Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has just launched NZ's first postgraduate paper on medicinal cannabis - and reaction has surprised course leader Dr Ali Seyfoddin.

"When I first developed the paper, I thought I would be happy with 20 students," Seyfoddin tells the Herald.

But the paper - which has just begun with the new semester - has 90 students.

Seyfoddin expects last-minute enrolments to take that to 100.

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Some 90 per cent are from outside the university.

With a budding medicinal cannabis industry now up-and-running, and the "reeferendum" in September poised to poised to possibly expand recreational use of the drug, industry professionals were queuing up to take the $1200 postgrad paper as a one-off.

Pharmacists, nurses and other health workers have been among those who have signed up, Seyfoddin says.

"We have ongoing research on medicinal cannabis cultivation, extraction and formulation which will inform much of the course's content," says AUT senior lecturer Dr Ali Seyfoddin. Photo / Supplied

There has also been high international interest, Seyfoddin says, encouraged by the fact the current iteration of the paper is being taught online in a Covid hangover.

Interest has been such that the university now plans to offer another postgrad course next semester, and Seyfoddin will adapt it as a paper for undergrad science students from 2021.

'Cannabis 101''

The paper is described by Seyfoddin as "Cannabis 101" for those interested in the medicinal cannabis industry.

There is a mix of practical tips and theory, although the constraints of Zoom will crimp the former for the current semester.

The course will introduces the legal framework for medicinal cannabis scheme framework and provides a general overview of the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabis, Seyfoddin says.

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That includes how to cultivate medical-grade cannabis, how to extract and analyse cannabinoids and how to formulate medicinal cannabis products.

"Education is an important component of New Zealand's medicinal cannabis scheme and it's essential that research and education providers provide courses for those wishing to enter the industry. We have ongoing research on medicinal cannabis cultivation, extraction and formulation which will inform much of the course's content," the pharmacologist and senior lecturer in drug delivery (the practically-minded Seyfoddin has also recently developed new systems for delivering food to shellfish, which could prove a boon to Bluff - see "Pāua play").

Industry support

Chris Fowlie, chief executive of AUT's research partner ZeaCann, says the medicinal cannabis industry needs qualified staff with relevant expertise.

"This course will teach the skills needed to work in the field. Hundreds of new jobs are expected to be created, with the potential for medicinal cannabis exports to rival those of wine or wool.

"We're excited to help AUT deliver this course as part of our ongoing research partnership. Zeacann will leverage our extensive network of industry partners to provide practical content and access to global experts and key industry players."

Zeacann cofounders Chris Fowlie (left) and Thom Hooker at AUT. Fowlie will deliver several guest lectures for the new paper. Photo / Supplied.
Zeacann cofounders Chris Fowlie (left) and Thom Hooker at AUT. Fowlie will deliver several guest lectures for the new paper. Photo / Supplied.

ZeaCann's research and production partners include manufacturers, growers, processors, botanists, pharmacies, laboratory and extraction equipment suppliers, and a network of contract growers spanning all cultivation styles.

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Zeacann's Fowlie will guest-lecture for the paper.

The move was also welcomed by Manu Caddie, the president of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council and co-founder of Rua Bioscience - which recently struck an export deal with German distributor.

"It is great to see this intermediate-level course established at a New Zealand university," says Caddie, whose company does not have a direct relationship with AUT.

"There are plenty of specialist courses in plant science, bio-technology, analytical chemistry and medicine at other universities but I think having this broad introductory paper will assist students in their decisions around which parts of the cannabis industry they are most interested in."

Cultivation of medicinal cannabis at Rua Bioscience. Photo / Supplied
Cultivation of medicinal cannabis at Rua Bioscience. Photo / Supplied

Caddie has a history in cannabis education, having been directly involved in the development of New Zealand's first cannabis cultivation course in this country through EIT Tairawhiti at the Ruatoria campus.

Through that programme, Rua Bioscience provided licensed locations for students and tutors to trial a range of growing techniques and since then a number of local Māori landowners have also become licensed and partnered with EIT to continue the course.

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"We have had over 1000 enrolment inquiries from around the country since the course began, and for a community of only 800 residents that has been a bit overwhelming," Caddie says.

The course helped to boost employment in the region, offering work opportunities for both tutors and those providing housing for the students.

$100b industry

"The challenge now is to ensure there are real jobs out the other side of these courses whatever level they are delivered at," Caddie says.

Caddie is currently working with government agencies to ensure there are clear career pathways for those interested in joining the industry.

"It is such a diverse industry with a vast array of opportunities from genomics and breeding to precision horticulture, extraction engineering and biotechnology research," Caddie says.

"These are high-skilled, high-paying jobs and we need a number of government agencies involved in the development of a skilled New Zealand workforce to ensure we are able to be world leaders across the cannabis value-chain in an industry set to be worth over $100 billion globally."

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What the AUT course includes:

• Introduction to medicinal cannabis: History and legislation.

• Current New Zealand legislative framework for the cultivation and use of medicinal cannabis.

• The New Zealand medicinal cannabis scheme.

• Botanical aspects of cannabis, including breeding and cultivation of cannabis cultivars.

• Pre-formulation processing of herbal cannabis.

• Cannabinoid pharmacology, cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system.

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• The chemistry of cannabinoids.

• Medicinal uses of cannabis

• Extraction of cannabinoids.

• Analysis of cannabinoids.

• Cannabinoid delivery systems and dosing.