At Veriheal, education and diversity are at the center of our core values. Yet we know how expensive college can be. Add on to that the difficulty of these unprecedented times, as a minority-owned business, we’re making it our priority to pay it forward and invest in the future leaders of cannabis who will break barriers and pave the way for innovation in this burgeoning industry.
Choosing only 10 winners for the $10,000 in scholarships among the strong applications we received from multiple disciplines and concentrations in higher education—from students of all backgrounds and interests—was extremely difficult. Winners were chosen based on their essay submissions, which were scored based on knowledge, originality, and proposed implementation of groundbreaking ideas for progressing the cannabis industry.
It brings us great pleasure to present the 10 winners of Veriheal’s Innovation in Cannabis Scholarship 2020. These students showed knowledge and passion for the future of cannabis and posed revolutionary ideasrooted in their training across business, agriculture, biochemistry, public health, pharmacology, medicine, and liberal arts.
We are humbled to introduce you to them and their exceptional ideas, ranging from community grassroots mental health efforts designed to empower historically vulnerable communities of color, to research plans for identifying strain specific genetics.
Veriheal’s Innovation in Cannabis Scholarship 2020 Winners
Essay: “Integrating Research and Medicine: Cannabis Related Treatment for Neurodegenerative Diseases”
School: George Washington University
About Nishtha: Nishtha is pursuing neurology to become a physician-scientist in honor of her grandmother Nani who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She is entering the 8-year Dual Admit B.S./M.D. Program between St. Bonaventure University and George Washington University School of Medicine.
Essay Summary: Nishtha wants to further research into THC treatment for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, both of which cause neuron death. Alzheimer’s and epilepsy are caused by hippocampal damage/atrophy, and THC is known to affect the functioning of the hippocampus and the orbitofrontal cortex—which is why it alleviates anxiety and depression. How would such cannabis medications be made effective and affordable? Can cannabis be further integrated into mainstream healthcare in medications for neurodegenerative diseases formulated to target and strengthen hippocampal function? Nishtha’s argument shows why we need cannabis research to understand if it can prevent rapid memory loss, assist memory function, and increase temporal awareness prior to the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Sinibaldo Romero Arocha
Essay: “Diversity is Vital in the Cannabis Industry”
School:University of Minnesota
About Sinibaldo: Sinibaldo is an aspiring healthcare professional and a biomedical researcher in the Medical Scientist Training Program (M.D./Ph.D.) at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
He was exposed to alternative herbal options during his volunteer work as a Spanish interpreter at migrant clinics, and he became interested in medical cannabis when his mother asked him about CBD oil and cannabis as alternative options for her daily shoulder pain.
Essay Summary:Although doctors’ offices are full of pamphlets and flyers about mainstream pharmaceuticals in both English and Spanish, there is a lack of information for Hispanic patients seeking relief with cannabis and CBD.
Data shows that Hispanic Americans are more interested in using cannabis and CBD for wellness than other groups and “is believed to be in part due to the connections between the Hispanic community and nature.” However, social and economic barriers like racial stereotypes and lack of access to care centers have historically barred Hispanic community members from seeking medical cannabis and participating in clinical trials. Sinibaldo advocates for providing information in Spanish in a culturally sensitive matter to make alternative cannabis medicine more accessible to Hispanics and other minority communities as well as ensure that these communities are represented in clinical trials.
“Diversity is vital in the cannabis industry,” and “support from the industry to Hispanic and other minority communities can help normalize its legal utilization to a broader audience of consumers.”
Task forces equipped to translate information to Hispanic communities, creation of educational materials for healthcare professionals (so they can better answer patients’ questions), and institutional/informational websites with Spanish versions of their content on the benefits of cannabis are examples of the solutions Sinibaldo proposes. “Communities, patients, and the cannabis industry can all mutually benefit from these partnerships” among patients, cannabis companies, research centers, and medical practices, Sinibaldo explains.
Essay: “Combining Social Sciences and Pharmacology to Make a Positive Social Impact in Cannabis”
School:University of Maryland
About Maha: Maha is a graduate student in the Master of Science (M.S.) degree program in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics at the University of Maryland, the first-ever graduate program dedicated to studying cannabis.
Maha was the founder and president of UCLA’s first registered cannabis student group, Cannaclub. The club now has 3,000 members nationwide.
Essay Summary: Maha envisions making a positive social impact on California’s cannabis industry through patient advocacy, cannabis education, social research, and R&D. Her impressive background includes working in medical dispensaries in Los Angeles under Prop 215 in and prior to legalization and regulation under Prop 64. Maha saw a knowledge gap in supporting medical cannabis patients and developed training processes for dispensary personnel as well as courses for medical cannabis education in healthcare professional school programs. She plans to use her background in cannabis education and pharmacology to address the disparities between recreational and medical marijuana options for medical cannabis patients. For example, products at recreational dispensaries are more expensive than at medical dispensaries, because of mandated taxes, and recreational dispensaries do not always offer products that cater to the needs of medical cannabis patients. Looking forward, Maha aims to develop accredited cannabis courses in universities to develop cannabis education for future cannabis professionals. She hopes to use her knowledge and research abilities in social sciences, pharmacology, and R&D to bridge the gap between medical and social cannabis research while perfecting products for patients.
