By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
Jamila Owens-Todd is changing the way people think about medical cannabis. Education is part of her job as the general manager of a cannabis dispensary. And her knowledge is especially important as adjunct instructor at Saint Louis University in the School of Professional Studies.
“One of the reasons this plant is still kind of in the shadows, it has not been available to study it in a science format because it’s been illegal,” said Owens-Todd.
Owens-Todd is a naturopathic doctor, teaching the cannabis pharmacology class in Saint Louis University’s one-year Cannabis Science and Operations Certificate Program. It’s an online undergraduate certificate program. Owens-Todd teaches the chemical characteristics of cannabis and factors that influence drug interaction within the body.
The goal of the cannabis science and operations program is to educate a growing workforce to sustain different areas of the industry. Owens-Todd teaches the benefits of medical cannabis, the symptoms it treats along with the evidence of its effectiveness.
“Just learning that there is a program that’s offering very extensive training now is a way to release the stigma,” said Owens-Todd. “Once people know that there is a program, even if they enroll or not, they’re going to know there’s some validity behind the science when a university such as Saint Louis University backs a program of this caliber.”
For Owens-Todd, making the medical cannabis industry strong is also about being hands on in the store, working directly with people. She is the general manager of Luxury Leaf cannabis dispensary, which is the first black-owned medical cannabis dispensary in Missouri. Adrienne Scales-Williams is the proud owner and happy to help people.
“To let people that look like me know that it’s okay to buy products in a dispensary and there’s a dispensary owner that will help them with either understanding how to consume, how to dose, and also help them with the education piece about the benefits of the plant,” said Scales-Williams.
And she’s proud of Jamila Owens-Todd’s leading role.
“What’s important to Luxury Leaf is to offer education,” Scales-Williams said. “Jamila was one of the key people that I wanted in the dispensary. And so, God blessed me with her. With her background and the knowledge she has, is amazing for Luxury Leaf.”
“I worked as a chemist for years in the pharmaceutical industry and always been an advocate for plant medicine,” said Owens-Todd. “I love cannabis just as much chamomile tea or lemon balm peppermint. I think those things are great healers. But to be really honest, what drove me into diving into cannabis more were parents who had children with epilepsy. I started to study it and the research was sound. And then I saw these children with 20-30 seizures per day being reduced down to one per week.”
Through Luxury Leaf, Owens-Todd is meeting new people all the time who need help.
“The population that goes to the dispensary are typically seniors. I would say the age is usually 55 and older,” she explained. “A lot of the patients saying, ‘I don’t want that high feeling, I just want my pain to go away or I’m struggling with insomnia. I’ve been on three different sleep meds and it’s not helping.’ One of the things that’s happened since the legalization of medical cannabis, there’s been a 25% reduction in opioid use. And so we see patients who their doctors may have suggested opioids and they’re just absolutely not having it.”
Owens-Todd is now excited about Saint Louis University’s new cannabis science programs. SLU is also offering a medical cannabis science and therapeutic management graduate certificate online. SLU’s medical cannabis science and therapeutic management program prepares healthcare professionals to accurately inform their patients about the benefits of medical cannabis. It also aims to educate those who regularly interact with people who use medical cannabis to understand its effects and therapeutic benefits. An undergraduate degree in any discipline is required for enrollment in this graduate program.
“We have a focus and a need for doctors, nurses, educators, law enforcement, social workers in the medical cannabis science and therapeutic management program,” explained Stacy Godlewski, director of Cannabis Science and Operations for the School of Professional Studies at Saint Louis University. “Folks who work with people who self-medicate with medical cannabis, on a daily basis, for whatever their ailment may be. So that they can teach those folks about the therapeutic benefits. There’s a need for the doctors and nurses to understand the synergies between medical cannabis, CBD and any medications they’re on.”
“It’s important because it is now medical in the state. Any state where you have medical cannabis, I think it’s important for doctors to at least learn and understand the inner workings and the possibility of how this can be a great assistant to patients,” said Owens-Todd. “And learning does not necessarily mean that doctors become an advocate. I’m also understanding of a doctor saying, ‘I don’t support it’. But if they learn more about it, then they can make an informed choice as opposed to just negating it because the information is lacking.”