Featured image description: Karen Jaynes presented a poster at the Cannabis Science Conference in Baltimore, Md., with Chad Johnson, PhD, co-director of the MCST program.
Karen Jaynes is a second-year student in the MS in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics program. Jaynes received her BBA from Temple University, graduating with honors with a double major in business law and real estate.
What has been your career path up to now?
After graduating from Temple, I pursued a career in the real estate industry for about 10 years, working with commercial developers, financers, and resort property managers in Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, Denver, and Los Angeles.
I moved into health and wellness after I had my second child and became a yoga practitioner. For the next two decades, I enjoyed working as an entrepreneur and business owner of two wellness companies in the Northern Virginia/DC metro area. I now live in Cleveland and work as a consultant, leadership development facilitator, writer, educator, and mindfulness and yoga teacher with clients from all over the world.
What sparked your interest in medical cannabis?
I always love this question because I wasn’t a cannabis consumer in my earlier life. I did not experiment with cannabis in high school or college. I was too busy working two jobs and putting myself through school.
In 2016, I lived in a Buddhist nunnery in India for three weeks. I became extremely ill with dysentery that lasted for many months after my trip. A trusted friend recommended cannabis, and I began to take edibles, in addition to more conventional medications that were prescribed to me in India and then at home. I noticed the cannabis had a positive effect on reducing my complex anxiety, hypervigilance, and reactivity from adverse childhood experiences and PTSD that I had been living with since childhood. Sometimes you don’t really understand that your “normal” isn’t your potential when you are so wrapped up in your own reactivity.
Now, I am a medical patient in Ohio. Learning about the pharmacology of cannabis, how and why it interacts in therapeutic ways was important to me in understanding my relationship with the medicine. I am sharing the education I am getting with so many of my clients and my professional network. It’s another tool in our health and wellness toolbox, and I am a strong believer in integrating all therapeutic options to help patients living with chronic conditions, recovering from illnesses, injuries, and cancers.
What drew you to the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?
This was THE only accredited higher education program focused on medical cannabis in the country as of 2019, and a client of mine heard about it on NPR. I investigated the requirements and the vision of the program online and was over the moon excited about it. I love school. Here was an opportunity to go back to school for a CANNABIS Science advanced degree at a remarkable and reputable health sciences university. It was online, so I could attend from Cleveland, and dive deeper into a medicine that was changing my world in the way yoga and meditation did for me 20 years earlier. Both of my children would also be in college at the same time and that was exciting for all of us.
What has your experience been like in the MS in MCST program?
I am having a wonderful experience in this program. The faculty are brilliant, personable, and supportive. The course material is challenging, yet accessible. I am excited to commit the time and energy it takes to manage the requirements and feel like the program offers diverse opportunities in personal and professional development, energy and time management, and global learning skill sets because each class has its own approach to assignments, assessments, and communication.
I have extended my educational experience as a member of the UMB Presidential Student Leadership Institute and as director of alumni relations for our Medical Cannabis Student Association. I am also serving as a student ambassador for the program, sharing my experience with prospective students, answering their questions, and guiding them through their decision processes.
What have been some of the highlights of the program so far?
Right from the beginning, we take a class on the history of cannabis in the US and how policies, propaganda, law enforcement, and popular culture have influenced how we view it. Ultimately these belief systems and skewed influences resulted in the loss of cannabis medical use and availability for patients. This was an awakening moment for me that roused my desire to educate and support social justice reform and support bringing the focus of health care back to patients. With my education and understanding of pharmacokinetics and evidence-based medicine, I aim to encourage the rethinking of research and study design for medicines like cannabis and psychedelics. We need to look at the measure of “gold-standard” and expand the way we view medicine, patient care, and wellness in the next century.
The chemistry and science elements of this program have also been surprising highlights for me. I had real concerns about managing graduate level science and shared that with the faculty. But they make it accessible to everyone. If this level of science is new to you, there are kind and patient teachers who help you succeed. Students who are already STEM driven will find their own challenges because cannabis science is new. Supplementary material is offered, and interaction is welcomed.
What have your interactions been like with all faculty, staff, and students?
Many of our classes hold office hours, which are weekly live Zoom meetings. Faculty record them for students who cannot attend. Most courses have a space we call Cyber Café on Blackboard where students and faculty can interact, and there are often great discussions here.
We also meet each other at our fall and spring in person symposiums, where we connect with faculty, staff, and our fellow students who are from all over the country, US territories, and the world.
I feel extremely fortunate to have developed a relationship with the faculty and staff that encourages, inspires, and motivates my learning and to extend myself in spaces that are new to me. This past September, I presented a scientific poster at the Cannabis Science Conference in Baltimore. It was empowering and thrilling to share my work with conference attendees and professionals in the medical cannabis academic space.
How do you plan to apply your knowledge and skills from this program into practice?
Every day, I am learning more about how and why cannabis is helping me as a patient. I realize that developing responsible and informed policy, accountable regulation, advocacy for patients, ethical business practices, diligence in testing and compliance, and academic and scientific research are critical spaces where this program and its students will be sought out as leaders. Developing the eco-space where medical cannabis science and therapeutics will reside in the future of health care and integrated wellness is our greatest challenge. I am also an advocate of the expanding science in psychedelics that is happening in trauma and substance abuse therapies and believe that cannabis has much to teach us about the way we think, create, and expand our consciousness.
What is your advice to prospective students who might be considering whether to apply to this program?
My first thought is, “Do it. You will love it!”
I think looking within to understand why this program appeals to you is a great start. People in this program are passionate about medical cannabis. They all have a story about how they came into cannabis science and medicine. It is what bonds us together because we are a widely diverse group from all demographics, places, and spaces.
Recognize you will have to study, do assignments, and manage your family, job, and all the other elements of your life. Also consider how you might use the degree to either move to something new or expand your current professional aspirations.
Medical cannabis is in its infancy, meaning we are just beginning to investigate the depth in which this medicine and science can support patients and culture. If cannabis has evoked your passion in some way, now is a great time to consider specializing and becoming educated.