Recent decades have brought forth huge strides in medical marijuana research, led by countries like Canada and The Netherlands, alongside more Western countries decriminalizing the use of marijuana. This has led to countless new hybrids of the Cannabis plant and discoveries pertaining to their application especially in the medical field.
Here in the Philippines, taking marijuana for medical or recreational purposes remains illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. Nevertheless, several biologists, chemists, and health experts from the DLSU’s College of Science (COS) continue to vouch for the importance of learning about the psychoactive drug—the active component being a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In fact, they have gone a step farther in establishing an elective course centered around the cultivation of local marijuana varieties; effective next term, the class Understanding Species Manipulation of Cannabis and Keen Insights on THC (USMOKIT) will be offered by COS for selected degree programs.
The greater good
Dona Juanita, an associate professor from the Chemistry Department, was the main proponent of USMOKIT when it was proposed to the University administrators on April 20 of last year. When asked about her strong stance regarding the implementation of such an elective, Juanita reveals, “I don’t want [my students] to just be high, I want them to smoke responsibly.” She explains that much of what the public—especially the youth—knows regarding marijuana are based on hearsay or unreliable sources from the internet, and wants to provide a more credible way of learning about the topic.
Juanita admits that several COS faculty had their apprehensions with the implementation of the elective, particularly regarding public backlash, but the college nevertheless decided to carry on with the plan, with administration concluding that the pros would outweigh the cons brought by the elective. “It’s not that I want to get high myself; gusto ko lang talaga maturuan ang mga estudyante ko na may kayamanan sa bawal,” Juanita explains.
(I just want to teach my students that we can discover valuable things in unexpected places.)
Professors from other colleges within the University support the push for the elective as well. “Education is the first step to destigmatizing such topics,” states Mariena Joana, a lecturer from the Science Education Department.
Down to a Science
Routine for the proposal of a new course here in the University, Juanita was required to draft a curriculum for this budding elective. According to the professor, several Botany topics were incorporated into the curriculum, including an exploration of the ideal conditions in which marijuana can thrive. “Cultivating marijuana requires meticulous attention to detail. It needs more light and water than other plant species, grows slower, and is more vulnerable to external factors. The smallest variations in the environment can be the difference between the stalest of weed and utter transcendence,” discusses Juanita.
While certain conditions in the environment are responsible for how potent marijuana is, the specific variety determines its side effects. As such, the course would also teach students how to differentiate the two major species of marijuana plants: C. indica and C. sativa. This is especially important because the final output of the elective would require students to cross breed their own variety of marijuana. “Some varieties can cause heightened productivity, while others can cause an obscene amount of hunger…It will be up to the students to identify these side effects when they breed their own species hybrids,” Juanita explains.
Regarding her reasons for proposing this elective given the legal issues surrounding the controversial drug, Juanita says, “There is no empirical evidence that states that smoking marijuana is inherently bad for you, especially when taken medically and in moderation.” She also cites studies that have reported how marijuana can help people with epilepsy, glaucoma, and cancer.
The establishment of USMOKIT has been well-received by the student body, with the subject already garnering interest from students across all colleges in the University. Juanita has witnessed the magnitude of the student body’s curiosity herself, with the department receiving several inquiries about the course syllabus. “Students seem to high five after every question answered, which for me personally, brings joy and excitement toward the introduction of this course,” she shares, adding that the students have been “tremendously giddy and ecstatic” when expressing their inquiries.
Mike Palacios (II, BS-BIO) has shown his avid support for the new course, expressing, “This is a breakthrough for society because weed is actually pretty dope.” A vocal member in online marijuana forums, Palacios believes that the liberalization of studying Cannabis will lead to scientific advancements in the fields of Botany, Biochemistry, and Pharmacology which will translate to the improvement of the health sector. “This course will prove to be a huge step in human development. I firmly stand by it,” he attests.
Throughout the years, further research has led to identify that marijuana contains healing elements when measured in proper doses, and its use globally has soared over the past decade. However, recreational use has also increased in the same manner and is slowly being destigmatized. For Jonas Mangahas (I, MKT), the use of marijuana in his everyday life “refreshes [him] mentally and spiritually”. Achieving inner peace and tranquility has never been easier thanks to his constant “lighting of the dooby”, as Mangahas describes, “I am seeing so many colors right now it’s insane…I am excited to learn to grow my own weed plants.”
The University has taken the support of going green to the next level. Juanita and other COS faculty believe that a cohesive institution is key in order for the success of not only USMOKIT itself, but also to achieve the University’s mission to generate and propagate new knowledge for societal development. “The confidence of the COS faculty along with the reinforcement of the student body creates an environment that is not only conducive for learning, but also encourages open-mindedness and academic liberty,” she explains.
Medicine continues to revolutionize itself through various means, and the University acknowledges that through respecting all its fields of specializations, even non-traditional ones. The momentous approval of USMOKIT can pave the way for an entirely new generation of medical breakthroughs—with a project on the health benefits of Cannabis extracts being one of the final learning outcomes of the course.
Given the University’s firm stand on this matter, public perception of marijana may also gradually become positive. However, Juanita urges students to be alert about its correct uses and have proper discernment that a Lasallian should always possess to avoid abusing the substance. “The kids are already smoking chongkey behind our backs. [We] might as well teach them how to use it safely…At the right time, the right place, for the right situation,” she reasons.