Why Medicinal Plant Chemistry?

Students working in a classroomThe field of natural products chemistry, which involves the identification, isolation, and sometimes total synthesis of compounds biochemically produced in existing biota, has a long history of beneficial contributions to the field of medicine. Many pharmaceutical drugs originate from plant secondary metabolite compounds. There is currently a renewed and enthusiastic interest in medicinal plant chemistry as it relates to the herbal extract market and more recently to the emerging cannabis market. With nearly half of the 50 United States currently recognizing the valid and legal therapeutic applications of cannabis, including 8 states and the District of Columbia now fully legalizing both medicinal and recreational consumption of cannabis products, a national shift in policy away from the prohibition of cannabis has been signaled.

In 2015, Forbes called legal cannabis the best startup opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors, and the marijuana economy is projected to grow by triple-digit percentage points up to $44 billion per year by 2020. Fortune magazine predicts $6.7 billion in legal sales alone in 2016, while an additional $850 million annually is currently estimated for the laboratory analysis industry, according to Susan Audino, an Assessor for the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, speaking at the March 2016 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.  In fact, Cannabis Chemistry (CANN) is now an officially recognized subdivision of the American Chemical Society, with scholarship and insights on industry now regularly presented in sessions at the ACS national meetings.

The historical stigma associated with cannabis is quickly vanishing, and although there is a surge in businesses related to the marijuana economy, there is a major gap in educational opportunities available to prepare people for this field.  No other 4-year undergraduate degree program in the world combines rigorous coursework in chemistry and biology with research and hands on instrumental analysis built into the curriculum to prepare its graduates for a career in the cannabis industry.  The additional focus on entrepreneurship and laboratory accreditation standards means that our graduates will not only be qualified to perform the instrumental analysis in a laboratory, but will also be empowered to build their own testing laboratory, dispensary, and growing operation from the ground up.

For more information, contact Dr. Mark Paulsen, Department Head of the Chemistry Department.