This course provides students exposure to cutting-edge biological and psychological research methods via a strategic focus on a contentious and understudied substance whose use dates back thousands of years: cannabis (i.e., marijuana). While cannabis is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances, scientists are only now beginning to scratch the surface in our understanding of how cannabis use impacts human health and behavior. In fact, despite often being considered a “safe” alternative, many research studies are just starting to scientifically evaluative therapeutic uses of cannabis, while others are discovering detrimental effects cannabis can have on the developing brain. This lack of scientific evidence marks a major gap in knowledge of the link between cannabis with physical and mental health. Yet as state and national policies begin to change, the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use highlights the need for a better scientific understanding of how cannabis use can impact human health.
Cannabis is a highly relevant topic at the forefront of scientific discovery, representing an opportunity to understand the scientific process used to investigate its impact on health, society, law, and policy (and vice versa). In this course, students will learn how to understand and critically evaluate research findings in an emerging and controversial scientific field.
Through the lens of understanding research studies on the cutting edge of science, we will address longstanding controversial questions at the heart of the historical, social, and political decisions made about cannabis use, including: Is it a gateway drug? Does it provide an economic boost to communities? Should it be legalized for recreational use, and if so, what should the legal age be? Is cannabis an effective treatment for medical conditions?
Classes will consist of a combination of lecture and class discussion, focusing on critical thinking through major topics including: a) Scientific methods and evaluating research; b) Historical, legal, and sociopolitical aspects of cannabis in the U.S.; c) The brain: neuroscience, development, and biology; and d) Implications for psychology and mental health.
Through successful completion of this course, students will:
-Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate research design, interpretation, and limitations.
-Understand how scientists study cannabis through an introduction to biology and neuroscience.
-Understand the historical, sociopolitical, and legal context through which research on cannabis occurs.
-Develop knowledge of short- and long-term effects of cannabis and how research methods answer these questions.
-Demonstrate understanding of, sensitivity to, and respect for diversity issues, especially surrounding substance use, and mental/physical health.
These skills will prepare students for advanced study in psychology, neuroscience, and related sciences, building a foundation of critical thinking in scientific research.
Prerequisites: No specific prerequisites will be required for this course, though completion of courses in psychology and/or biology may provide a good foundation for concepts discussed in this course.
Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.Visit Program Page Information Sessions Learn How to Apply