In the first study of its kind, University of Colorado School of Medicine students expressed support for the legal use of marijuana, including for physical and mental health reasons. They also believe more research is needed to ascertain what risk could be involved in using the drug. These were some of the findings of a study led by Michael Chan, a recent graduate of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Colorado students viewed the legalization of marijuana favorably, medicinal or otherwise, and generally felt that the medical use of marijuana is acceptable in the treatment of conditions approved by the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry. Nearly half (49 percent) felt that it had significant physical health benefits and 37 percent believed it had mental health benefits. This contrasts with other studies, which found that most Colorado family physicians would only recommend marijuana for patients who suffer from pain or cancer and that only 27 percent of physicians thought it had significant physical health benefits.
The study, “Colorado Medical Students’ Attitudes and Beliefs about Marijuana,” was published today in the Journal of General Internal Medicine by Springer. It investigated the attitudes of medical students in Colorado, a state that has long been at the forefront of marijuana legal reforms.
“Despite strong support for marijuana legal reform, students expressed hesitancy to recommend it themselves, suggesting that medical students may not believe that there is enough data to safely recommend its use to patients and/or may not feel sufficiently trained to prescribe it,” said Chan, now a resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
These reforms have seen the decriminalization of marijuana on many fronts in recent years. In Colorado, it is legal for adults to use it for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Previous studies have shown that opinions vary among physicians about the value of prescribing marijuana. To add further insights into the matter, Chan’s team set out to find out what medical students at the CU School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus thought about the drug’s use. In all, 236 of the 624 students contacted by e-mail completed the survey.
Students who grew up in Colorado were more in favor of medical marijuana than those who did not grow up there. This was also true for the 127 students who reported having used marijuana before. This finding is in line with previous studies showing that people with histories of substance use, including marijuana, believe the risk of adverse effects is relatively low.
The students were nearly unanimous (97 percent) in calling for further research into the medical usefulness of marijuana. Most expressed concern about possible physical (68 percent) and mental (77 percent) consequences, while 88 percent thought it could be addictive.
Chan and co-author Dan Matlock are now working to study how students are being educated about medical marijuana and its potential for health or harm.
“Clearly, medical students have a need for excellent education on marijuana,” said Matlock, MD, MPH, and associate professor of geriatrics at the CU School of Medicine. “There’s a lot we don’t know and, medically, there is so little data.”
Although legal under state law, marijuana is still a schedule 1 substance that is illegal under federal law.
“The CU College of Nursing is proud to be among the top ten nationally ranked online graduate nursing programs,” said dean and professor Sarah Thompson, PhD, RN, FAAN. “This recognition reflects the commitment and savviness of our faculty, as well as the diligence and brilliance of our students. Our College has employed skilled distance educators for nearly two decades, and we look forward to continuing as forerunners in the delivery of excellent online nursing education.”
Distance educator Diane Skiba, PhD, professor and specialty director of health care informatics at the CU College of Nursing, said the distinguished recognition reflects the institution’s rich history of providing online programs to nursing students, which it has offered since 1998.
US News only ranked such programs offered 100 percent online; blended programs that combine teaching in brick-and-mortar classrooms and online education were not included in the rankings.
“Our dedicated faculty have designed online programs are that learner-centric and based on best practices,” Skiba said. “Faculty continuously modify their online courses to leverage new technologies and the latest research in the field of online learning.”
Programs were ranked using key factors including faculty credentials and training, student engagement, admissions selectivity, peer reputation and student services and technology. U.S. News has ranked distance education programs for six years and believes online learning is becoming integral to all types of education and that consumers are hungry for information related to online degrees.
For students who are considering graduate work that will culminate with a PhD, the question is unavoidable: What will I do with my degree?
In some circles, it’s expected that a person with a PhD will teach the next generation of graduate students, perhaps while continuing to do research. While that is sometimes the case, graduate students also have many other ways they can achieve professional success with their degrees.
Wes Blakeslee, PhD, and Rui Xiong, PhD, both hold advanced degrees from the Graduate School at CU Anschutz. Both have gone on to exciting and fulfilling careers outside academia—one in industry and one in government.
“I considered the classic tenure-track faculty path for a hot second,” Blakeslee said. “But my career aspirations have always been more entrepreneurial, and would only be satisfied by joining a company.”
Today, Blakeslee serves as Director of Clinical Pharmacology at RxREVU, a health information technology company. He believes he was uniquely qualified for the position because he earned a PhD in Pharmacology.
His success at finding a job he “loves” was no accident. As early as his undergraduate days at CU Boulder, he made the decision to take a “gap year” and work in an academic laboratory before heading to graduate school to make sure it was the right next step. He saw two clear hurdles—one, the “five or six years of my life” that it would take to complete his degree. The other was the inherent risks of doing research.
“Research isn’t for everybody,” Blakeslee said. “I had to be sure I had the temperament to handle the ups and downs, knowing that the successes are worth the time you are investing and the failure you will undoubtedly experience.”
That gap year spent working as a professional research assistant helped Blakeslee gauge his appetite for graduate school. Eventually, he “made peace with the hurdles.” He applied to four schools, including CU Anschutz, and discovered during interviews in California, Iowa and Florida that CU Anschutz provided a unique culture for graduate students.
“This is a school with good people and an environment that helps hold your spirits up,” he said. “Academic science is intensely competitive, and here you are surrounded by people who work hard but also know how to enjoy their free time.”