About Vaibhav: Vaibhav is an undergraduate researcher in biology, studying the psychological effects of morphine on post-spinal cord injury, on track to becoming a future anesthesiologist.
Essay Summary: Vaibhav identifies the need for future research into the potential for pain reduction with medical cannabis during surgeries in which patients need to remain conscious. Drugs like propofol are used by anesthesiologists during surgery to keep patients unconscious, but these drugs cannot be used for neurological cases in which a patient must remain conscious. Additionally, the current anesthetic drugs that anesthesiologists rely upon have side effects, and there can be a risk of overdosing the patient. Meanwhile, cannabis is a promising option for pain reduction, especially when millions of Americans suffer from opioid addiction each year. Not only could medical cannabis be used to make patients more comfortable, but the use of cannabis in professional medical niches like surgery could reduce stigma against the plant and the cannabis community. “Differing brands of marijuana could interact with the already current use of general anesthesia,” Vaibhav theorizes.
“Future generations [may be] ridiculing us for not using cannabis sooner in a wider variety within medicine. With more mainstream usage, especially professional as in medicine, comes more industry and recognition, better public relations, better profits, funded research…and just generally a happier America and world overall.”
Essay: “Trying Medical Marijuana, the Right Way”
School:Miami University of Ohio
About Clinton:Clinton is an undergraduate student studying business.
Essay Summary: Clinton postulates that if more patients were able to try medical cannabis in a safe, supervised program that it could reduce stigma and reluctance to legalization. Clinton describes how doctors at certified medical offices would guide patients through sampling cannabis for the purpose of deciding if they would like to obtain a medical marijuana card. The doctors would determine the dosage for the trial and follow up with the patient to see if they would like to continue using medical cannabis for their symptoms. “By giving people a safe and legal way to try this medicine, many people will have their minds opened up to what cannabis can do for them mentally and physically,” and expose them to safe and natural healing, Clinton writes.
Such a program would further educate and expose patients to medical cannabis who may be able to benefit from it as a substitute for addictive opioid medications and experience relief from conditions like migraines, anxiety, seizures, back pain, etc.
“This can help change the way people look at the substance. No longer will people look at cannabis and think about those commercials where the person sinks into their couch. They’ll instead think about how great marijuana can be in reducing their back pain, preventing their seizures, stopping the constant pain from their migraines, making them feel less anxious throughout the day, or whatever helpful outcome it may be.”
Essay: “Grassroots Mental Health Efforts Aimed at Empowering Local Communities with Medical Cannabis”
School:George Washington University
About Ruth: Ruth is going into a master’s program in Public Health with a focus in Global Environmental Health at the Milken Institute of Public Health (GWSPH) at George Washington University.
Essay Summary: Implementing her training in public health that evaluates trends in large populations, Ruth identifies the lack of grassroots efforts aimed at improving the mental health of vulnerable communities with medical cannabis. Ruth’s essay argues for a community-based coalition made up of cannabis companies, mental health providers, and local organizations to support positive mental health for underserved communities that have been disproportionately penalized for cannabis use and oftentimes strongly impacted by climate change.
This proposal would empower mental health providers to develop their knowledge of medical cannabis and identify how it could help community members. Inclusion of local organizations would mean that they could tailor efforts and approaches for individual, vulnerable communities that experience anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The coalition would strengthen the cannabis industry by informing and educating more practitioners about the mental health benefits of cannabis.
“The industry will be able to advance their cause in a manner that increases equity, as many of the local organizations and practitioners in the vulnerable communities impacted by climate change are people of color. The industry will be able to be an active player in working to empower those communities that have for so long been unjustly penalized and criminalized for cannabis usage, and at the same time provide mental health resources for areas that are often sorely neglected.”
Essay: “The Nature of Hemp and Law: Hazy Regulation”
School:The University of Rhode Island
About Jack: Jackis an undergraduate student studying marketing.
Essay Summary: Jack outlines the Hemp Farming Act, passed in December of 2018, and the implications of the bill for hemp companies and farmers. Previously a Schedule I substance, hemp was reclassified; hemp has extremely low levels of THC (less than 0.3%). To put this into perspective, farmers compare THC levels in hemp to trace amounts of alcohol in nonalcoholic beer. There are restrictions on where and when hemp can be grown. Due to popular misconceptions, law-abiding companies still face obstacles as they try to expand nationwide.
