide foundational knowledge for healthcare professionals for the safe and effective use of cannabis medicine for healing, according to the college’s website.

The college currently offers a Cannabis and Hemp Enterprises certificate, which students can obtain by taking courses that teach  skills including how to become informed and ethical managers, business owners, investors and advocates in the legal cannabis industry, according to the college’s website. 

Each course includes a variety of topics such as: History of Cannabis and the American Legal & Political System, Economics of Cannabis, Cannabis Enterprise Startup and Building a Business Plan. The professor for these courses is Mateo Frazier.

The University of New Mexico currently offers similar cannabis courses that teach cannabis healthcare, cannabis agriculture and horticulture, the business of cannabis and cannabis compliance and risk management.

To enroll for classes at Northern New Mexico College, go to the college's online admissions application page.

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