The work in the lab carried important clinical implications, but Blakeslee also started marketing his biomedical skills in the business world outside the Anschutz Medical Campus. Inspired by Associate Dean of the Graduate School Inge Wefes, PhD, and CU Anschutz Emeritus Professor Arlen Meyers, MD, he followed his passion for a career in industry. He met the CEO of RxREVU at a local networking event and “bugged” him until he was brought on as an intern. After he completed his degree, the internship turned into a full-time position.
RxREVU’s Prescription Decision Support tool is a digital platform that enables prescribing providers to see the best and latest cost- and evidence-based information about individual patient’s medications, integrated into electronic health records and directly embedded in the clinical workflow.
“The goal of the platform is to enable every stakeholder to win,” Blakeslee said with undisguised enthusiasm for the start-up company. “Providers can improve outcomes, patients can take control of their own care and ideally have lower out-of-pocket costs, and payers can see greater value in their health plans.”
When Blakeslee started graduate school, he admits he wasn’t sure where he was headed and sometimes asked himself if the investment was a good one. Now he has the answer.
“It was a good investment in my future,” he said. “Someday, I could see myself returning to academia to teach, but that would only be after gaining invaluable experience from my career in industry to help guide the next generation of scientists.”
Rui Xiong had never even visited the United States before she arrived at the Graduate School at CU Anschutz. Her first impression of this country reflects Colorado’s topography. “There are lots of mountains,” she said. “I like to hike, so I started hiking fourteeners!”
Today, in her position with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in Jefferson, Ark., Xiong won’t have local fourteeners to hike, but she has found post-doctoral success and fulfillment working for the United States government.
Xiong’s connection to Denver started in her hometown of Kunming, in southwest China. Kunming and Denver are sister cities, both located at mile-high altitudes. She followed a cousin who was already doing graduate work at CU Anschutz.
While working on her PhD, she did research in the lab of David Ross, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Her research examined the toxicity of environmental relevant quinones. She describes Ross as a “mentor” and “role model” who helped her as she began to consider what her next steps would be after completing her PhD.
“I didn’t think I was ready to teach,” she said. “I wanted to apply my research to real-life problems and have an impact on public health.”
From CU Anschutz to the FDA
The NCTR is the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) center located outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. There Xiong has joined a cadre of scientists conducting research which generates data for FDA decision-making and develops and supports innovative tools and approaches that the FDA uses to protect and promote individual and public health.
Xiong is doing inhalation-related toxicology studies designed to evaluate tobacco products that may contribute to smoking-related diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. She describes the professional environment at NCTR as “friendly and collaborative,” a place where people share their expertise. It is a great place to work, she believes, and it’s a position she earned with the hard work and many years she invested in her PhD studies.
“It’s a good idea to get a PhD,” she said. “I definitely benefited from my graduate training. It made me more logical, a better critical thinker, more mature and more efficient.”
A common antioxidant found in human breast milk and foods like kiwi fruit can protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the offspring of obese mice, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“Pyrroloquinoline quinone, or PQQ, is a natural antioxidant found in soil and many foods and enriched in human breast milk,” said the study’s lead author Karen Jonscher, PhD, an associate professor of anesthesiology and a physicist at CU Anschutz. “When given to obese mouse mothers during pregnancy and lactation, we found it protected their offspring from developing symptoms of liver fat and damage that leads to NAFLD in early adulthood.”
The study, published online last week in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, is the first to demonstrate that PQQ can protect offspring of obese mothers from acceleration of obesity-induced liver disease.
NAFLD is the most common liver disease in the world, affecting 20-30 percent of all adults in the U.S. and over 60 percent of those who are obese. It heightens the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.
Scientists have found that mice fed a high fat, Western-style diet give birth to offspring with a higher chance of getting the disease.
“We know that infants born to mothers with obesity have a greater chance of developing NAFLD over their lifetime, and in fact one-third of obese children under 18 may have undiagnosed fatty liver disease that, when discovered, is more likely to be advanced at the time of diagnosis,” Jonscher said. “The goal of our study, which we carried out using a mouse model of obese pregnancy, was to determine whether a novel antioxidant given to mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding could prevent the development of NAFLD in the offspring.”
Jonscher and her colleagues fed adult mice healthy diets or Western-style diets heavy on fat, sugar and cholesterol. They gave a subset of both groups PQQ in their drinking water.
Their offspring were kept on the diets for 20 weeks. Those fed a Western diet gained more weight than those on a healthy diet. PQQ did not change the weight gain but it did reduce the fat in the livers, even before the mice were born. The antioxidant also reduced inflammation in the livers of mice fed the Western diet. The researchers found that PQQ protected adult mice from fatty liver, even when it was stopped after three weeks when the mice quit breastfeeding.
Jonscher believes the antioxidant may work by impacting pathways critical to the early onset of diseases associated with maternal obesity, high fat diets and inflammation.
PQQ is found in human breast milk, soy, parsley, celery, kiwi and papaya. It’s also found in soil and interstellar dust. Jonscher said it could possibly be used as a prenatal or lactation supplement to protect children of obese mothers from developing liver and cardiovascular disease in adulthood, but cautioned that pregnant women should always consult their doctor before taking any supplement.
“Perhaps supplementing the diet of obese pregnant mothers with PQQ, which has proven safe in several human studies, will be a therapeutic target worthy of more study in the battle to reduce the risk of NAFLD in babies,” Jonscher said.