Jack defines many issues with the bill:
It does not address how to move hemp across state borders that still treat hemp as an illegal, Schedule I drug;
transportation of hemp is very difficult, especially to states that still prohibit cannabis;
there is a lack of awareness of the bill among states that have legalized hemp;
and farmers are required to have their crops tested at various labs registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but there are not enough labs to meet the demand for testing.
Supply chains are disrupted as a result, and consumers grow fearful of buying hemp. Furthermore, law enforcement is sometimes unaware of changes in federal law. As an example, Jack cited Denis Palamarchuk’s story, a trucker who was charged with trafficking cannabis (a crime that is punishable by five years in prison) when he was transporting legal hemp from Oregon to Colorado. For the hemp industry to thrive and create new job opportunities for Americans, many obstacles still need to be worked out for this young bill. Jack convincingly illustrates why action is needed to address these issues and the disparity between how different states treat hemp.
Samuel David Smith
Essay: “Innovative Methods in Cannabis Agricultural Sector”
School:The University of Texas Medical Branch
About Samuel: Samuel is a master’s student in a physician assistant studies program who is passionate about small sustainable farming using natural principles.
Essay Summary: Samuel is a future Physician’s Assistant with a background in agricultural operations in the wine industry. He has seen firsthand how Midwestern ranchers use empirical studies to measure the increased productivity of plants using multiple cover cropsand no-till methods. Samuel’s essay outlines how two combined agricultural strategies can be used to revamp the agricultural production of medical cannabis:
Land stewardship to encourage yield increase, boost soil fertility, increase water holding capacity, increase soil biodiversity, and prevent pests and disease by integrating multiple cover crops and a no-till system.
Geothermal greenhouse construction to speed growth and get the product to the market more quickly, similar to the greenhouses used in the peach industry in China and used to grow citrus in the Midwestern United States. “This system utilized in the Midwest or cold climates could be implemented to tackle a couple of problems: heating costs, a short outdoor growing season, and more consistent supply chain,” Samuel notes.
These two methods could be combined and used in lower land acquisition areas like Wyoming and Nebraska to innovate the cannabis agricultural sector.
Leonardo “Leo” Orozco
Essay: “Improving the Cannabis Experience via Strain-Specific Research & Genome Sequencing”
School:Washington State University
About Leo: Leo is an undergraduate student studying biochemistry with a great appreciation for modern genetics.
Essay Summary: Leo argues that genome sequencing used in breeding programs in agriculture could be used to fully characterize individual strains of cannabis. Not only would this give researchers a glimpse into how cannabinoids interact (known as the “entourage effect”), but it would also broaden the application of medical cannabis as a substitute for other methods of pain management like highly addictive opioids and help alleviate the ongoing opiate crisis. The research Leo describes involves identifying genetic markers responsible for the expression of each cannabinoid using metabolic models and cloning genes of interest along with a selective marker. This would “create a stronger foundation of independent strain-specific research with the potential to increase the consistency and safety of medical and recreational cannabis.” Fully characterized strains in which we can select for only specific cannabinoids would enhance the cannabis experience and options for medical cannabis users.
Leo’s proposal aims to improve the experiences of cannabis users and patients, bring stability to the cannabis industry, and add to scientific evidence to support federal legalization.
“These consistent strains would also expand the application of medical marijuana, allowing physicians to better assist their patients in pain.”
Essay: “Crowdsourcing User Experience Data for a Targeted Medical Cannabis Journey with Cannamunity”
About Evan: Evan is an undergraduate student (undecided major) in the College of Liberal Arts at Tufts University.
Essay Summary: Evan envisions Cannamunity, an app that will collect self-reported data from medical cannabis users on how methods of consumption, reasons for using, and dosages of cannabis affect their body and mind as well as demographics (age, gender, health history, etc.). Personal data and information would be anonymous. To illustrate the power of Cannamunity, users would be able to choose their ailments, their preferred method of consumption, and view products at dispensaries with user reviews from people of similar ages and with similar health histories. The app would also provide marijuana doctors like those in the Veriheal platform with a large database to help them make recommendations for dosages and methods of consumption.
“Helping a 27-year old who deals with anxiety is very different from helping a 70-year old with chronic pain, or a ten-year old who suffers from epileptic seizures,” and doctors need to know “how this medicine will affect a wide variety of patients,” explains Evan.
Evan’s vision for Cannamunity impressively shows how the app would empower users to consider cannabis for their ailments with confidence and help people have a better first experience with potentially life-changing medical cannabis.
Empowering Future Innovators
The team at Veriheal is excited to watch each individual in this impressive group of scholarship winners grow on their educational path and professional journey. We will offer the scholarship again in 2021 and work to empower the next generation of cannabis owners, professionals, and medical providers to flourish.
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