#22 Prime Time: Educating Cannabis Chemists - Mary's Medicinals

#22 Prime Time: Educating Cannabis Chemists

By: Marys Medicinal |


This is post, written by Alice O’Leary Randall, covers a presentation by Vanessa Fishback, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, Colorado University. Dr. Fishback spoke at the 2nd Annual ICR Conference in Pueblo, CO.

As previously mentioned, the ICR Conference can be a little frustrating because there are so many concurrent sessions. But that can also be a blessing. It gives attendees a chance to leave their comfort zone behind and learn something new and different about the cannabis issue. This writer had several opportunities in which to do that and not all were successful in terms of stimulating further interest in a particular sliver of the cannabis pie. But Dr. Vanessa Fishback’s session was a positive experience. I am not a chemist and high school chemistry was long ago. But if you have delved into the cannabis issue at all in the past ten years, you can’t help but be impressed with the number of young chemists who have entered this field. The majority of companies that produce cannabis products have chemists on staff and it is quite remarkable what they have been able to accomplish.

Slide from Dr. Fishback’s presentation.

Dr. Fishback, it seems, agrees. She recognized that a college-level, cannabis chemistry class could not only train tomorrow’s cannabis chemists but could also be a useful class for, pardon the pun, budding physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare practitioners. Additionally, since the class has gotten up and running, Dr. Fishback has noticed that many undergraduates take the class in order to round out their resume for future employment, although the pre-requisites, as Dr. Fishback put it, are “pretty heavy” including basic biochemistry and organic chemistry classes.

It is likely that this is the nation’s first college level cannabis chemistry course and among the problems Dr. Fishback encountered was one of textbooks. Undoubtedly books are being prepared that will make excellent future textbooks for cannabis-specific classes. But for Dr. Fishback the pickings were scarce. However she did locate the 1971 classic, Marijuana Botany written by Robert C. Clarke. More recently she was able to add the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids (Published in 2017, the provided link will take you to a site where you can download the PDF version of the report for free.)

Considerable time is spent on plant structure, of course, with what sounded like a heavy emphasis on terpenes.  Cultivars, genetics, drug types, the impact of growing conditions…all are covered in the classes.  In addition to looking at the plant, the class also takes a look at synthetic products like marinol and nabilone. Additionally Dr. Fishback delves into patents and federal controls, including the classification of cannabis as Schedule I.

And there was more. A section of the class looks at pesticides and how to test for them.  The ability of cannabis (mainly hemp) to extract pollutants from the ground was touched on. And Dr. Fishback shared with the audience her plans to expand the classes and possibly move towards an undergraduate degree in cannabis chemistry.

As I said, I am not a chemist and some of this was over my head but it proved, once again, how deep into the fabric of society the re-introduction of cannabis has gone. Within a few years it will not be uncommon to have college level classes relating to cannabis and Dr. Vanessa Fishback will be among pioneers who made that possible. ❖